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Jun 22, 2011 12:34 PM

first time to phoenix in july. where should i eat?

will arrive for business on july 7. my husband is joining me for the weekend. we are huge foodies. what are the must-eat places in phoenix? not looking for showy, just really fantastic food. thanks.

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  1. Can you help us a bit?

    Phoenix is about 500+ square miles, so location could be everything. Where will you be staying?

    What do you like?

    What do you want?

    What are the budgets?

    Will you have a car, or need to be really close (Phoenix has some public transportation, but not THAT much, and cabs can be hit, or miss)?

    Most of all, enjoy your trip.


    1. The usual suspects mentioned are Kai and Binkley's, maybe Nobuo, maybe 3-4 others.

      Kai is the only Forbes Five star winner in Arizona and the cuisine is Native American influenced (it's located at a resort on an Indian reservation). $59 "Hot Nights" special thru late July for three courses, including two highly rated specialties (buffalo tenderloin and a fry bread/ice cream dessert), but you specifically have to ask for this when you call for reservations.

      Not sure when/if Binkley's shuts for the summer but if you are in Scottsdale or further north it's probably a more convenient drive than Kai. This is a Forbes 3* place, not as fancy a location (strip mall in Cave Creek), but interesting food. The chef worked at French Laundry and did a stage with Achatz at Alinea and is cooking in similar styles, though a bit more avant-garde with the extras than FL. Definitely a foodie place.

      Maybe read the reviews of these, check their ratings on OpenTable, and check the menus and see if either looks good to you.

      For Nobuo (Japanese) I'd mainly recommend their Thursday night specials prix fixe menu, if that's happening during your visit. This is downtown.

      6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

      21 Replies
      1. re: willyum

        As another soon-to-be-visitor (and, perhaps soon-to-be resident) how difficult is it to get reservations at Binkley's and/or Kai on a week's notice?

        Also, is Vincent on Camelback worthy of the praise it gets from Zagat and a few other publications? It doesn't seem to get much love here on CH.


        6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

        1. re: uhockey

          In the Summer, a week's notice should be OK. If Open Table does not show availability, do not hesitate to call, as there should be a few tables available. Kai's is smaller, but more elegant, so it will likely fill up more quickly. Also, last year, near end of July, they closed for about 3 - 4 weeks.

          Cannot recall if Chef Kevin closes Binkley's, but it would be fairly likely. Their location, North Scottsdale, Carefree, Cave Creek, has many seasonal residents, so late Summer is a good time for many restaurants to close.

          We love Chef Vincent's, but he has revamped his menu and his wine list. We have only done one event there, since the change, so I cannot comment. A year ago, I would have given a glowing rec., but with so many changes, I need to dine there, post-change, before I do. One thing that broke my heart was the new wine list. He still has a lot of my high-end old favs, but there is now a big hole in the middle. I hope to talk to Howie about this, and see if I cannot lobby for a bit more above the "usual suspects" at the bottom of the list. While I just love Chef's fare, it was his wine list, that always made my heart sing.

          I have not dined at Nobu's new spot, so I cannot comment.

          I will add one more location, that I consider a must-do - NOCA. Compared to the others, it is a bit more casual, but the food is great, and not to be missed, IMHO. Their wine list is shorter than some, but is well-suited for their fare. Also, it is very interesting, and you will likely not have sampled most of it. It is more centrally located, like Vincent's is, where Binkley's is up north, and Kai is down south.

          Wish that I had some recent, non-event dining at Vincent's to comment, but I do not.

          Most of all, enjoy,


          6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

          1. re: Bill Hunt

            Top notch - I'll be there in late September, actually, but as always I plan ahead.
            As you may remember from my Vegas postings which you were quite helpful on I'm not a big drinker (perhaps one glass of wine or one cocktail over the course of the meal.)

            Looking like I'll have 3 dinners and 3 lunches available, plus snacks or breakfasts on a couple of days.


