Tyler’s Taste Talks: Chef Nick LaRosa of Nook Kitchen Arcadia

Before moving to Scottsdale a few months ago, I lived three years in Phoenix’s “Arcadia” region off 36th Street and Indian School. For years, my roommates and I would walk over to Nook Kitchen Arcadia for Happy Hour, dinner, or both! 

The small but quaint restaurant was always one of my favorites for some reason. I don’t know if it’s incredible food, delicious craft cocktails, or an upscale yet approachable vibe that would have us sitting there for hours just chit-chatting as the lights dimmed. 

Regardless, when I was allowed to interview Chef Nick LaRosa, the man responsible for Nook Kitchen Arcadia’s mouth-watering dishes, I got giddy like an elementary school student before recess. 

What started as a passion for food in his mother’s kitchen back in Connecticut has led him to be at the forefront of this local and iconic Phoenix restaurant. 

Hi Chef Nick, I’m always curious to find out where Chef’s found their passion for food: 

Well, it started back on the East coast when I was a kid in my family’s kitchen. Like many small and tight-knit Italian families, my parents or grandparents were always in the kitchen cooking. Food was how we all connected, and I would watch, listen, and learn my family’s recipes.  

By the time I got into college, I knew I wanted to be a part of the food industry somehow. I studied food service management at Johnson & Wale University in Providence, and everything kind of fell into place after that. 

But with the world having various “culinary meccas” for you to move to, why did you move to Phoenix? 

Well, initially, my mother moved out here, and I followed her to Arizona in 2004. But, like many people who move here, the weather was also a significant factor. You don’t have to worry about plowing snow here in Phoenix. 

Can you tell me about a few of your first jobs after moving here? 

Ya, I worked at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport for several years with Chef Gio Osso of Virtu Honest Craft. It was there that I met Frank Vairo, my current business partner and co-owner of Nook Kitchen Arcadia. One thing led to another, and we came up with the concept of our restaurant. 

How would you describe Nook Kitchen Arcadia’s cuisine to someone who has never dined here? 

I would say it’s a blend of my family’s Italian roots and a modern American spin. I love to experiment and get creative with my dishes.  I was on the Food Network’s Chopped back in 2017 because I really enjoy piecing together ingredients with traditional and modern techniques.

When I would come here, I loved how approachable but refined the menu was because, with some Italian restaurants, it’s intimidating to look over the menu. Most of us don’t know what half the stuff is, and we pick a dish. Was that intentional? 

Of course, it’s true. Some Italian restaurants are intimidating for some diners. I wanted my menu to have that upscale Italian flare but still highly accessible for guests like yourself. Who wants handmade pasta or a gourmet pizza but doesn’t want to have super fancy-sounding Italian words thrown at you. 

Can you tell me a bit about this oven behind you? 

Yes, this is a Golden Aputno Pizza Oven that we imported from Naples. It was definitely a pain bringing it here, but it’s so worth it when you taste our pizza crust.

I also really appreciate that you are prepping everything right now as your talking to me. Are you here all the time? 

I’m here usually six days a week, prepping fresh mozzarella, hand kneading pizza crust, and making sure everything is up to my standard. I didn’t want to be one of those chefs that loses touch with their restaurants because they open several other concepts. 

I take pride in being here almost every day either at the pizza oven or in the back of the house.

For anyone looking for a great spot to have a date night, enjoy a cocktail after work for Happy Hour, or enjoy some handmade pasta and pizza. You must try Nook Kitchen Arcadia right off Indian School Rd. 

Here are a few of my favorite dishes: 
  • Calabrese (pizza Bianco): the fresh-cut mozzarella, caramelized onions, and Calabrian chili sauce is the perfect combination of salty, sweet, and a hint of spice
  • Casarecce Bolognese: this is hands down the best bolognese pasta dish I’ve had here in Phoenix; Chef Nick LaRosa’s handmade pasta is just INSANE
  • Affogato: For my dessert lovers, you have to try this at the end of your meal (or before, no judgments); it is like a chocolate ice cream bomb that is melted by warm espresso

But you also can’t forget the cocktails and wine list! Nook Kitchen Arcadia has Sommelier Matthew Wohleb who can lead guests to experience little-known wine varietals to pair with your meal.

Gabe Chavez also created a cocktail list that rivals any other upscale craft cocktail bar. He makes a mean espresso martini. Or, try something new, and order a “Dealers Choice,” a constantly rotating cocktail that he creates for the week. Be careful, though; I’ve had many a night walking back home or calling a Lyft after several of those. They are just too good to have one! 

I want to thank Chef Nick LaRosa and the entire Nook Kitchen Arcadia team for another fantastic experience. Hurry up though readers, Nick is constantly updating and adding new dishes to his seasonal menus. You do not want to miss out!

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