by Melissa Larsen
Best Asian Cuisine, Best Health Food or Vegetarian Food and Best Restaurant to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck: YC’s Mongolian Grill
Using fresh, quality ingredients, customers at YC’s Mongolian Grill can craft create-your-own stirfry for a price that won’t bust wallets. Plus, with five Valley locations, finding a healthful, family-friendly (and veggie-packed!) dining experience is never far away. ycs-mongoliangrill.com.
AFM Fave! Best Asian Cuisine: Clever Koi
At its locations in Central Phoenix and Downtown Gilbert, Clever Koi guests dig into an ever-changing menu of steamed buns, house-made dumplings, noodle dishes and small plates that reflect flavors and techniques from regions like Thailand, Korea, China, Vietnam, Japan and Indo-China. Clever Koi also houses one of the top cocktail menus in the Valley that features a mix of classic and creative sips. thecleverkoi.com.
Best Baked Good and Sweets: Unbaked Edible Cookie Dough
Opened for less than a year in Old Town, Unbaked Edible Cookie Dough has already become a favorite of sweet teeth in the Valley thanks to its selection of safe-to-eat cookie dough (there are vegan and gluten-free options). In flavors like brownie batter, sugar cookie and chocolate chip, Unbaked dough is available by the cup, in a cone, with ice cream or baked as a traditional cookie. Of course, plenty of tasty toppings are available, too. getunbaked.com.
Best Breakfast: Eggstasy
Cotton candy pork belly, chocolate-covered bacon and a lineup of more than 20 omelet options—Eggstasy at Market Street on DC Ranch surely isn’t your run-of-the-mill breakfast joint. Early eaters pop in for over-the-top a.m. specialties (the decadent pancakes and crepes are a must) but those who prefer a more traditional toast-and-eggs setup have plenty of options to choose from, too. eggstasyaz.com.
Best Brunch: Grubstak
Downtown Gilbert’s Grubstak offers a unique way to brunch that the whole family can enjoy. Guests dig into dishes like the chock-full Brunch Bowl, a Belgian bubble waffle, a selection of breakfast burritos and sandwiches, a not-for-the-faint-of-heart chili cheese omelet and much more. grubstak.com.
AFM Fave! Best Brunch: Ironwood American Kitchen
Nothing says “Sunday Funday” more than weekend brunch at Ironwood American Kitchen at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. The brunch buffet has decadent eats likes brulee’d oatmeal and Arizona pecan sticky buns alongside healthful options like chia pudding and fresh juices. If ordering off of the breakfast menu, the Pink Lady apple toast will make your day before it even gets going with its cranberry walnut bread, hibiscus-poached apples, almond butter, dried figs and smoked almonds. scottsdaleprincess.com.
Best Burger: Blu Burger Grille
It is impossible to have a bad burger at Blu Burger Grille because it is largely a build-your-own concept, with 10 different meat options (plus vegan/vegetarian offerings) and 20 toppings, in addition to sauces, cheeses and more. The restaurant’s burgers are all a half pound and buns are delivered daily from a local bakery—making it a burger lover’s paradise. In addition, it offers a full bar, almost 20 beers and more than 60 wines. There is truly something for everyone at this North Scottsdale restaurant. bluburgergrille.com.
Best Comfort Food and Best Place to Watch the Big Game: Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers
With 10 locations across the Valley, a comforting meal at Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers is never far away. All burgers are hand-formed and cooked to order, and decadent dishes like buffalo chicken eggrolls, prime rib sliders, a Nashville hot chicken sandwich and much more are up for grabs while cheering on one’s team on any number of the restaurant’s flat-screen TV’s. coldbeers.com.
Best Country Club Chef: Marcus de Koning, Phoenix Country Club
Executive Chef Marcus de Koning, who got his start in the culinary industry at the age of 12, brings a great deal of expertise to the dining venues of Phoenix Country Club. He has a passion for fine dining and prepares a variety of special dining events for members throughout the year, including holiday dinners and brunches, a summer lobster fest and much more. phoenixcountryclub.com.