            1. re: uhockey

              Even in the Summer, I would book early. Not THAT long ago, one could walk into the "hottest" restaurant in town - the one that you could not get a table, six months out - and get a 7:00PM table at 6:45PM. The place would be virtually empty, and the James Beard Award-winning chef would stop by your table with a bottle of wine. The sommelier would do the same, with two bottles of wine, and pictures of the grand-kids. Times have changed. More folk are staying in town. The La Jolla Summer beach houses are costing more, and fewer have the $'s. Now, Summer (other than the closures) is not THAT different, from Autumn, Winter and Spring. More folk in town. I have gotten burned by my old thinking, when I did NOT plan ahead. Now, I do so, just like any other season.

              All of the restaurants mentioned so far, have great wine lists. NOCA probably has the best B-T-G wine list, and if you express a real desire, might have something off-menu just waiting for you. Still, all are good, though we are almost always going with bottles at Kai and Binkley's, so maybe I am just less familiar with their B-T-G offerings.

              Most of all - ENJOY, and thanks for coming to Phoenix.


              6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

              1. re: Bill Hunt

                I shall - and if I like it (mostly the job) enough I may just end up there long term in a year's time.....so I guess these restaurants best make a good impression. :-)


                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  Aloha Bill..
                  La Jolla girl here and found that the 'Zonie's' aren't hanging at the LJ Beach and Tennis club like they used to.

                  We like to go to PHX for the long weekend of 4th of July and we love the 5* resort deals for around $100..found the summer is busier than it used to be.

                  We enjoy T. Cook's at Royal Palms, Binkley's or Cafe Bink, J&G Steakhouse in the bar at the Phoenician, Durant's, Prado at Montelucia, Carolina' for divey Mex.
                  I like driving up to Sedona for the day and have lunch at Enchantment resort at Yavapai and soak in the stunning red rocks and grab a blueberry pie at Rock Springs for later in the room.

                  Enjoy and watch the heat..it is a dry heat and hydrate as much as possible.


                  1. re: Beach Chick

                    We were to be in La Jolla for a fundraiser beach party, but the host had to go into the hospital. The plans are on hold. This was going to be our first SoCal trip in a few years. Sorry that it's on hold.

                    Enjoy AZ, and there ARE some good deals here.

                    Travel safely, and aloha,


              2. re: Bill Hunt

                >> Cannot recall if Chef Kevin closes Binkley's, but it would be fairly likely. <<

                Last year he closed just after July 4th if I'm remembering correctly. We were thinking of going one last time but missed the cut-off. I think he was closed for most of August too. If you're on his mailing list you'll get a notice just before it happens.

                6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

                1. re: willyum

                  Thank you for that info. I know that several nearby restaurants DO close, and usually from mid-July, until mid-August. Hard to keep up with what the exact dates of any will be.



              3. re: uhockey

                I don't know how common this is but I made reservations for Kai on Monday for Friday and the earliest we could get in was 8:30. We then had to wait an extra half hour for our table because previous diners were slow. I would have thought that a restaurant of Kai's caliber would have a better handle on timing reservations. The food was excellent though (went for the 3-course summer menu).

                1. re: buckeye.mary

                  Timing can be a tough call. Most good restaurants do a pretty good job of pacing, but things can really muck up the works.

                  We like to do a cheese course, before desserts with appropriate wines. Hard for them to know about that.

                  Not that long ago, we were seated in a Mayfair, London restaurant. We were on our mains, and maybe our 3rd bottle of DRC Burg. During our meal, there was a £5M donation coming, and it was being discussed.

                  Just after the serving of the mains, we were informed that we had to leave, as the table was needed. OK, but guess which restaurant has not gotten 4 board dinners (up to 45 in a private room), and 10 business dinners, with the wines flowing?

                  When one is dining at a restaurant, like Kai, one of the last things that they would want, would be to get run out, just as the mains arrive. The sword has two edges, and sorry that you had to wait. I am also not cool with that either. We refuse to dine at a certain restaurant in New Orleans, as we had 9:00PM reservations, but were not seated until 10:30PM. We were immediately told that the kitchen was closing, and that we had better hurry. Also, most items on the menu were no longer available, as the line was cleaning the equipment. Hey, what happened to our 9:00PM reservations? A few years later, my favorite nephew was the sous chef there, and he begged us to try them again. Sorry, that once was more than enough. I feel your pain.


