Tucked between Phoenix and the McDowell Mountains you’ll find Scottsdale, a young city with a wild west feel. It has seen a lot of change since the days of horse drawn carriages and saloon culture. You’ll now find spas, art galleries and exquisite jewelry stores back to back on the winding roads of Old Town Scottsdale. Hiking trails dot the outskirts for nature enthusiasts. “The West’s Most Western Town” has a little bit of everything for everyone – especially when it comes to Scottsdale’s restaurants.
While the official food is chili in this region, for all intensive purposes, we stayed away from it. Did you know Scottsdale was donned the No. 2 Foodie City of 2014 by Livability.com? That means there’s a plethora of creative and culinarily conscious restaurants that go beyond the traditional southwestern fare.
Take a trip to the wild west with us and check out the best food this city has to offer. From wood oven roasted bone marrow to pork cheeks and hot dogs, this is our meat lover’s guide to eating in Scottsdale.
Cowboy Ciao is one of Scottsdale’s longest running restaurants. Owner Peter Kasperski is proud of this fact, also noting that he owns the dank yet worldly Kazimierz World Wine Bar (great for music and cocktails) and his newest venture Counter Intuitive (only open Friday and Saturday, but undoubtedly the hippest bar in Scottsdale).
He’s kept the space true to its origin over the years, with a subtle 90’s flair, paintings of angels and cowboys on the walls and the same deep blue ceiling riddled with golden stars. Throughout the summer months, Executive Chef Lester Gonzalez has a bit of fun with the menu. He particularly likes baseball, so when the season starts, he puts out a new hot dog special every week.
While we were visiting, Lester chose a plethora of heart-stopping, delicious toppings. Our Fearless Frank was wrapped in our bacon and then deep fried. Additional toppings include BBQ pulled pork, caramelized onions, horseradish peppercorn aioli, fried Serrano chilies and a dash of micro cilantro. Each bite you taste a new ingredient – maybe a little bit more smoke here, a little bit more spice there. Served alongside their housemade potato chips, this was a filling lunch!
If you can’t stop by in the afternoon, try the bone-in pork chop for dinner. It’s juicy, tender and filled with flavor.
Pig & Pickle
Just east of Old Town Scottsdale you’ll find Pig & Pickle, a funky eatery with high ceilings and carved pig legs for table legs. The atmosphere is comfortable and inviting. Friday nights they have live music by The Upper 9, a duo guitarist and drummer who play a fresh twist on old styles of music. The menu calls out their intentions to balance the attributes of their cuisine and their love for farmers (and dog lovers). They make their own bread, aioli and grow their own herbs. “Simple, humble, good,” they claim, and that’s the truth.
Owner and Chef Keenan Bosworth is a lively, creative chef, and you can tell this rubs off on his team. The selection of food and beverages are fun and a bit experimental. While the Niman Pork Loins and Grilled Bavette are traditional, he really steps out of the ordinary with the “Happy Endings” menu, served from 10:00 PM to 1:00 AM daily.
Wood Oven Roasted Bone Marrow, “Apocalypse Sow” pork burger and the Bahn Mi with paté, ham and pulled pork are our favorites for the late night. We also really enjoyed the House Made Charcuterie plate – all prepared by Chef Keenan himself. It comes with whatever salumi and sausages he’s devised alongside house pickled goods and bread. This spread is built to share, but you may just want to have it all to yourself.
Posh Improvisational Cuisine
We have never – not once – been to a restaurant quite like Posh Improvisational Cuisine. This adventurous concept is based off Owner and Executive Chef Joshua Herbert’s desire to surprise and excite guests while staying innovative in the kitchen. Here’s how it goes:
- Your waiter explains the menu and how ordering works.
- You open and read the menu to get a real grasp on how to choose your courses.
- You fill out a sheet with the number of courses you’d like, what foods you *don’t eat (from land to sea), how you prefer your proteins cooked and then list whatever allergies or dislikes you may have.
- Your waiter picks up the sheet and takes it to the kitchen.
- Chef Josh serves you a multi-course meal made to your preference with not one course having a true identity until it hits your table.