Best Culinary Event: Dish it Out
Every fall, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix (BGCMP) hosts its annual Dish it Out event at High Street in North Phoenix with eats, drinks, live music and more. All proceeds support BGCMP’s 13 clubs around the Valley where 10,000-plus youth enjoy after- school and summer programs, academic support and more. Plus, each year, the clubs provide more than 339,000 healthy meals and 336,000 snacks to youth, making it one of the largest meal providers in the state. dishitoutaz.org.
Best Date Spot, Best Dining with a View, Best Dining with Live Music, Best Outdoor Dining and Old Favorite: Geordie’s Restaurant & Lounge at Wrigley Mansion
Geordie’s Restaurant & Lounge at landmark Wrigley Mansion has long been a local favorite for luxury date nights, special occasions and entertaining out-of-town family and friends—so it’s no surprise that the restaurant received so much Best of Our Valley love. Diners can enjoy happy hour, lunch, dinner and decadent Sunday brunch with menus featuring grilled steaks, fresh seafood, house-made pastas and the season’s best ingredients. For a little pre-dinner drink, the sleek, sexy Jamie’s Wine Bar offers 25 premium wines by the glass and an extensive list by the bottle. Come September, Chef Christopher Gross is opening Christopher’s at the Wrigley Mansion, a 26-seat tasting-menu restaurant. It will feature a hearth-driven tasting menu filled with elegant yet whimsical dishes in a setting that can be best described as a “work of art.” wrigleymansion.com.
Cheers! Wrigley Mansion was also named Best Mimosa while owner Jamie Hormel was designated as Most Influential Woman in the Valley.
Best Food Photography: Debby Wolvos
Debby Wolvos of DW Photography is one of the Valley’s most in-demand commercial food and lifestyle photographers. She loves to capture chefs, food and cocktails throughout Arizona and beyond, and you’ve likely spied her riveting images in high-end lifestyle pubs like Forbes and Travel + Leisure. This year, Wolvos has several cookbook projects in the works. dw-photography.net.
Best Frozen Treat: Gelato Dolce Vita
Mesa’s Gelato Dolce Vita prides itself on using only the highest quality ingredients, like almonds from Puglia, pistachios from Sicily and hazelnuts from Piedmont. Plus, the sweet shop uses local milk, cream and fruits when possible. The most popular flavor is Stupify, winner of the Scottsdale Gelato Festival 2017, while the Sogno Autunnale flavor was a finalist at the Los Angeles Gelato Word Tour 2017. gelatodolcevita.com.
Best Gluten-Free Menu: Farm & Craft
At its two Valley locations, Farm & Craft is focuses on healthy and sustainable food in a chic community-style atmosphere. Its seasonal Wellness Menu even includes a plethora of options for gluten-free dining (in fact, most of the menu can be altered to be gluten-free), making it a favorite spot for diners with special dietary needs. ilovefarmandcraft.com.
Best Health Food Store: Sprouts Farmers Market
Sprouts Farmers Market is about to welcome its 40th store in Arizona. (The store will open in Mesa this summer.) Sprouts prides itself on offering fresh, natural and organic products at prices that appeal to everyday grocery shoppers as the brand believes that healthy food should be affordable. Amen to that. sprouts.com.
Best Italian: (tie) Guido’s Chicago Meats & Deli
Guido’s Italian deli and market has been open in Scottsdale since 1983, making it a favorite among locals seeking authentic Italian groceries and a divine menu of pizza, calzones, pasta, hot and cold subs and much more. guidosofchicago.com.
Best Italian (tie) and Best Slice: Venezia’s Pizzeria
One of Venezia’s Pizzeria’s claims to fame is its 16-slice party pizza, though its pasta dishes, calzones, wings and salads are just as delish. Keep an eye on Venezia’s Pizzeria’s Web site for its can’t-miss lineup of daily deals (like free kid’s meals on Mondays with minimum purchase). venezias.com.
Best Juice Bar: Juice Core
Juice Core is a 100-percent organic cold-pressed juice bar and vegan cafe in Scottsdale. The women-owned and –operated shop specializes in smoothies (the Easy Breezy tastes like a day on the beach), açaí bowls, avocado toast and other vegan treats, in addition to its good-for-you juices. juicecore.com.
