The Best Food and Drink in Arizona for 2019
December 20, 2018
The Grand Canyon is a visual feast, but with this list you can actually eat!
The Best Food and Drink in Arizona
Arizona is home to many breathtaking views such as the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, and Saguaro National Park. Visitors come from miles away to experience other natural wonders like Havasu Falls and the Meteor Crater. But this state is home to nearly 7 million people as well, and Arizonans have created a vibrant culinary culture. We have hand-selected 22 of the places in the state most worth visiting to grab a bite in our second annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Arizona may be known as “The Copper State,” but its culinary landscape is pure gold. Cities like Phoenix and Tucson house some of the best spots for Mexican food in the country, like Barrio Café, Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca, and Gadzooks Enchiladas & Soup. It’s also home to some killer Italian food, all from the mind of New York native Chris Bianco, who has brought his flavorful Italian pastas, pizzas, and sandwiches to the Southwest.
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve been able to assemble definitive galleries celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Arizona gallery ahead.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: Wandering Horse Buffet (Scottsdale)
The Big Kahuna K./Yelp
Located at Talking Stick Resort, Wandering Horse Buffet offers a huge variety of Italian, Asian, Mexican, Mediterranean, and American cuisines, and really has something for everybody. There’s fresh sushi, a carving station, brick oven pizza, a huge dessert spread, a $34.95 Champagne Sunday brunch, a $23.95 prime rib feast on Wednesdays, and unlimited king crab legs on Friday and Saturday nights, when the price tops out at $36.95.
Best Bar: Kon Tiki Restaurant & Lounge (Tucson)
For over 50 years now, Kon Tiki Restaurant & Lounge has brought an island vibe to Tucson. The tiki bar looks almost exactly as it did when it first opened — complete with gas-powered tiki torches, the world's largest collection of Milan Guanko tikis, and assorted island curios. With plenty of films being shot in the Tuscon area, the likes of Clint Eastwood, Robert Mitchum, Lee Marvin, and Robert Wagner have stopped in for a drink. Indulge in signature island drinks like the Koko Pino (tropical pineapple and coconut blended with shaved ice and rum) or the Kanaloa (banana, orange, and pineapple mixed with Absolut Mango). Kon Tiki’s frosty drinks also pair nicely with the delicious food offered by the restaurant. Don’t miss the Kon Tiki pupus (appetizers) like Monkeys on a Stick (tender cubes of sirloin skewered, marinated, and charbroiled, and served with a teriyaki glaze) and Birds on a Stick (same idea, but with chicken); Tiki Chips (sugar-coated wonton chips served with teriyaki or sweet and sour sauce); and the Hawaiian barbecue chicken (seasoned, grilled, and finely basted chicken breast with house recipe barbecue sauce, all topped with a pineapple ring).
Best Beer: Tower Station IPA, Mother Road Brewing Company (Flagstaff)
The Tower Station IPA is named after an iconic stop on Route 66, Mother Road Brewing Company, and this IPA is just as refreshing as a much-needed break in a road trip. The taste of this beer comes to you in waves. At first, it’s a classic, bitter beer. But then you get orange and grapefruit sweetness thanks to plentiful amounts of hops.
Best Brunch: Hash Kitchen (Scottsdale)
Hash Kitchen is a buzzy, upbeat Southwest-inspired brunchtime destination with two Scottsdale locations. Its menu is loaded with a good mix of both traditional brunchtime favorites and outside-the-box creations; standouts include Benedict fries (topped with ham, bacon, roasted jalapeño, hollandaise, and poached eggs); fried-to-order doughnuts filled with cannoli cream; French toast bread pudding; a breakfast burrito with flatiron steak; biscuits and gravy with Italian sausage; carnitas hash with braised pork, cotija, roasted corn, avocado, fried onion, and green chile sauce; fried chicken and waffles; cinnamon roll pancakes; chicken tinga frittata; tamale cakes topped with green pork chili, poached eggs, and green chile hollandaise; a fried chicken salad sandwich; and five burgers. It also boasts one of the biggest Bloody Mary bars on earth, with more than 40 toppings available.
Best Burger: Rehab Burger Therapy (Scottsdale)
If you’re looking for a great burger in Scottsdale, locals know to go to Rehab. The 6-year-old beach-themed burger joint has attracted legions of followers for its massive selection of burgers (available with 10- or 5-ounce patties of custom-ground never frozen sirloin, brisket, and chuck). You can build your own burger (they’re all served on your choice of a brioche, pretzel, wheat kaiser, or gluten-free bun), or select one of the inspired creations including the Hatch Burger (grilled hatch chiles and melted Cheddar), the PB&J Bacon Burger (peanut butter, grape jelly, bacon, and sriracha), the Spicy Mac-N-Cheese Burger (pepper jack cheese, chile-kicked mac and cheese, bacon, and sriracha), and the Bigger Beefstro Burger (a 5-ounce patty topped with Havarti, shaved ribeye, roasted poblanos and onions, and house-made wasabi mayo).
