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Destination Guide

 
 
As late as the mid-80s, the Valley of the Sun was considered more a culinary wasteland than a capital of cuisine. Sure, there were a few upscale eateries at the resorts, but outside of that, dining for desert dwellers was mainly of the steak-and-potatoes ilk.

In 1986, a revolutionary restaurant started an evolution in eating in Greater Phoenix.

Lets start our tour of Valley drinking and dining with a timeline of the "Top Ten Toques" whose innovation and inspiration have made Phoenix/Scottsdale the premier dining destination of the Southwest. . .

1986
Vincent Guerithault combines the classic techniques learned in his native France with indigenous Arizona ingredients to pioneer a new style of Southwestern cuisine at his Vincent on Camelback. Vincent subsequently wins the 1993 James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southwest Award, is featured on the cover of Money Magazine as well as in The New York Times, Gourmet and Bon Appétit. In 1996, the restaurant makes the James Beard Outstanding Restaurant list. Today, Vincents continues to be one of the Valleys top-rated fine dining venues.

1988
RoxSand Suarez Scocos introduces the Valley to her innovative transcontinental cuisine at RoxSand at the Biltmore Fashion Park. Blending techniques and ingredients from around the globe, RoxSand continues to wow local diners and visitors with a continually-changing menu of inspired "world cuisine." She was named James Beard 1999 Best Chef Southwest. RoxSand has been honored as one of the countrys top restaurants by both Food & Wine magazine and the Zagat guides.

Eddie Matney adds even more exotic excitement to Valley dining with Kous Kous. Inspired by his Lebanese roots, Eddie adds a Middle Eastern accent to his dishes, including his signature "Mo'Rockin Shrimp." In 1990, Kous Kous becomes Eddies Grill and, in 1998, he and wife, Jennifer Blank Matney, open Eddie Matneys at Camelback and 24th Street. Eddie was nominated for the James Beard Best Chef Southwest in 1999, has been featured in Food & Wine and Bon Appétit magazines, and appears on numerous local television cooking shows. Eddie Matneys garnered a 1999 Wine Spectator magazine Award of Excellence.

1990
After gaining a reputation at Le Relais in North Scottsdale, Christopher Gross opens the much-anticipated Christophers and Christophers Bistro. The Bistro featured casual French fare, while the more upscale Christophers fine dining room concentrated on prix fixe presentations of classic French cuisine. In 1998, Christopher and wife, Paola, traversed 24th Street to open Christophers Fermier Brasserie and Paolas Wine Bar at the Biltmore Fashion Park. Among his many honors, Christopher has been named one of Americas Ten Best New Chefs by Food & Wine magazine and was the 1995 James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southwest. Christophers Fermier recently received the 1999 Wine Spectator magazine Award of Excellence.

1994
Desiring to capture the essence of the European restaurants he frequented while training in Amsterdam and France, Mark Tarbell opens . The restaurant combines a cozy, neighborhood ambience with internationally-inspired, yet homeTarbellsy cuisine. Just across 32nd Street, Marks second restaurant, the hip and happening Barmouche, opens in 1999. Inducted in 1999 into the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame, Mark has been a guest chef on NBCs "Good Morning America" and has appeared on the "Today" show and on several TV Food Network shows. He has also cooked for the Dalai Lama, and at the James Beard House in New York.

1996
Effervescent Erasmo "Razz" Kamnitzer culminates his many years of pleasing Valley palates with the opening of Razzs Restaurant and Bar. He and wife, Bobbi Jo Haynes, create a sophisticated space filled with eclectic art (some of it Razzs own) that mates perfectly with the menu offerings of this seventh generation chef of Venezuelan/German ancestry. Razz has been nominated for the James Beard Best Chef Southwest Award, has been featured in numerous food and wine publications and has appeared on TV Food Networks "Ready, Set, Cook." The restaurant was cited by John Mariani of Esquire magazine as one of the countrys Best New Restaurants in 1997.

1997
The Chef de Cuisine at The Phoenician Resorts Windows on the Green strikes out on his own with the Roaring Fork. Robert McGrath terms his new venture "An American Western Bistro and Bar," offering frontier food with flair in a rustic, yet refined setting. Robert was named one of Food and Wine magazines Ten Best New Chefs in America in 1998 and was nominated for James Beard Best Chef Southwest in 1994, 1995 and 1998.

Michael DeMaria, a member of the 1992 gold medal-winning US Culinary Olympic team, brings contemporary American cuisine with Mediterranean overtones to North Scottsdale at Michaels at the Citadel. Having gained a reputation as a top chef at the five-star Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa, Lons at the Hermosa Inn, and T. Cooks at the Royal Palms, Michael continues to be a force in the Valleys culinary field. He and partners in the Peak Restaurant Group opened a second concept, Bistro America, in late 1999 which features American "comfort" foods in portions meant to be shared at the table.

