A Meat Lover’s Guide to Eating in Phoenix
August 11, 2016
If you’ve ever visited Phoenix, it was likely in the winter or spring. From June to September, the average temperature is over 100ºF. Days are often so hot it doesn’t even matter how dry it is. October through May, however, this city is home to the perfect climate. But regardless of what the temperature may be, Phoenix restaurants serve a plethora of fantastic food year round.
It’s so good, in fact, that we ventured out into the 115º heat to eat like a local. While Mexican cuisine is typical in the Southwest, you’ll find farm-to-table restaurants, southern-style eateries and hip burger joints from Echo Canyon to Glendale.
We set out this month to make the good food search a little easier for visitors, whether you’re staying for a weekend or a week. If you live in Phoenix and haven’t been to these restaurants yet, we highly suggest you put them on your list!
In Italian, the word crudo means “raw.” After visiting Crudo in Phoenix, the word simply means “delicious” to us. Even though it dons an Italian name the cuisine is moreso creative American-Italian. When you walk in, a rustic door on wheels separates the main dining room from Bar Crudo near the host stand. To the right is ample space for diners to enjoy each others’ company at tables made locally of wood and iron. Natural and neutral colors sweep the room all the way up to the wooden ceiling beams, which are actually a part of the original structure. When the beams were exposed by construction crews, Chef/owner Cullen Campbell was in absolute awe. He spent several days cleaning them himself before opening.
Bar Crudo has its drink menu chalked into one of the back walls. All the names have creative titles like Grape Expectations and Banana in the Tailpipe, and all of them are superb. More lofty wooden beams cross the ceiling with vintage liquor art splashed amongst classic furniture below. The entirety of this establishment is comfortable and welcoming.
Chef Cullen’s menu is split into four sections: Crudo (of course), Mozza (mozzarella), Cotto (cooked) and Griglia (grilled). The Crispy Pig Ears come with a sweet and sour-like dressing bath topped with fire red peppers. You can get them during Happy Hour for only $5. There’s a special place in our heart for the Semolina Gnocchi with lamb neck, truffle, cacio e pepe and fig. The gnocchi is more like a firm polenta and the cheese sauce on top is simply amazing. The real winner, though, in our mind, is the grilled milk-braised Lamb Belly. This dish allows the true taste of the meat to shine through. Golden braising liquid enhances that flavor, with the bitterness of the broccolini adding a welcomed contrast to its earthiness. We’re excited to try what he puts on his new menu this fall!
In the world of burger joints, Delux Burger lives up to its name. Their big rushes come at dinnertime, restaurant close and just before bar close. Friends and lovers gather to have fun over food. This a really hopping spot! You’ll find an unlikely pair of cuisines on the menu: one half sushi, one half from the grill. There’s a little something for everyone here, and it’s all high quality.
Two dining areas are separated by a long wall with a window down the center. To the left is the sushi bar where friendly itamae like Chef Balo work diligently to create creative sushi rolls and sashimi. To the right is the bar with a line of tables against the dividing wall and a long, blue-lit table at the center. The grill is nestled towards the back where servers hustle food to hungry customers. You could also sit outside on the patio, which is flanked by misters to keep you cool on those hot Arizona nights.
We’re partial to the Delux Burger – not just because we’ve partnered with them on this burger since 2004, but because the flavors of this burger are outstanding. The fresh ground beef patty is topped with their signature infusion of caramelized onion and small bits of Applewood smoked bacon. The blend of gruyere and maytag bleu cheeses creates a robust flavor that’s gently cut with baby arugula. You won’t find your usual hamburger bun here – they choose to serve this gourmet masterpiece on a toasted, handcrafted demibaguette. The Delux Burger is a burger fit for kings!