Best Macaron: Paris Rendez Vous
Paris Rendez Vous debuted at Desert Ridge Marketplace in 2014, specializing in beautiful French macarons in flavors like Nutella, Earl Grey, PB & J, rose, pistachio and more. However, the shop also dishes up a delightful assortment of croissants (including almond and chocolate), fine chocolates, gelato and espresso. paris-rendezvous.com.
Best Mexican Food: Ajo Al’s
Ajo’s Al is a family- and veteran-owned and – operated business serving the Valley for more than three decades. The menu features from-scratch Sonoran-style Mexican food using locally sourced produce and meats, with signature items being smoked brisket tacos, Mexican pizzas and gluten-free mushroom and spinach enchiladas topped with jalapeno white sauce. This year, Ajo Al’s is even rolling out fresh homemade tortillas in all of its Valleywide locations. ajoals.com.
Best New Restaurant, Most Amazing Restaurant Interior and Most Fun Lunch Spot: Rott n’ Grapes RoRo
It’s safe to say that Rott n’ Grapes RoRo became one of Phoenix’s newest hot spots when it debuted on the RoRo block in the fall. The industrial-chic spot features a three-level bar and restaurant, including a cool speakeasy basement, and diners can’t get enough of the brick walls, kitschy neon signs and glam lighting. In addition to full menus for lunch, dinner and brunch on the weekends, Rott n’ Grapes RoRo features top-notch wine, beer and cocktail selections. rottngrapes.com.
AFM Fave! Most Amazing Restaurant Interior: J&G Steakhouse
Already one of the loveliest restaurants in the Valley, J&G Steakhouse at The Phoenician debuted an impeccably stylish refresh in the fall. Inspired by the dramatic desert landscape, the new interiors now have fresh sophisticated décor, all-new seating, an updated color palette with deep reds, neutral creams and grays, polished metal elements and much more gorgeousness at every turn. jgsteakhousescottsdale.com.
AFM Fave! Best Pet-Friendly Restaurant: O.H.S.O Brewery & Distillery
With some of the most spacious and happening patios in town, O.H.S.O Brewery & Distillery is easily one of the most dog-friendly dining spots in the Valley. There are bustling locations in Gilbert, Arcadia, Paradise Valley and Scottsdale; you’ll know you’ve found O.H.S.O if you spot just as many paws as pints. ohsobrewery.com.
Best Poke Bowl: Koi Poke
With five Valley locations, and several more in the works, locals don’t have an excuse not to have a healthful, filling lunch or dinner at Koi Poke. Each bowl starts with a base of white rice, brown rice or spring mix before being topped with a variety of you-choose proteins, veggies, garnishes, sauces and more. For dessert, Koi Poke offers a range of cooling mochi ice cream. koipoke.com.
Best Resort Restaurant: Litchfield’s
Litchfield’s, The Wigwam’s dinner-only signature restaurant, offers a casual atmosphere and impeccable farm-to-table fare. Diners can cozy up in the romantic, intimate dining room or enjoy some fresh air—alongside the fresh eats—on the patio. Kick things off with the chef’s charcuterie board before ordering a main entree of European sea bass or Arizona filet mignon. wigwamarizona.com.
Best Restaurant Group: Riot Hospitality Group
Headquartered in Scottsdale and founded in 2010, Riot Hospitality Group is responsible for some of the most successful food and beverage concepts in the United States, including Best of Our Valley winners El Hefe and Farm & Craft, as well as Hand Cut Burgers & Chophouse, Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row and the newly opened Riot House. The team behind Riot Hospitality Group aims to bring locals together via superior food and drink experiences. riothg.com.
Best Steakhouse: Lincoln, a JW Steakhouse
If you’re craving decadence, Lincoln, a JW Steakhouse, at JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa is the right call for dinner. The restaurant has perfected the art of steak using the area’s only Josper Charcoal Oven to sear its menu of prime and Wagyu butcher’s steaks. And a trip to Lincoln isn’t complete without starting with popovers and a dessert of rich cheesecake. Coming up, the restaurant interior with be updated with new colors and artwork, and there’s a new cocktail/back bar program in the works at adjacent Bar 1936. camelbackinn.com.
