Throughout the year, the Phoenix New Times food team eats at a lot of restaurants. But there are certain bites that stand out above the rest. These dishes leave us daydreaming for months until we can make it back to each restaurant to indulge once more.
Right here in the Valley, there’s a hot dog that brought one writer back to her home city, a burrito that transports you to Chihuahua, and handmade pasta that conjures images of Italy.
These are the 10 best things we ate or drank around metro Phoenix in 2022.
Coney Dog at Detroit Coney Grill
699 South Mill Avenue, #119, Tempe
When you’re 2,000 miles away from the Motor City and the craving arises, Detroit Coney Grill is the spot to grab a Coney dog in metro Phoenix. Served atop a steamed bun with beanless chili, diced onions, and mustard, plus a fork and knife to cut through the sustenance, it’s a classic Detroit dog. Order it with a side of hand-cut fries for the full treatment. Owner Dave Najor is a native Detroiter, and the midwest city can be felt throughout his Valley restaurants, whether you head to the Scottsdale or Tempe location. Better Made Potato Chips and Faygo sodas are also available at the diner-meets-sports-bar, so settle in for a trip to “the D” without ever hopping on a plane.
Dutch Baby at The Original Pancake House
6840 East Camelback Road, Scottsdale
The Original Pancake House, a humble diner connected to a Motel 6, has hailed from Scottsdale since 1988. Once you taste the Dutch Baby, you will understand why. An ode to the German pancake, the Dutch Baby puffs up like a soufflé when baked in its cast iron skillet, then falls before reaching the table. It’s sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with a lemon wedge and butter. And though it takes about 20 minutes to bake from scratch, this little baby is worth every minute. Go for the junior version or order a full-size Dutch Baby and maybe share with your amigos. Owner Ron Horton swears by the dish, his favorite among a menu of other tried and true classics at his diner filled with teal upholstered booths and old-school hospitality.
Elote at Eric’s Family BBQ
12345 West Indian School Road, Avondale
The draw at Eric’s Family BBQ in Avondale is undeniably the exceptional smoked meats. Make sure to try the peppery ribs and don’t overlook the sweet tea-infused turkey served in this cozy, white adobe building. But the best bite of all at Eric’s is one of the sides. The Texas-style joint puts a southwest spin on typical barbecue sides with its elote. The bright yellow sweet corn comes served in a styrofoam cup, esquites style, and is topped with crumbled cheese and a sprinkle of paprika. But while this side looks like a traditional Mexican street food staple, the texture sets it apart. The corn is bathed in a thick, creamy sauce, almost like macaroni and cheese. The ooey-goey nature puts it squarely back in the realm of perfect sides to accompany rich meat and tangy barbecue sauce. Next time, we’ll order double.
Hand Cut French Fries by Der Wurst Hot Dogs at Linger Longer Lounge
6522 North 16th Street
Der Wurst Hot Dogs
The fries at Linger Longer Lounge are total memory makers. The first thing to sing your brain is sheer volume. Forget a regular-sized portion, these crowd-pleasers are built for, well, a crowd. Picture a full basket of not-too-thick, not-too-thin sticks of deep-fried delight confidently crowded together, burnished edges begging to be eaten. Then there’s the taste which comes down to technique. Chef Nicholas Hyche, who operates Der Wurst Hot Dogs inside Linger Longer Lounge, puts the humble potato through its paces, rinsing, refrigerating, and double frying, first to wake up the stars and then to crisp up the outside, before finishing with salt and a side of curry ketchup. If you’re sharing, expect the table to start out politely enough with a single fry dip-eat-repeat cadence, but when you hit the halfway mark, it’s a no-holds-barred grab fest. And with all that double dipping indulgence for just $7, these fries will have you coming back for more.
Jalapeño Cheddar Bagel at Bagelfeld’s Bagels
2940 East Thomas Road
The jalapeño cheddar bagel at Bagelfeld’s isn’t just a hand-rolled, freshly-baked, crusty creation that works both as a standalone and the ultimate sandwich vehicle, it’s an engineering feat that thankfully owner Charles Blonkenfeld was willing to solve. Cutting the jalapeños was the first challenge. Put them in a food processor and they quickly turn into a mushy mess, so he slices them super thin on the mandolin. Dispersing the cheese was the next dilemma, but Blonkenfeld came up with a downright delicious solution: By sprinkling shredded cheddar on the pan and then baking the bagel on top, he created a cheese-in-every-bite, crunchy coating that, thanks to the moisture content, makes the finished bagel even fluffier. Put it together and it’s a carby, salty standout with a hint of spice and a cheesy finish that pulls off the impossible.