1998
RoxSand alum James McDevitt and wife/partner/pastry chef, Stacey, bring Asian/American fusion cuisine to Scottsdale at Restaurant Hapa. Its an immediate hit with Valley "foodies" both for its inventive menu and its stylishly minimalist decor. James was recently honored as one of Food & Wine magazines Best New Chefs of 1999.

1999
Hes created culinary magic at nearly every noted resort in the Valley. Hes even chefed in Moscow. And now you can experience Lenard Rubins medley of Mediterranean and Arizona flavors at Medizona. Lenard is decidely one of the Valleys most respected chefs, by both diners and his peers in the industry, and hes receiving rave reviews on his newest Scottsdale venture.

Want more details on these hot Valley dining destinations? Most have their own websites, which you can link to directly by going to their individual listings.

Now that you have an idea how the Valleys dining scene has grown, lets take a look, by area, at some of the other dining and drinking adventures awaiting you here . . .

Downtown Phoenix
Today, more than ever, there are a myriad of reasons that Valley-ites and visitors flock downtown. With pro sports at America West Arena and Bank One Ballpark and cultural happenings at the Herberger Theatre, Orpheum and Phoenix Symphony, there are regularly tens of thousands -- and sometimes hundreds of thousands -- of hungry and thirsty event-goers looking for a bite to eat and a beverage to wash it down.

Arizona Center offers perhaps the best encapsulation of eateries in the downtown area, with everything from a fast food court to sports bars and clubs to more upscale offerings at Lombardis, Dragon Inn and the Oyster Grill.

For an Irish-accented meal or pint of porter, pop into downtowns original Irish pub, Seamus McCaffreys, at the historic Hotel San Carlos.

Phoenix Suns fans -- and sometimes even the players -- can often be found at Majerles, still owned in part by former Suns star Dan Majerle.

Alice Cooperstown is a mind-blowing mix of rock 'n roll revelry and sports bar with regular live concerts, food, drinks and fun. You gotta check it out!

Camelback Corridor
From the swanky Biltmore area centered at 24th Street and Camelback, heading east into Scottsdale, this could be called the culinary vortex of the Valley. Many of the areas top restaurants are located here, including six of the top ten restaurants profiled in our timeline above. Besides those mentioned previously, the Biltmore Fashion Park is also home to the renowned Bamboo Club and Che Bella. As you head east, several standout steakhouses -- Ruths Chris, Omaha Steakhouse and Harris' -- can be found.

In the mood for upscale ethnic? Marco Polo, Havana Cafe and French Ambiance will take you on a whirl-wind world tour.

Scottsdale Fashion Square features another great global gastronomic gathering. Plan on making several trips to the mall, because you won't want to miss a meal at P.F. Changs, Kona Grill, Bistecca, Fog City Diner or the popular Z'Tejas.

Midtown Phoenix
Just to the north and the south of Camelback Road, from Central Avenue east to 44th Street, you'll find a super selection of friendly, comfortable neighborhood places to dine and drink. Among them are Normans Arizona, Chef Norman Fierros' latest concept, Convivo, a contemporary American cafe with a super wine selection and Richardsons, both an award-winning New Mexican restaurant and a popular gathering spot for after-work "whistle wetting."

Downtown Scottsdale
Scattered amidst the toney galleries and gift shops in this arts district are some true dining treasures. Mr. Cs Chinese fine dining has long been a neighborhood fixture, as have Pischkes Paradise, the Pink Pony, anDon & Charliesd Los Olivos. You'll also want to try Malees on Main for terrific Thai, Muellers for great German, and Tequila Grill for sizzling Southwestern.

Some of the Valleys hottest clubs can be found here too. Check out the glitzy, high energy Axis/Radius, Madisons and Martini Ranch.

Go back to the big band era at the Famous Door. Or catch the evenings live local, regional or national musical act at Cajun House.

Scottsdale Road
This main North/South artery is just one long and luscious "parkway for the palate." Heading north from Downtown Scottsdale, to Bell Road and beyond, theres a seemingly never-ending array of options. Cosmopolitan cowboys will want to seek out Rancho Pinot Grill, hidden away in a plaza on the southwest corner of Lincoln and Scottsdale Road. At the Bastille-like Borgata, award-winning Chef Donna Nordin serves up awesome Arizona edibles at Cafe Terra Cotta. Right across the street is the ultimate upscale steakhouse, Flemings Prime.