AFM Fave! Best Steakhouse: Bourbon & Bones
Old Town’s Bourbon & Bones is a modern, upscale chophouse where diners come in for exceptional fine dining and an extensive high-end list of more than 120 bourbons and 320 whiskey offerings. The menu features top-quality dry- and wet-aged steaks including bone-in cuts and chops, fresh seafood and signature side dishes. To get a taste of what Bourbon & Bones has to offer, stop by for happy hour Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. for deals on drinks, appetizers and the signature Bourbon & Bones burger. bourbonandbonesaz.com.
Best Sushi: Sushi Roku
Don’t expect a cream cheesy Vegas roll at W Scottsdale’s Sushi Roku. The sexy sushi bar has transformed the traditional sushi experience into a hip, high-end dining affair. The restaurant features the freshest ingredients flown in from around the globe for creative and contemporary dishes. For a truly memorable experience, opt for the omakase, a multi-course meal of the chef’s choosing. sushiroku.com.
Best Taco: CRUjiente Tacos
Phoenix’s CRUjiente Tacos takes Taco Tuesday to a new level with options like Korean fried chicken, pork belly and kimchi, duck breast and garlic-roasted mushroom options. Defending champions CRUjiente Tacos earned the highest title Grand Champion again at the 2018 Arizona Taco Festival. (The restaurant also won first place the pork taco, seafood taco and salsa categories in 2018.) crutacos.com.
Best Tea Spot: Teaspressa
It is safe to say that Arcadia’s Teaspressa has turned every Phoenician into a tea drinker. The impossibly chic tea spot offers up hot and cold creative tea drinks and recently introduced house-made pastries and toasts. Teaspressa also just released a line of beauTEA shots, which are healthy boost shots like activated charcoal, beet and turmeric. (These Instagram-ready sips make your drink look like a rainbow while also adding in health benefits!) Up next: Teaspressa opens in Downtown Phoenix this spring. teaspressa.com.
Teaspressa now offers Afternoon Tea. Walk-in Tea for Twos are welcome, but if you call ahead at least 48 hours, the tea team can prepare a customized experience for you and your guests. Plus, you also get a Polaroid as a keepsake. $28 per person.
Favorite Local Food Blog or Web Site: Geeks Who Eat
Sarah Stubbs started blogging in 2009 about geek culture before founding Geeks Who Eat with her husband, Matthew Stubbs. On the site, the couple shares recipes, restaurant reviews, food news, interviews and much more in a fun, entertaining format. 2geekswhoeat.com.
Best Acai Bowl: Karma Apple, karmaappleaz.com.
Best Barbecue: Bobby Q, bobbyqbbq.com.
Best Business Lunch Spot and Best Seafood: Buck & Rider, buckandrider.com.
Best Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza: Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, loumalnatis.com.
Best Cup of Coffee: Press Coffee, presscoffee.com.
Best Cupcake: Classic Cakes & Confections, classiccakesaz.com.
Best Doughnut: Rainbow Donuts Café & Deli, rainbowdonutsphx.com.
Best Farmers’ Market: Gilbert Farmers’ Market, gilbertmarket.com.
Best Fondue: The Melting Pot, meltingpot.com.
Best Grocery Store: La Grande Orange Grocery, lagrandeorangegrocery.com.
Best Hot Dogs: Mama’s Dogs, mamasdogs.com.
Best Locally Owned Drive-Thru: 32 Shea, 32shea.com.
Best Pet-Friendly Restaurant: Randy’s Restaurant, randysrestaurantaz.com.
Best Private Dining Room: LON’s at the Hermosa, hermosainn.com.
Best Sandwich Shop: Worth Takeaway, worthtakeaway.com.
Best Sky Harbor Airport Dining: La Grande Orange, lgohospitality.com.
Best Spa Cuisine: Sprouts, The Spa at JW Marriott Camelback Inn, camelbackinn.com.
Best Teppanyaki: Ah-So Sushi & Steak, ahsoaz.com.
Spiciest Dining: Carolina’s Mexican Food, carolinasmexicanfood.com.