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Dec 28, 2011 07:43 PM

Recomendations for a visiting chowhounder


My famly and I are visiting from Toronto from Dec 31 to Jan 5 and are looking for some suggestions. we have been to Phoenix before, and have tried places such as the Roaring Fork, a great pizza place in Old Sottsdale and a few others, but we feel we have missed the real southwestern flavour of Phoenix. We have two adults and two teens, who are moderatley adventurous. We are staying at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge in Notth Phoenix. I think we are looking for moderate prices, but certainly have the budget for two blowouts. This is what we are looking for:

1. An authentic Mexican place. This is something that Toronto is not good at, and allthough we have eaten the heavy tex mex type food, we are lookinging for the real thing with all the fresh flavours of Mexico.

2. A representative southwest place. The Roaring Fork was OK, but can we do better?

3. What places sold we go for a quick bite around the hotel? Breakfast or lunch?

4. What place should we not leave your beautiful city without visiting? Any favourite gems?

5. As Canadians, your landscape is very beautiful and novel to us. are there any places with views or ambiance we should visit, not necessarily for the food?

we appreciate your suggestions.

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  1. 1. Carolina's is good to swing by (either location if you're near either one).

    2. For southwest place, splurge: Kai (native american fine dining so not exactly southwest). other choices in southwest/mexican/tex-mex range: Los Sombreros, Rokerij, Barrio Cafe

    3. JW Marriott is a beautiful hotel but not a lot of places within a few minutes of there. I'd look up the Desert Ridge Marketplace which is like an outdoor mall right near the hotel with lots of options - In-n-Out burger is the only place nearby that I'd recommend

    4. Hmm, I'd do a board search, there's so many options.

    5. Jade Bar at the Sanctuary - great drinks, great view on Camelback Mountain. Or if you are looking for really great views and are in good shape even hike Camelback Mountain.

    These are just a few suggestions off the top of my head, hopefully others will chime in because I'm in a rush. Also, check with concierge on good hikes, or places to grab drinks with a view, there's a few all over town so they might have some good ideas.

    Roy's is also a solid pick if you'd like to stay at the resort for dinner any night.

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

    Carolina's Mexican North
    2126 E Cactus Rd Ste 100, Phoenix, AZ 85022

    Carolina's Mexican Food Restaurant
    1202 E Mohave St, Phoenix, AZ 85034

    Los Sombreros Cafe & Cantina
    2534 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85257

    5594 W. Wildhorse Pass Blvd, Chandler, AZ 85226

    5350 E Marriott Dr, Phoenix, AZ 85054

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

    In-N-Out Burger
    12413 N Tatum Blvd, Phoenix, AZ

    Jade Bar
    5700 E McDonald Drive, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253

    2 Replies
    1. re: PHXeater

      I agree with most of PHXeater's recs. For another authentic Mexican place, bright fresh flavors, I'd also suggest Gallo Blanco, which is the restaurant of the Clarendon, a hip midcentury modern boutique hotel in midtown. The Clarendon has a rooftop bar for hanging out and decent views.

      For a lunch or late afternoon, I'd recommend the patio at Cafe Bink. It looks out onto an austere boulder-and-cactus-strewn landscape, quintessential Arizona scenery. Kevin Binkley's food combined with our big skies and sunshine is always a winner. He worked at both the Inn at Little Washington and the French Laundry, and there's nothing on his bistro menu that disappoints. His formal outpost, Binkley's might make a good splurge.

      Non-food wise, if anyone has any architectural interest, maybe check out Cosanti, Paolo Soleri's showcase, or Taliesin West by Frank Lloyd Wright. I feel their miminalist aesthetic combined with the desert helps people 'get' the true beauty in our landscape. Or, for a road trip, head up north to Jerome and Sedona, or swing through Cottonwood and taste some stellar Arizona wines. Food and landscape there speak for themselves.

      1. re: themis

        Since the last time we were together, Themis, was at Cafe Bink, I thought I'd piggyback onto your perfect description.

        We spent a leisurely afternoon there this past holiday Monday. Of course, had those addictive fries (and mushroom soup, clams with chorizo-wine-tomato broth, two kinds of sliders - meatloaf, and foie gras - and chorizo fritters). There aren't many better places we love to spend a gorgeous afternoon.

        Cafe Bink
        36889 N Tom Darlington Drive, Carefree, AZ 85331

    2. Pretty much agree with what's been posted, with some additional suggestions (or repetitions):

      >> 1. An authentic Mexican place.

      Lots of threads on this, maybe Barrio Cafe for 'fancy' or Los Dos Molinos for a long time favorite.

      >> 2. A representative southwest place.

      Another vote for Kai, which is high-quality Native American cuisine with "international techniques" (their words, not mine). This is the only restaurant in three states (Utah, New Mexico, Arizona) that has a Forbes 5* rating, one of about 25 in the US, so this can double as your 'splurge' night.

      >> 3. What places sold we go for a quick bite around the hotel?

      Dunno, but Cafe Bink (Themis' rec) is a good choice if it's not far.

      >> 4. What place should we not leave your beautiful city without visiting? Any favourite gems?

      The two places that get the most Foodie buzz are Kai and Binkley's, I think it's pretty near unanimous these are the top two. Binkley's is probably a lot closer to you but Kai is a bit more upscale and has dishes you likely won't find elsewhere.