                  1. re: buckeye.mary

                    Mary, we were also at Kai on Friday (last night) but with an early reservation. It was our 9th visit and this was the busiest I've ever seen it. Some kind of convention was taking place at the resort even though it's 110 degrees (must have gotten some deal) plus all the locals coming for the 'special' before Kai closes. Two weeks ago we were there on a Tuesday and only 5 tables were in use ...

                    Sorry you had to wait ... at a fancy Manhattan restaurant (Le Bernardin, a Michelin 3*) we ordered two of their most expensive, lengthy tasting menus (7 and 8 courses) and were told "we need this table cleared in 2 1/2 hours", which I thought was rather rude. I said 'if you can bring it that fast I think we can eat it that fast' and they did and we did, skipping coffee at the end, but I felt like an unwelcomed guest. So as Bill Hunt said, it cuts both ways ...

                    1. re: willyum

                      Oh, that should never, never happen, and Chef Rippert is one of the best - of the best.

                      We did Restaurant Daniel in Dec., and started at opening. We did the full chef's tasting menu, and actually shut the place down, when we had finally finished (they added two courses for some reason, but we did not resist). Lovely dining, and excellent, relaxed service. In our visits to Le Bernadin, it has been exactly the same. Maybe things are changing?

                      I feel your pain.


                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Bill, good to hear about Daniel, we are going there in Sept, also to Masa the same trip to finish dining at all ten of the USA Michelin 3*'s. Some people are down on Daniel but we wanted to try them all and I'm looking forward to it.

                        I think they are less busy at Daniel than at Le Bernardin, based on available reservations via OpenTable. Le Bernardin seems to always be full for both servings and I've read a couple of other posts where people who got there 10-15 minutes late for the first seating were told they might have to eat dessert at the bar because of their 'late' start. I would have been OK had they just said 'we can't serve the tasting menus first seating because it might delay the 2nd seating guests' but it was kind of jarring the way the server handled it. I doubt Maguy would have been pleased.

                        1. re: willyum

                          I only hope that you have just half of the meal that we did - that should be all that any man could ask for. I feel doubly blessed with ours, but would have settled for half.



                  2. re: uhockey

                    loved your paris reports. you and i were there at the same time. you won't eat like that in phoenix but you can have some fun and good food.

                    nobuo is our real treasure. he is now downtown by bianco's pizza place. (bianco is good but imo not worth the wait) Nobuo on the other hand is a perfectionist and watching him work is almost as much fun as the food is special. i know you don't do much wine but his pairings are as good as any in the US or Paris and make the meal sing. if you go you must do the omakasi and you will need to reserve ahead because there are only four seats each night and only when nobuo is there.

                    after nobuo there are lots of other very good to excellent places but imo the only two that stand above the crowd are binkley and kai.

                    unless you are averse to capsaisin you probably should try some mexican while you are here because it is way better than what you get in the north and east (except topolabompo).
                    for down and dirty you should go to carolina's (the original) and for more sophisticated food and somewhat more sophisticated atmosphere go to barrio cafe.

                    for combination of setting and food i would also recommend quiessence at the farm at south mountain for a first timer.

                    Barrio Cafe
                    2814 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85006

                    6106 S 32nd Street, Phoenix, AZ 85042

                    Carolina's Mexican
                    9030 W Peoria Ave, Peoria, AZ 85345

                    Nobuo at Teeter House
                    622 E Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85004

                    1. re: jock

                      My thought is that I'll have time for 3 dinners - Wed, Thu, Sat (friday is interview day and I'm dining with the people bringing me out - uncertain where.) I'll also likely have time for 4 lunch/brunches Wed, Thu, Sat, Sun.