Best Burritto: Carne Adovada, Los Dos Molinos (Phoenix)
Peek into the kitchen at Los Dos Molinos, a Phoenix institution for more than 20 years, and you’ll find the owner or one of her daughters and just one helper preparing Tex-Mex classics from scratch, to order. Burritos here come filled with beef, chicken, or chili, but opt for the carne adovada: a red pork stew that’s a Southwest specialty (when in Rome, right?). Few places do it better than Los Dos Molinos, and when wrapped up in a flour tortilla with some melted cheese, there are few foods more comforting. However, heed the warning given by the little red chile pepper next to it on the menu: It’s spicy.
Best Chinese Restaurant: King Wong (Phoenix)
You’ll find well-made versions of classic Chinese-American fare at King Wong. Regulars swear by the egg rolls, spicy orange chicken (made with white meat), fried rice, Mongolian beef, and fresh seafood dishes. Lunch and dinner specials offer a great value as well.
Best Chocolate Shop: Zak’s Chocolate (Scottsdale)
This small-batch chocolate shop sources all their beans from a single, ethical source and roasts the cocoa beans themselves. They then turn the beans into elegantly flavored chocolates, with delicacies such as a blackberry lychee bonbons and a cacao nib caramel.
Best Coffee Shop: Lux Central (Phoenix)
Lux Central is like hipster central — which doesn't have to be a bad thing. The super hipster vibe isn't just because they hand roast their coffee in-house; typewriters and antiques decorate the tables while live music or a DJ sets the mood for what results in perfect Instagram-fodder. The bakery has all sorts of pies, teacakes, cupcakes, bear claws, and more, but if you're feeling a bit hungrier, there's a full menu for each meal full of creative dishes. In addition to the coffee – made with beans sources from Brazil, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Panama, and Sumatra – the drinks menu also includes beer, wine, and cocktails.
Best Cupcakes: Caketini (Scottsdale)
With at least 15 flavors available every day, Caketini promises cupcakes that are twice as big (and twice as tasty) as their cupcake competitors. We can say for sure that these cupcakes are some of the most beautiful we’ve seen: each one is frosted and swirled with subtle signature designs that makes it as much a treat for your eyes as it is for your taste buds. Try their by-request-only chocolate silk cupcake, a chocolate cake topped with buttercream and chocolate truffle drizzle.
Best Doughnuts: Young Donuts (Tucson)
Brother-and-sister team Sophy and Keng Se opened Young Donuts six years ago, next door to a children’s dentist office. If that wasn’t enough of a reason to applaud them, then their doughnuts (and the super-friendly staff) definitely are. Fresh, light, puffy, sweet doughnuts line the shelves, and though there are plenty of choices, we can’t recommend the simple buttermilk glaze highly enough.
Best Farmers Market: Prescott Farmers Market (Prescott)
Sprouts Farmers Market/Yelp
Since its debut in 1991, the Prescott Farmers Market has expanded from a few farmers to more than 90 vendors selling everything from locally produced food and artisan products to plants and prepared food. They also emphasize educating the community about the importance of local agriculture. The Prescott market is open every Saturday during the summer.
Best Food Truck: Emerson Fry Bread (Phoenix)
The colorful Emerson Fry Bread truck might very well be the best food truck in the country that specializes in Native American cuisine — one of the most underrated cuisines of the world — with a Mexican twist. Customers pick a protein and a wrap style, such as “Jazzy” (Indian-style with beans, carne asada, cheese, and pico de gallo), “Mi Bandera Linda” (with handmade red and green chile sauces), or “Bolli” (served in a taco bowl), and wash it all down with a fan-favorite 32-ounce prickly-pear-based juice. Emerson is a testament to the creativity needed to run a successful food truck.
Best Fried Chicken: Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles (Multiple Locations)
Everything is made from scratch at this Phoenix mainstay, which has five locations in Arizona. The seasoning blend on the chicken has been passed down through several generations, and the waffle batter recipe yields a light and fluffy waffle with an almost creamy center.
Best Grocery Store: Sprouts Market
Sprouts Farmers Market/Yelp
The very first Sprouts Market opened in Arizona circa 2002, and today there are 36 stores throughout the state. The chain markets its own brand label, and according to the Sprouts website, it is committed to making healthy eating more affordable.
