Written by Andy Forsell is an Assistant Vice President at Lockton Companies. He is a current Greater Phoenix Chamber Board Member and serves as the Immediate Past Chair for GPC’s Valley Young Professionals Board of Directors.
There’s a fine line between being a “food snob” and enjoying a good meal. I’ve been accused a time or two of losing sight of that line, but I’ve seldom had a restaurant recommendation fail to live up to expectations.
“Part of the secret to success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside” – Mark Twain
It’s not news to anyone living here that the Valley food scene has exploded in the last decade. While that is good news for the gastronomically inclined, it also brings with it a veritable smorgasbord of merely “meh” options that still break the bank. So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite local restaurants to check out, for any occasion.
1: Atlas Bistro – Best for a long meal with a small group
Atlas Bistro is a Prix Fixe fine dining spot nestled into a strip mall on Scottsdale Road between McDowell & Thomas Rd. Their menu changes every 6 weeks, and the food stands out both for its high quality and variety of flavors. They are a “Bring Your Own Bottle” joint, with an attached wine store if you forgot to pack one.
The setting is intimate, the staff is friendly and attentive, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better meal to experience with close friends & family. You’ll leave satiated without needing to be rolled out the front door due to their French-style portion sizes.
Great alternative with the same feel: Restaurant Progress in Melrose.
2: Fat Ox – Best alternative to steakhouses for business entertaining
Many business dinners tend to end up at steakhouses because they are a safe choice – who doesn’t love a good steak, after all. These can get a bit old, and the tab can often raise eyebrows in accounting. Fat Ox’s modern take on Italian cuisine provides many mainstays to provide plenty of options for a variety of palettes while still offering top notch cuts for any guests who are loath to skip a great steakhouse meal.
The first few courses are meant to be shared, so your entire party can enjoy a bit of everything. I’ve found that this shared dish experience provides ready “small talk” conversation while you and your new business associates wait for the phenomenal wine selection to loosen tongues further.
Don’t miss the Grilled Calabrian Shrimp, Garganelli or their stand-out Pluma Iberica de Bellota (Pork).
Great alternative for the same occasion: Virtu Honest Craft in Old Town (get the Octopus, prepared so it has the consistency of lobster, rather than being chewy).
3: Glai Baan – Best Thai food
Glai Baan is a perpetually busy, family-owned Thai place between Arcadia & Biltmore. Skip the tired “pad Thai” at the many interchangeable Thai restaurants around and try their modern take on dishes inspired by the street food in Thailand. Expect a long wait if you go during the dinner rush, which seems to last almost from the minute they open their doors until well into the evening, but you won’t regret it – there is a reason that there always seems to be a wait.
Don’t miss the mango sticky rice for dessert.
4: The Refuge Café – Have coffee meetings while supporting local causes
The Refuge Café in Melrose is run by Catholic Charities Community Services, a local nonprofit that uses profits from the café to support their programs for refugees, foster children, veterans and domestic violence survivors. Not only is the main café a very hip space, but they have a conference room to support meetings of up to 15 people – perfect for networking groups, board meetings or other informal business meetings.
Their menu is small, simple but made from scratch and they have everything from specialty coffee drinks to craft cocktails for meetings at any time of the day.
5: Outta Bronx – NY street food for casual lunches and “cheat days”
It’s easy to miss Outta Bronx, next to a drive-through liquor store just east of 40th Street on McDowell, but don’t pass it up. What they lack in “location” they make up for with bold sandwiches, consistently good wings and great value. If you’re the kind of traveler who prefers to avoid the high prices at Sky Harbor (like I am) it’s the perfect place to drop in on your way to catch your flight.
Don’t miss the Sonoran Dog or the “Asian Invasion” chicken wings.
6: The Stand Arcadia Burger Shoppe – Best drive-thru burger
The Stand embodies the philosophy of “if you’re going to do one thing, do it really well”. They have a very streamlined menu; several burgers, French fries and hand-crafted milk shakes, but the quality of everything on that menu is where they shine. Burger joints like In’N’Out, Smashburger, Five Guys, etc. have plenty of devoted fans, but I’d wager many of them would be converts after trying The Stand.
What makes their burgers so good? Crisp “fixings”, buns that aren’t soggy right out of the bag, juicy and flavorful patties and uncommon sauces that pair really well with the meal.
Swallow your skepticism and try the “Big Kahuna”. Pineapple most definitely doesn’t belong on a pizza, but the Stand has proven to me that it can belong on a burger. Coupled with their “honey lava sauce”, this burger is a great sweet/savory combo worth coming back for.
7: The Market by Jennifer’s – Best brunch (also great for dinner)
Instead of fighting the crowds at the “usual” brunch hotspots in Arcadia (The Henry, Hash Kitchen, etc.), check out The Market, owned/operated by Jennifer’s Catering. Their ambiance is eminently “Instagrammable” for any in your party who put a premium on that, and their hyper-local ingredients both support other Arizona businesses and add flair to a meal that all too often seems to be copy/pasted from one brunch spot to the next.
Don’t miss the charcuterie & artesian cheese board, the chilaquiles or their rotating breakfast quiches.
“My doctor told me I had to stop throwing intimate dinners for four unless there are three other people” – Orson Welles
After the year that many restauranteurs have had, go support local Valley businesses and enjoy a great meal while you’re at it, I hope you enjoy the suggestions as much as I have.