Scottsdale Emerges as a Top Dining Destination
Home to more than 800 restaurants, Scottsdale’s dining scene has emerged as a culinary destination that’s competing with the top dining cities in the country. In 2014, a Livability.com report listed Scottsdale as the No. 2 “foodie” city in the United States, and the culinary reputation continues to grow for this sun-drenched urban paradise. Scottsdale’s diverse array of restaurants boast James Beard Foundation recognized chefs and indigenous ingredients that showcase the bounty of local farmers, ranchers, purveyors and winemakers. Add sweeping Sonoran Desert vistas, vibrant sunsets and picturesque patios beckoning guests to dine under swaying palm trees or starry night skies, and Scottsdale is the perfect recipe for culinary success.
The James Beard Awards are to the food scene what the Oscars are to the movie world. Nine Arizonans have won Best Chef titles, and many more have been nominated, such as the three-time best chef semifinalist Charleen Badman of FnB, affectionately known as the “veggie whisperer” for her gift of coaxing maximum flavor from the locally-grown produce delivered daily. You may find grilled corn with chorizo spice, tomatillos and purslane, or lamb manti with urfa butter, cilantro and pomegranate on her ever-changing global menu. Just down the street is Virtu Honest Craft, an intimate space tucked into Bespoke Inn, which received a James Beard nomination in 2013 for Best New Restaurant. Here, Executive Chef Gio Osso entices guests with a seasonal menu reflecting his Italian roots, featuring mouthwatering appetizers and entrees such as his signature grilled octopus with Calabrian chile butter and lemon chickpeas.
Three of Scottsdale’s talented chefs have also cooked at the distinguished Beard House in New York City. Executive Chef Mel Mecinas’ Oaxacan roots make an appearance at Talavera at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North in dishes such as buffalo tenderloin with mole Oaxaqueño, or grilled swordfish with adobo sauce and calabacitas. At Citizen Public House, dine on Executive Chef Bernie Kantak’s favorites, including his signature pork belly pastrami with rye spaetzle and Brussels sprout sauerkraut or the Original Chopped Salad, which is so popular it has its own Facebook page. Joshua Hebert invites you to Posh “Improvisational Cuisine” for an individualized, multi-course tasting that begins with you passing along any food allergies and aversions, and how many courses you’d like to eat. From there, embark on an impromptu culinary journey, as Hubert pairs unconventional proteins ranging from Wagyu beef and Copper River salmon to Blue Moki bass and kangaroo with other fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Scottsdale’s Native American, Western and Spanish roots are brought to life at restaurants that tip their hat to the past, while also pushing the envelope of culinary innovation. No restaurant does that better than Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn, the site of the once-famed cowboy artist Alonzo “Lon” Megargee’s Casa Hermosa. While sitting on an idyllic patio canopied by a century-old lysiloma tree, you’ll enjoy the savory cuisine of Arizona-native Jeremy Pacheco’s artful American cuisine that utilizes seasonal ingredients, including daily harvests from the onsite garden. The one-time home of Judson School for Girls, which opened in 1934, is now the historic El Chorro, featuring savory seasonal cuisine from local farmers and from the restaurant’s own garden. Get a taste of Arizona history in rustic dining rooms or on the lush patio featuring fountains, fireplaces and views of Camelback Mountain. Nestled in Desert Botanical Garden, Gertrude's embraces Matt Taylor's regionally-influenced and locally-sourced menu, along with a beverage program featuring Arizona vineyards, breweries and distilleries. Visit T. Cook’s at the Royal Palms, a Spanish Revival mansion that dates back to 1929, to enjoy Todd Allison’s menu with its Northern Mediterranean influences of Spain, Italy and Provence, and dishes that incorporate citrus from the resort’s own orange grove.
Downtown is a mecca of many of Scottsdale’s most reputable restaurants, leaving savvy foodies with the best kind of problem – how do they reach them all? Here you can find The Mission’s modern Latin cuisine, which draws crowds every night of the week, with favorites such as Peruvian clam stew with rock shrimp and chorizo, duck confit empanadas with orange habanero glaze, and steaks cooked over pecan and mesquite wood. Seafood is the star at Crab & Mermaid, as you travel the country with Hawaiian poke, seafood gumbo, New England lobster rolls and classic raw bar fare. At Barrio Queen, order a Casa Margarita before choosing between a selection of 20 different tacos and authentic Mexican dishes such as Chiles en Nogada and Mole Poblano. At Franco’s Caffe, diners are greeted by Florence native Franco Fazzuoli, who serves up specialties like a 28-ounce bistecca fiorentina with pasta erbe aromatiche, a secret recipe gifted to Franco, and Franco’s grandmother’s merenghata, a decadent dessert of meringue and amaretto semifreddo. Get a taste of the South at Bootleggers, featuring a smokehouse menu chockfull of brisket, pulled pork and the popular bacon board, and wash it down with homemade apple pie moonshine. For dessert, stop by Super Chunk Sweets & Treats for their award-winning mesquite chocolate chip cookies or decadent chocolate bacon caramel popcorn.