Rajas at Testal
1325 Grand Avenue, #1
The burritos at Testal Mexican Kitchen are unusual. They are relatively small and they come open on both ends. Does this mean they’re messy? Yes. But the pillowy tortillas and savory fillings pack so much punch, you won’t care. Tender birria complete with bright red oil catches attention on the plate and is definitely delicious, but the filling that rises above the rest is the rajas. These thin, almost-black strips of roasted poblano peppers are less intensely spicy than other variations in town, which makes them all too easy to inhale. But slow down, and enjoy the flavors and textures of the creamy sauce, melty cheese, and soft onions, even as they drip down your hands. Testal is a Grand Avenue gem, located a mere block away from the national restaurant sweetheart Bacanora. But the food here is different. Bacanora specializes in wood-fired Sonoran specialties. At Testal, the focus is all Chihuahua. The duo bookends the block with dizzying flavours. But if you’re looking to get back to something simple and delicious that gets stuck in your head, order the rajas at Testal.
Rosso Creste di Gallo at Fat Ox
6316 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Fat Ox, a modern, high-end restaurant that sits on the border between Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, is a destination spot that treats customers right. Servers, who don black-tie uniforms, provide little stools to put your purse on, heaven forbid it touch the floor or hang on the back of your chair. Wine is served from individual decanters. And there’s valet parking. All of this sets an expectation for excellence in the meal. A plate of fresh bread served first is an indication of what’s to come. Scallops, salmon, and ribeye fill the entrees section of the menu, but be sure not to look past the pastas, the Rosso Creste di Gallo, in particular. The individual pieces of house-made pasta are a wine-shade of purple and maintain a sturdy and satisfying bite. Earthy mushrooms are brightened with pops of huckleberries and dandelion greens. But the stars of the show are thin slices of rich duck sausage that make the dish feel both decadent and hearty. Just like the rest of the restaurant, this dish feels fit for a special occasion.
Strawberry Chai at Spce Coffee
1736 East McDowell Road
Spce Coffee is the kind of spot you can take your way-too-cool influencer friend who’s visiting from Venice Beach or Brooklyn. Spce has vibes for days: light blue, pink, and lavender ones with creative drinks to match, and the Strawberry Chai certainly rises to the occasion. Spce makes its chai in-house with black tea and spices, then blends it with oat milk and fresh strawberries. The result is a sweet, milky, slightly caffeinated concoction reminiscent of the strawberry milk you drank from elementary school cartons, but way better. Sip the creamy beverage from its accompanying heart-shaped straw and draw doodles in your notebook; Space provides just the right atmosphere to let your imagination wander.
Ube Malasadas at Hapa Food Co.
5235 East Southern Avenue, #107, Mesa
Don’t mistake the ube malasadas at Hapa Food Co. for mere donuts. These are no pedestrian pastry, rather pleasingly puffy, pillowy treats popular in Hawaii where Leslie Zander, who co-owns Hapa with her husband Michael Zander, grew up. Sure, there’s the obvious difference, notably the pop of ultraviolet purple peeking out, a hint of the creamy custard inside made from the vivid starchy sweet tuber. Instead of ordinary powdered sugar, the exterior is absolutely smothered in granulated sugar, a texture upgrade that adds crunch and a reason to lick your fingers. So what’s in the dough? Your taste buds will tell you flour, yeast, eggs, and butter, but the Zanders are more tight-lipped: “This is a family recipe that took years and years to perfect,” says Leslie, who’ll only reveal the ingredients. create the golden-hued color and the process creates the soft, fluffy, inside. Not that any of it matters once you taste the fried-to-order treat, a sigh-inducing delight that’s love at first bite.
Veggie Croquette and Vegetarian Ramen at Ramen Kagawa
111 West Monroe Street
First order the veggie croquettes at Ramen Kagawa. Out will come two perfectly golden-brown flat oval patties. An armor of panko breadcrumbs shields the light and creamy mashed potato insides that are deep-fried until shatteringly crunchy. The result? A delicious dichotomy that both tricks and delights your taste buds. Then get the vegetarian ramen, a steaming bowl brimming with cabbage, green onions, hefty cubes of creamy-yet-firm tofu, delicate chile strings, and what seems like a bottomless array of noodles. These top-notch fillings come swimming in an umami-rich dashi broth that’s simmered for hours and spiked with creamy sesame paste and spicy chile oil. The comforting crunch of the croquettes paired with the savory, slurp-worthy goodness of the ramen is a satisfyingly indulgent combo that just happens to be vegetarian. With this double order, we found the perfect pair.