In recent years, Phoenix has been going through a sort of cultural revival and now competes with other large cities as a true travel hub. Aside from the introduction of The Metro Light Rail at the end of 2008 and the transformation of Arizona State University to becoming the “New American University,” Phoenix has also been hard at work situating itself as a foodie destination.
While there are plenty of 5-star dining choices that you can’t go wrong with, there are also a lot of down-home local favorites you may be surprised to find.
If you like to know that all of your food is local and organic, try to visit Matt’s Big Breakfast on a weekday or early morning (open 6:30 AM to 2:30 PM); if you can’t, it’s absolutely worth the Saturday morning hour-long wait. Closer to the University, NCounter offers breakfast and lunch fare plus a coffee bar and adult drinks. If you have a sweet tooth, order the Bananas Foster French Toast; for a Southwestern kick, the Hot Juan omelet filled with chorizo, salsa, jalapenos, and more is for you.
You might not expect Southern fare in the desert, but Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles is often ranked as having some of the best chicken and waffles in the country. Similarly, Little Miss BBQ is some of the best BBQ you’ve ever had. Much like Matt’s, be ready to wait. Your best chance of getting some before it runs out is to arrive 20 minutes before opening at 11 am and get in line.
Finally, we usually try to feature non-chain restaurants, but as a current east-coaster I say that you must eat at In-N-Out. Get a double double and a Neapolitan shake for me.
Whether you’re in the Arizona State University area or in the airport, you have to go to Four Peaks Brewery. They have a beer for every taste, and I’ve seen people who say they don’t like beer fall in love with the Sunbru and sweet Peach Ale. The Kilt Lifter or 8thStreet Ale are top-notch. Anything you order will be good, from sandwiches to bar fare, including the best fish and chips I’ve ever had.
Another local favorite is Oregano’s with 14 locations in the Valley, providing the closest thing to Chicago-style pizza you’ll find in Phoenix. No matter how full you are, always, always order one of their pizookies for dessert.
If you’re traveling to the east valley, check out a new restaurant called Republica Empanada serving up, you guessed it, incredible empanadas. At just $3 apiece, you can try a few – including some great dessert ones. Be aware that Republica is closed on Sundays.
If you want to live like the locals, you’ll find yourself at a 24-hour Filiberto’s at weird times following questionable drinking choices. It may not be the classiest or healthiest – far from either, in fact – but you have to order a breakfast burrito. Try it with chorizo for the full Arizona experience. You can also check out Fili’s without making bad choices beforehand; try a carne asade burrito and a cool horchata.
Bosa Donuts offers incredibly fresh, perfectly fluffy treats. Try the apple fritter and maple buttermilk varieties. Unlike most bakeries, locations are open til 10 P.M., with some open 24 hours. Be extra sweet to the employees and you might get a surprise extra.
There is no lack of delicious sugary goodies in the valley. If you want to cool off from the summer heat, Churn creates some of the best ice cream, period. Mary Coyle Ol’ Fashion Ice Cream serves up old-fashioned sundaes in a retro atmosphere. Visit the Scottsdale branch of the world-famous Sprinkles bakery, and follow their Twitter to learn the whisper word for a free cupcake. In Phoenix, Tammie Coe has made a name for themselves in scrumptious specialty cakes, cookies, and desserts.
If you happen to be flying into Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, it should be noted that Terminal 4 is where you want to be. In an effort to promote more local flavors and less chains, recently Four Peaks, Lo-Lo’s, Matt’s, Tammie Coe’s and a slew of other local favorites such as Joe’s Real BBQ, Barrio Cafe, Cartel Coffee and many more. See the full listing here.
During your visit, try the Metro Light Rail to get around. It will get you pretty close to lots of places you want to go, including many of the restaurants we’ve featured here.