SCOTTSDALE WITH A VIEW
With a name inspired by Scottsdale’s radiant sunsets, Orange Sky, atop the 15th floor of Talking Stick Resort, delights visitors with floor-to-ceiling windows and 360-degree panoramas. You may even spy wild mustangs from your bird’s-eye view as you peruse the modern steakhouse menu. J&G Steakhouse’s wall of windows allows diners sweeping views of the Valley of the Sun from its perch in The Phoenician. At elements at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, Food Network star Beau MacMillan’s modern American menu with distinctive Asian accents is paired with views of towering Camelback Mountain. The food and vistas form a perfect union during a sunset dinner that bathes the restaurant in pink, orange and purple sunset hues.
FROM VINE TO TABLE
While farm-to-table is all the rage in the culinary world, Scottsdale has taken the concept one step further – from vine to table – by introducing four Arizona wine tasting rooms in downtown. These tasting rooms tell the story of the state’s 100 award-winning wineries, many of which boast 90-point wines as recognized by Wine Spectator. Take LDV Wine Gallery, for example. The Wine Gallery brings the taste of the Willcox wine region to the heart of Scottsdale. Sip a glass of Syrah, Grenache or Viognier beneath two shaded patios or enjoy bites and sips in the tasting bar and open kitchen. About 45 minutes away from LDV Winery in southern Arizona is another winery making a name for itself — Aridus Wine Company. This family-owned vineyard may run the largest custom crush facility in Arizona out of Willcox, but you can sample several varietals in its downtown Scottsdale tasting room. And you don’t have to go all the way to Willcox or Jerome to try Salvatore Vineyards. This small, family-owned winery also opened a downtown Scottsdale tasting room last year where visitors can try a pinot grigio rose, malvasia bianca or one of their agave wines. The newest addition to this burgeoning wine scene is Carlson Creek Vineyard, another Willcox-based winery, which opened a downtown location in July. Wine taste in the 2,300 square foot tasting room or attend an educational seminar to learn more about winemaking in Arizona.
SIP SCOTTSDALE SUDS
No need to whine if wine isn’t your thing, Scottsdale welcomes brew-lovers, too. Craft 64 boasts a rotating selection of more than 30 local beers including their own brews, such as Smooove Hoperator IPA or Craft Blonde, which you can order to accompany an artisan wood-fired pizza. Sip Coffee & Beer House is a comfortable, casual spot celebrating all things local – coffee, musical artists, farmers market ingredients and breweries such as Dragoon Brewing in Tucson and Papago Brewing in Scottsdale. Just next door is Goldwater Brewing, a family-owned brewery and tap room offering 14 craft beers that range from pilsners to stouts. At Bad Water Brewing’s taproom, fill your glass with one of the brewery’s trifecta of beers – the flagship Saison, IPA or Western Lager, while enjoying a cheese board. Two Brothers, a Midwest family-run brewery, offers five rotating brewed-onsite beers, along with a lineup of favorites and seasonal brews in an expansive two-floor restaurant.
COCKTAIL CULTURE REINS
At Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, jade bar’s distinctive cocktails emphasize fresh herbs and hand-squeezed juices. Enjoy the stunning view as you sip on a Strawberry Rhubarb Collins with rhubarb-infused gin and tarragon, or a Meiji Melon with reposado tequila, watermelon and yuzu. Second Story Liquor Bar’s sophisticated cocktails go hand-in-hand with its intimate lounge setting. Here, mixologist John Christie draws upon his history degree by dividing the menu into categories like Golden Age and the Classics. Play it safe with an Old Fashioned or take a leap of faith with drinks such as Corpse Reviver. Scottsdale is now also home to a cocktail bar that since its opening has moonlighted as a New Orleans antique shop, Cuban hideaway, Chinatown hangout and Agua Caliente Racetrack circa 1929. Counter Intuitive rotates themes every four to six months, and each cycle Jason Asher, named the best new bartender of 2010 by GQ Magazine, overhauls the cocktail haven’s décor and drink menu. Catch the action exclusively on Friday and Saturday nights from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.
FOOD FESTIVAL FRENZY
As Scottsdale quickly climbs the ladder of culinary prominence among U.S. cities, it’s only fitting the Sonoran Desert haven is also home to a variety of notable food and cocktail festivals. Scottsdale Culinary Festival celebrates throughout the year with events such as the Chocolate & Wine Experience, Southwest Festival of Beer, Burger Battle and the Friends of the James Beard Benefit Dinner. In April, the event culminates in a two-day Food Festival and a culinary-star-studded Best of the Fest dinner. Only in its second year, the AZ Central Food & Wine Experience at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is a rising star, offering a Grand Tasting that features dozens of local restaurants and special events that further explore foodie-forward topics such as barbeque, Scotch and Asian fare. In mid-February, Arizona Cocktail Week takes center stage with some of the area’s most prominent bartenders participating in Cocktail Carnival, educational seminars, and the Top Bars event, which showcases bartenders and drinks from the most reputable cocktail havens in the country. You also won’t want miss Arizona Taco Festival in the fall.