The Larder + The Delta
Walk into DeSoto Market in downtown Phoenix and you’ll feel like you’re in the hippest cafeteria ever known to man. It’s really more of a food emporium, in our opinion. The main entrance opens up to a massive space that’s flanked by a rounded bar and ample seating. This section serves libations to the many young professionals and college students who frequent the market. Head around the corner to find several independently owned counter restaurants tucked along the walls. A spacious eating area lies at the center. Like the mess halls in college, this is a truly a social experience.
Tucked around the corner from the bar you’ll find The Larder + The Delta, a southern inspired restaurant that takes New American cuisine beyond the barbecue. Chef/owner Stephen Jones also oversees the oyster bar, burger bar and coffee bar, though The Larder is his pride and joy.
Everything on the menu is reasonably priced and served on its own. We suggest sitting at the counter so you can take in all the wildly delicious smells from his kitchen. We indulged in the Crispy Pig Ears. They’re cooked until soft, deep fried, then sprinkled with crushed Cheetos dust. No wonder all the local food publications have been raving about this dish!
Nico Heirloom Kitchen
Chef Gio Osso named Nico Heirloom Kitchen after his first son. This concept is larger and brighter than his first restaurant, Virtu Honest Craft, and features a more down-home menu when compared to Virtu’s traditional Italian fare. You’ll still find the little sprig of rosemary tied up in each napkin alongside the silverware and famous quotes that evoke warm thoughts about food on the walls. We especially love the brick oven built into the corner between the bar and kitchen.
As we dined, a woman held her bridal shower in the corner while groups of family and friends caught up over coffee and eggs. A mom fed her son yogurt and longtime girlfriends leaned forward as they told secrets. Nico feels a bit like home. This is partially because Gio’s wife helped design the interior, which feels like you’ve entered a cozy set for a food piece in House Beautiful or Better Homes & Gardens. The lighting is spectacular with floor to ceiling windows leading out to the street side patio. Browns and blues softly contrast with the black and white checkered floor. Tall mirrors lean down upon diners, making the dining area seem even larger than it already is.
Brunch at Nico is phenomenal. You’ll find a wide selection of both breakfast and lunch options from the Brown Butter French Toast to the Crispy Kale with wood fired beets and figs. You won’t find the traditional “two eggs your way” breakfast here, though it is available upon request.
Our top choice is the Pork Ragu. The creamy polenta with mascarpone cheese lets the ragu’s robust flavor take center stage while adding a creamy, sultry undertone to the dish. Crusty bread is the perfect vessel to devour the egg-ragu-polenta combo. The salsa verde wasn’t overpowering as it sometimes can be. Paired with their fresh brewed coffee, this is the brunch of champions.
Chef Cullen Campbell treads the line of Italian again with his newer concept, Okra Cookhouse & Cocktails. It’s a little more relaxed in atmosphere than Crudo with every employee wearing jeans, an apron and the occasional tattoo. The open line towards the back feeds the bustling atmosphere of the somewhat small, singular room. If you’re looking for a quiet meal for two, this isn’t the place! While Okra is still suited for a meal for two, it’s more likely to be filled with laughter and good conversation than starry eyes and cordial vernacular.
Beyond the food, Okra is also known for their high caliber bartending staff. Mixologists like Michael Christie scan the floor for regulars or friends, pinging everyone they know while still pushing out dozens of cocktails from their memory – and in record time. Even if you don’t know anyone, you’re treated as if you’ve been coming around for years. What’s even better? They’re so enthusiastic about serving you the best drink possible, just tell them what you’re eating, how you feel or what you’d like to avoid and they’ll make you a custom concoction that’s sure to meet your needs. And they do it all with a smile!
Dispersed throughout the craft paper menu you’ll find a fusion of Southern and Italian cuisine broken down simply. Snacks, Shares, Sides, Bigs, Focaccias and Desserts. And by Focaccia, we mean heavenly personal pizzas. They’re a great addition to your tapas-style group order or enough to satisfy the hunger of a lone pizza-lover. We chose the Diavola Focaccia with pork rinds. Add a little bit of their special edition Homeboy’s Hot Sauce for a flavor party that’s good to ’til the last bite.