                      Kai and Binkley are on the list, for sure. Bianco is on the lunch list. Otherwise I'm wide open.


                      6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

                      1. re: jock

                        "you probably should try some mexican while you are here because it is way better than what you get in the north and east (except topolabompo)."

                        The first part I absolutely agree with (and forgive the semi-tangent) but not only does Chicago's Mexican scene go *WAY* beyond Rick Bayless, but it's both far more diverse and possessed of significantly greater peaks than Phoenix. Which isn't to say that Phoenix' Mexican scene isn't wonderful and worthy of special attention (it is), but put the two head-to-head and Phoenix wins on Sonoran and volume (and maybe not even volume... 2010 census says Cook County's Latino population is larger than Maricopa's). I don't know whether this opinion is based on experience or assumption, but either way, I strongly encourage you to drop me a line before your next trip to Chicago. And for the OP, if Chicago is your point of reference, Mexican is definitely one of the city's strengths when it comes to Sonoran, but significantly less than its ubiquity would lead you to believe when it comes to other regions and specialties.

                        If Boston is your point of reference, on the other hand...

                        (I'm sorry, jock, when I see that one I can't let it go... drives me crazy! :-)

                        1. re: jock

                          >> nobuo is our real treasure .... if you go you must do the omakasi and you will need to reserve ahead because there are only four seats each night and only when nobuo is there. <<

                          After the Japanese earthquakes in March (?) the omakase was cancelled and they still haven't re-started it, so far as I know, and I get the impression they might not do it at all.

                          On our last visit I asked the server about when they would begin omakase servings and she said she didn't think they would (this wasn't Nobuo's wife Sarah but another server). She said it was felt that the other guests felt slighted during the omakase since so much attention was lavished on just the four seated at the bar while the rest ate from the "izakaya" (Japanese tavern) menu.

                          This menu is not 'fine dining', it is pretty simple fare (working man's food, in Japan), with a lot of $6 and $8 'small plates'. So this is an interesting menu but don't go expecting high end cuisine.

                          On selected Thursday's he is now doing a five course prix-fixe menu that is a nice step up from the izakaya but not as fancy as omakase. This is not too expensive ($60) Also offers two extras, foie gras and wagyu, for just $20 ... we had the wagyu (not Japanese beef, but from Snake River Farms in Oregon, but still good) and it was really special ... he brings out a small brazier so you can cook it yourself at the table. There's a large leaf on the grill (like a banana plant leaf, I think it's hoja) with miso sauce and you cook the think slices of wagyu in this until it carmelizes. Great dish, better than the excellent wagyu we've had at Per Se (for a $100 upgrade) or at L20 (for a $30 upgrade).

                          Anyway, the point is that this restaurant got "five star" reviews from the local critics based on the omakase but that is no longer available, and the standard menu is a much less ambitious offering. The Thursday night deals (I think maybe twice a month thus far, beginning in late May) offer a better quality meal than the normal izakaya menu but still not five star.

                          1. re: jock

                            I wrote "you cook the think slices of wagyu", should be "THIN slices of wagyu" ...

                            Here's a copy of the menu from last week's Thursday prix-fixe, similar to what we had in late May:

                            Join us at Teeter House - Thursday, June 23rd
                            as Chef Nobuo Fukuda hosts another Thursday Night Tasting.

                            1. Hassun

                            seasonal local vegetable antipasto
                            featuring produce from McClendon Farms and Two Wash Ranch

                            2. Sashimi
                            4 different fish, 4 different ways

                            3. Lobster Roll
                            poached Maine Lobster, aonori, Japanese mayo, toasted, buttered spiral roll

                            4. Five Spice Braised Oxtail
                            mushrooms, daikon, red chili

                            5. Dessert from Arai Pastry

                            Add ons:
                            Miso Marinated Foie Gras $20
                            Hot Rock Washugyu Beef $20 (this is a superb dish)

                            1. re: willyum

                              darn! nobuo's omakasi is worth a trip from almost anywhere. sure hope it isn't gone for good.