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Nov 14, 2011 04:07 PM

Looking for GREAT Southwestern cuisine

We are looking for restaurants that use fresh locally grown ingredients creatively that give the flavor of the Southwest. We live in New York so don't want Thai or Italian or other cuisines we can get at home.... just great American Southwestern when we visit.


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  1. Here are two variations on SW Cuisine, though with one caveat, and also major differences.

    Richardson's (or around the corner, Dick's HIdeaway), has some wonderful riffs on SW Cuisine, and they are down-scale, i.e. cheaper, but good.

    Kai - the quintessential SW/Native American cuisine location. Very upscale in Phoenix terms, but at about the Restaurant Daniel level, or just below. They are a bit of a drive, from much of Metro Phoenix (~ 500 sq. miles), but well worth the trip.

    On the dining scale, regarding the experience and the price, with no regard to food quality, Richardson's is about a 4, while Kai is about a 9.

    So long as Richardson's has opened, after the fire, they, and Kai source very locally. Kai might nudge them out on that respect, but I am just guessing a bit.

    Most of all, enjoy!


    1. Kai is a good bet, the highest rated restaurant in Arizona (at least by Forbes Travel and by OpenTable), and they grow as much of their produce locally on the Pima Indian reservation, though they source most of their proteins elsewhere. Native American influenced dishes, something you probably won't find in NYC. Located at a resort (the resort the NY Giants stayed at when they played in the 2008 Super Bowl) on an Indian reservation just south of Phoenix.

      This blog post does a good job of capturing the experience:

      And here's a link to ChowHound uhockey's recent trip to Kai as posted on Chowhound:

      We've dined at Kai eleven times and also at several of your New York Michelin 3* restaurants and I'd rate the better meals at Kai as behind Per Se, roughly equivalent to Eleven Madison Park and Jean Georges, and better than at Daniel and Le Bernardin.

      Can't go wrong with the squash puree as a starter, either escargot or goat/pork torta or lobster 3 ways as a 2nd course, buffalo tenderloin as the main course, and either the frybread/ice cream or Mexican chocolate souffle or maize cheesecake for dessert.

      4 Replies
      1. re: willyum

        Thanks so much! We'll definitely reserve this but we need a few more as we're there in Phoenix for 4 nights. What is your opinion of Noca, FnB, Quiessence and Brinkley's that have been recommended to me.

        6106 S 32nd Street, Phoenix, AZ 85042

        3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

        7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

        1. re: nyperr

          >> What is your opinion of Noca, FnB, Quiessence and Brinkley's that have been recommended to me. <<

          Of those I've only been to Binkley's, which I recommend highly. Consensus # 2 in Arizona behind only Kai ... not really southwestern food though, but if you're a foodie you'll enjoy it.

          Noca and Quiessence both have plenty of fans but also you hear a lot from detractors, which leads me to think they are uneven. If you check the OpenTable ratings for example (only people who made their reservation thru OT can post, and posts over 6 months are dropped off, so this is recent info) both are rated 4.2/5.0 which is fair to middling (Kai is rated 4.9/5, Binkley's 4.8/5 for example).

          Quiessence is definitely a locavore place, with Maya's farm on the property, and the chef tries to push Arizona wines and local cheeses etc, so perhaps a good bet given your criteria. We've had lunch there at the Farm Kitchen (part of the same complex) and everything was nicely done and fresh. This is a good sandwich and soup type outdoor lunch option if the weather is nice, though not really southwestern cuisine.

          Here are the OT links for Noca and Quiessence (I guess Fnb doesn't take reservations?):

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

          6106 S 32nd Street, Phoenix, AZ 85042

          3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

          7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

          1. re: willyum

            FnB does indeed take reservations, but like many small local restaurants, they do not pay to subscribe to OpenTable's service.

            7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

            1. re: hohokam

              Ah, thanks ... I didn't see a 'reservations' link on their web page but it's under the 'contact' link ...

      2. Richardson's has been closed since a July 2009 fire made its way through the strip center where it was housed. The owner, Richardson Browne, has been offering the Richardson's menu at his nearby restaurant Rokerij since that time. As far as I know, Browne has yet to jump on the local/organic/sustainable bandwagon.

        In that same general neighborhood, Sierra Bonita Grill is a restaurant that has done well by me in the past. They specialize in comfort food built around Southwestern flavors. Sierra Bonita makes nods towards the local/sustainable thing. I haven't been there in a while, so I don't know how thoroughly they are following through on that philosophy.

        Padre's Modern Mexican, which is in the general vicinity of Rokerij and Sierra Bonita, is the most casual of the three. The menu, however, has some interesting and tasty dishes scattered in amongst some of the "usual suspects." On my visits, their carne adobada was as good as (or better than) what I had at Richardson's. This is not destination dining, but if you find yourself in the neighborhood, it's worth stopping in for a bite.

        Kai is in a different category altogether in terms of culinary aspirations, setting, and price point. It's also practically in a different county. But if you're up for a high end dining experience (and perhaps a bit of drive), it is definitely worthy of consideration.

        Sierra Bonita Grill
        6933 North 7th St., Phoenix, AZ 85014

        5594 W. Wildhorse Pass Blvd, Chandler, AZ 85226

        6335 N. 16th St., Phoenix, AZ 85016

        Padre's Modern Mexican
        1044 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ

        1. Elote Cafe in Sedona, imho, is a combo of Southwestern and Mexican and it is one of the best restaurants I've been to in the world.
          If your going to PHX, its only 2 hour drive but they only serve dinner so I would recommend at least a night in stunning Sedona...Enchantment resort is one of my fave's.