Chef Josh worked at a restaurant in his past life where a similar dining experience was offered sparingly to guests. The overwhelming popularity with the public inspired him to open a restaurant solely to serve the unknown, coupled with the fact he likes to change things up more frequently than most chefs. We enjoyed a sous-vide, grilled New York Strip and his rich and crispy Pork Cheek. Each course was perfectly portioned, so we were able to finish everything on our plates. Even dessert.
If you have yet to plan out your New Years Eve, make a reservation at Posh for a more unique affair with food. The special menu includes his staff’s favorite dishes of the year – all a surprise, all in one sitting. It’s extravagant and a lot of fun. Make your reservations months in advance, as the evening sells out quickly. You should also stop in on a Tuesday for his ramen, which arose from the love he gained for umami while living and working in Japan. It’s been said that his ramen is the best in the city!
North of Old Town Scottsdale you’ll find a grand door flanked with large, fire-spewing urns at the entrance. Inside lies Roka Akor Scottsdale, one of four national steak, sushi and seafood restaurants that’s won accolades like “Top 10 Sushi Restaurants in the US” by Bon Appetit Magazine and “Best Steakhouse in All 50 States – Arizona” by Business Insider. The interior is far less formidable than the entrance with ample space for diners to enjoy each others’ company and soft, earthy accents that speak to its Japanese-style cuisine.
The restaurant’s name is derived from two Japanese words. RO means hearth, “a gathering place where people socialize and take in the ambiance.” KA stands for a burning fire and projecting energy. This is why you’ll find a large, centrally-located Robata grill surrounded by such a refined yet relaxed dining area. The grill itself is stacked in three layers to allow for a multi-temperature cooking environment. Executive Chef Jason Alford and his staff work masterfully searing steaks on the bottom level, then moving them up each level until cooked to the desired temperature. This enhances the flavor and texture of each cut, hence their many quality recognitions. The Prime Rib Eye with their signature Wafu dressing is a masterful example.
Outside the kitchen, General Manager Luigi Bonura runs a well-manicured, friendly ship. Servers work diligently to find the best glass of wine or dish to suit your palette. All are young yet incredibly knowledgeable as to the intricacies of their menu. We were lucky enough to have Justin as our waiter. He used words like “umami” and “robust” to describe the food that came our way. We were quite impressed. After sitting with Luigi for a while, it was easy to see what makes this one of the easiest, most satisfying dining experiences you’ll have in Scottsdale.
Virtu Honest Craft
Nestled underneath Old Town’s Bespoke Inn lies Virtu Honest Craft, or Virtu for short. This is Chef Gio Osso‘s first concept, which gained an incredible amount of attention right off the bat. It was nomination for the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant Southwest in 2014 and has carried a 4.5 – 5 star review on every site known to food-lovers since opening their doors. It’s refreshing to know that over the years the quality never waivers, only getting better with time. The service is consistently impeccable, the food consistently top notch. His partner, Brady, keeps everything moving smoothly between the kitchen and front of house thus solidifying this as possibly the absolute best restaurant in Scottsdale.
Step onto the patio and you’ll feel like you’re in a Mediterranean city off the beaten path, somewhere near a vineyard in the rolling hills. Indoors, you’ll find a quaint and charming dining area that fits in as many tables as possible. Regardless of the tight quarters, diners laugh and conversate comfortably side by side. This escalates to a warm, drowning hum that hides conversation from your neighbors as the evening carries on.
Chef Gio creates flavor and texture combinations that are somehow both unique and familiar. For example, the Charred Octopus is a twist on a recipe passed down by his family. He boils the octopus with wine corks leftover from the bar until the muscle has a texture somewhere between tender chicken and scallops. The robust flavor of the octopus blows traditional calamari out of the water. It’s one of the few dishes that’s a mainstay on the menu – and for good reason.
For our entrée, we ordered the ‘Boneless’ Short Rib. Unlike most chefs, this cut is grilled – not braised. The accoutrements are fresh and filled with flavors of the Mediterranean. What also impressed us was the pile of the bones stacked in the corner. Combined with the presentation on a slab of slate, this dish taps into your most primal of high-end dining experiences.