Before you even get to Shea Boulevard, you'll have found scads of appetizing ways to satisfy your hunger, but don't stop just yet. At and near this intersection, are La Locanda, touted as one of the best Italian restaurants in all of Scottsdale, and Seasons, not only one of the newest see-and-be-seen restaurants, but also a find for its ever-changing menu and super selection of Sonoma wines.

A whole new neighborhood seems to have sprung up recently at the intersection of Bell and Scottsdale Roads and, thankfully, that means new restaurants. A second branch of Carlos O'Briens popular Sonoran-style Mexican cuisine and Coyote Grill, an attractive and appetizing Southwestern cafe, are on the northwest corner.

As you travel into what was, not so long ago, a kind of "no-mans-land", plan to spend a few hours at Rawhide 1800s Western Town and try the rattlesnake (yes, its really rattlesnake) at the Golden Belle Steakhouse & Saloon. Then saddle up and mosey to the . . .

Pinnacle Peak Area
As Scottsdale continues to sprawl northward, new and exciting eating establishments are popping up in the area from Scottsdale Road, east to Pima Road, and from Pinnacle Peak Road north. Over the past couple of years, several of particular note have opened. Restaurant Oceana brings fresh-from-the-sea fish and shellfish to eager desert dwellers. Mastros and Michael Montis specialize in top quality steaks and seafood. Jalapeños Mexican Cafe and Cafe Saguaro offer a taste of Southwestern and south-of-the-border fare. Crew, an eat place, and Cantina del Pedregal both offer dramatic desert views and good food in a lively atmosphere.

Downtown Tempe/Arizona State University Area
You can always count on a college town to be "party central" and Tempe is no exception. Mill Avenue and University Drive are ground zero for the East Valleys night life. The subterranean and sensory-stimulating Beeloes is a combination cafe, gallery and concert venue with live music and late night dining. Gordon Biersch, named the 1998 Valleys Best Brew Pub by Phoenix New Times, is as popular for its people-watching as it is for its brewed-in-house beers. True to its name, The Bash on Ash is a warehouse-sized scene of "Animal House" style activity. Nutrition- and environment-conscious noshers will find everything here from macrobiotic munchies at Desert Greens Cafe and In Season Deli to Israeli at Sabuddy and Ethiopian at Lalibela.

Lets put it this way, Tempes amalgamation of artists, students and slackers makes it probably the only area in the Valley where a place like Cheba-Hut, specializing in hemp foods (yes, its legal), doesn't even raise an eyebrow.

East Valley
Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert form the "bedroom communities" of the East Valley. But, in terms of dining, this is by no means a sleepy section. A whole world of ethnic cuisines awaits you here. From Arisoo Korean to Zur Kate German cuisine, theres an appetizing array of options. For fine dining, Mahogany Run in Gilbert has quickly become an acclaimed destination. The East Valley is also peppered with hundreds of small "mom-and-pop" operations designed to appeal to the many midwesterners who call this area home.

West Valley
You know how, in most cities, theres a section where the real, blue-collar people live? In the Valley, this is it. Comprised of one of Phoenixs "Avenues" (westside), Glendale, Peoria, Litchfield Park, Goodyear, Avondale and Tolleson, this is also the place you'll find simple, satisfying food at bargain prices. Try, for instance, the triple-decker sandwiches at the New Yorker. Or succulent and aromatic chicken at the Golden Greek. For lip smackin', finger lickin' ribs and pulled pork, the west side is also the Valleys "King of 'Cue."

Country cooking and country music go hand in hand. When you're looking for a night on the town, "Electric Slide" on over to Mr. Luckys, one of the Valleys longest-operating authentic cowboy dance clubs, or one of the other "boot scootin'" country bars on the west side. Most offer free country dance lessons and Mr. Luckys even has live bull riding in an outdoor rodeo arena.

Northwest Valley/Arrowhead
Recently the Arrowhead section of Bell Road (from about 59th Avenue to 87th Avenue) surpassed Orlando as the "chain restaurant capital" of the country. If you're a fan of consistently good, quick and convenient fare, you'll find almost every imaginable national
and international restaurant group represented here. In addition to the ubiquitous fast food places, a whole spectrum of mid-range and even some upper end chains have popped up along this stretch. Yet, a few independent operators are holding their own in the corporate
sea. Cucina Tagliani promises freshly prepared, homestyle Italian in a family atmosphere. The Barn Comedy Theater combines cowboy cooking, melodrama, live country music and comedy shows.

So, whether you have an appetite for sizzling Southwestern, exotic Asian, innovative Italian, or homestyle All-American, theres a place that will please every palate, and a price for any purse here in the Valley of the Sun.

Happy dining!

Barbara Rothschild