      I would also mention Pizzeria Bianco, which has won several national "Best Pizza" awards and would be best for lunch since lines are shorter, and Nobuo, a Japanese place across the square from Bianco's (both are downtown, with easy garage parking on the premises, if you are going to downtown Phoenix).

      Both Bianco and Nobuo are James Beard award-winning chefs, which is a big deal here.

      >> 5. As Canadians, your landscape is very beautiful and novel to us. are there any places with views or ambiance we should visit, not necessarily for the food?

      Maybe go to OpenTable's "Best of Arizona" link at and click on the "scenic view" filter.

      Here are some links that may be of interest regarding the above suggestions: ... this chap was in Phoenix earlier this year and dined at several of the above-mentioned restaurants and has very detailed write-ups on his blog. Great info. ... this lady Natasha is trying to visit all the Forbes 5* restaurants, here's her review of Kai from earlier this year. She rated it above several well-known Michelin 3* restaurants. ... here's the top local food critic's review of Nobuo, which is over-the-top laudatory ... unfortunately the omakase he describes is no longer available due to sourcing problems after the Japan earthquake, but it's still an interesting place to dine. ... here's the same critic's over-the-top review of Binkley's ...

      I don't think either Binkley's or Nobuo's are quite as good as he makes them out to be (at least not in the 6 times I've dined at them) but they are pretty darn good.

      72 degrees F and sunny next week during your visit, enjoy yourselves in Arizona!

      1. 1. +1 for Carolinas
        2. I like PHXeaters choices would also add: Cowboy Ciao with is SW fusion - one of my favorite places, Rokerji / Dick's Hideaway is also a do not miss (and are great for breakfast / lunch as well)
        3. If you want beer options and a quick bite to eat Yardhouse is in Desert Ridge, the food is maybe not chow worthy but better than average bar food and they make up for it with beer selection

        5. hiking a bit closer to you than camelback to where you are staying is pinnacle peak - which is less vertical and has a front and back to it, pretty fun hike / run if you dont want the challenge of camelback and you get some great views of the valley

        I would also agree that Roy's for dinner if you want to stay in is very solid

        1. Hey Bern. A fellow Torontonian here that was in Phoenix in October.

          Anyway, Carolina's is awesome. I ordered verbatim from another hound and it was a home run. “Red machaca burro, foot long, enchilada style. Don’t skimp on the brown sauce.” (1st pic)

          Another great place but not necessarily "S/W" but very unique is Chino Bandido. It was on Triple D and might just be the best of the 10 or so I've visited. A bizarre mix of Mexican, Chinese and Caribbean food. As odd as it all sounds it actually seems (somehow) to make sense. (2nd pic)

          If you have access to a freezer and nuculator grabbing some tamales at the Tamale Store is well worth it. My cousin has lived on Scottsdale for 25 years and he says their the best he's had. And BTW, I took some home in my suitcase. (3rd pic)


          1. Also, I don't know if you follow the burger threads on the chain board but if you do and haven't tried In n Out there are few around town. I actually ate there and while I wouldn't call it a wasted meal since the whole reason for eating there was to see what all the hype was about the bottom line is, it was not very impressive.
            My I sent my cousin some ideas of where to eat and he couldn't wait to take me to The Grind. Picked me up at the airport and took me there immediately. He'd never been and fell head over heels in love with it. (Nogales burger pic). Great wings too.

            In Tempe I heard really great things about The Chuckbox.


            3 Replies
            1. re: Davwud

              Love that there's another convert to the Grind. Best. Burger. Ever. Phoenix Magazine recently lost some standing with me when they did their burger review around the Valley and the Grind only received a C.

              Back on topic, Carolina's is definitely a must-go for Mexican. Agreed on your hotel not being really near too much- if you're up for a 10-minute drive, go to Kierland Commons/Scottsdale Quarter- tons of good restaurants in there- I'd recommend North and True Food

              1. re: cactuschowdah

                I was stunned when I saw that C grade. Pretty harsh when, as I understand it, it was based on "Non fresh" condiments. Whatever that means.


              2. re: Davwud

                In & Out is fast food. It will never match a gourmet burger, but for a drive thru style meal, at a price point of around $6 for burger, fries, and drink, it's quite tasty. Nothing frozen, fries cut fresh daily (although they can take getting used to - I hated them at first, but they've since grown on me and I'm now rather fond of them), burger assembled to order. Really, for the price, it can't be beat.

                Chuckbox is an old favorite in our household, but one must realize that it's a complete and total college dive. I recommend it only if you're comfortable in a ramshackle place with sticky floors, poor lighting, and possibly questionable cleanliness (they do pass inspection, so perhaps it's somewhat of a facade).

                Bernhardt -

                You might get a kick out of visiting a Pro's Ranch Market (hmm, seems to be listed as Phoenix Ranch Market on CH) for a cheap Mexican alternative. They have a food court and great bakery where you can pick up desert or some sweet rolls for breakfast. Food not on par with some of the better restaurants (it's still a food court, afterall), but it's an experience you may not find in Toronto.

                If you're willing to drive for an hour or so, Queen Creek Olive Mill is a nice place to have a lunch outside on picnic tables. The food is decent, the scenery is lovely, and you can pick up some excellent local Olive Oil. Friends of mine from Denver still talk about the place 2 years later.