Best Hot Dog: El Güero Canelo, Tucson
This hot dog is completely unlike any other in the country: the Sonoran Dog, a shining example of international cooperation. John T. Edge first brought this hot dog into the spotlight in 2009, and even though it’s been around for more than 40 years, the Sonoran is having quite a moment in the sun. Here’s how it works: A hot dog is wrapped in bacon (good place to start), griddled until crispy, stuffed into a split-top bun that you won’t find outside of the region, and topped with any of a slew of condiments that usually involve beans, diced tomatoes, mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise. There are stands all over Tucson selling Sonorans, but the most shining example is sold in the humble, ragtag El Güero Canelo, which got its start as a tiny cart run by Daniel and Blanca Contreras in 1993 and now has three locations that host a massive array of toppings and an ever-present jovial vibe.
Best Hotel Restaurant: Elements (Paradise Valley)
Acclaimed chef and Food Network personality Beau McMillan is at the helm of Elements, the flagship restaurant at Camelback Mountain’s Sanctuary Resort and Spa in Scottsdale. His Asian-accented menu changes seasonally, and is sourced with local and organic produce, hormone-free meat, and sustainable seafood. Standout menu items include barbecue duck and green onion pancake with Sichuan sauce and toasted peanut and cabbage salad; carrot and millet potstickers with tamari, chile, and black vinegar; five-spice hoisin-glazed double Kurobuta pork chop with Brussels sprouts and bacon; and braised short rib and mushroom ravioli with Chinese broccoli, portobello mushroom, tempura lemon, and black garlic chive butter.
Best Ice Cream Stand: Sweet Provisions (Scottsdale)
Best Lasgana: Caruso’s Restaurant (Tucson)
Starting in the 1930s, Caruso’s has remained a family-run business located in the historic Fourth Avenue district of sunny Tucson. Although improvements have been made to the physical restaurant, their famous lasagna recipe has been kept untouched. They offer both a vegetarian and meat lasagna, which are equally delicious, making sure all types of eaters can be happy.
Best Mexican Restaurant: Barrio Café (Phoenix)
Barrio Café chef Silvana Salcido Esparza pours more than 250 of Mexico’s top-shelf tequilas, but she certainly doesn’t need them to convince customers to frequent her three colorful dining rooms. From queso fundido to pozole verde, shrimp quesadillas to slow-roasted Mayan-style achiote-spiced cochinita pibil tortas, Barrio Café offers authentic Mexican food that has enthralled Arizonans since 2002.
Most Expensive Restaurant: Bourbon Steak (Scottsdale)
A visit to Scottsdale’s popular outpost of the high-end Bourbon Steak from chef Michael Mina will definitely cost you a pretty penny. Chilled seafood appetizers start at $26 for tuna tartare and go all the way to $90 for a shellfish tasting; entrees range from $42 for grilled prawns to $89 for Maine lobster pot pie; and steaks start at $49 for an 8-ounce filet and go all the way to $295 for a trio of Wagyu cuts. If you’re eyeing an 18-ounce prime bone-in strip loin for your birthday dinner, you’d better save up $75 for it.
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: Authentic Rattlesnake, Rustler's Rooste (Phoenix)
It might not seem as outrageous to you if you're very familiar with Southwestern cuisine, but for much of the country, eating rattlesnake isn't exactly one thinks of when planning their dinner. Listed on the appetizer menu, the rattlesnake at Rustler's Roost is fried up and served with chipotle ranch dressing and fresh prickly pear cactus fries. If you happen to fall in love with it, don't fret; rattlesnake is available canned.
Most Romantic Restaurant: Cress on Oak Creek (Sedona)
Cress on Oak Creek/Yelp
Candlelight dining alfresco alongside a babbling creek lined with cottonwood and sycamore trees? Sounds romantic to us! At this fine dining destination located in the upscale L’Auberge de Sedona, even the interior tables — with their white tablecloths and flower vases — are romantic, but the outdoor tables overlooking the creek really are something else. The restaurant offers only fresh, seasonal ingredients, in three-, four-, or six-course tasting menus.
Best Old School Candy Shop: Sweetie’s Candy of Arizona (Chandler)
Sweetie’s Candy of Arizona/Yelp
This Arizona shop is a 13,000 square-foot candy wonderland. Sweetie’s boasts endless aisles of colorful treats like Bazooka gum, Big League Chew, Bottle Caps, Baby Bottle Pops, Crunch, Gobstoppers, Mike and Ike, and Jelly Belly. Snap a picture with one of many M&M’s characters hanging about the building.
Best Pancakes: Butters Pancakes and Café (Scottsdale)
Only the highest-quality ingredients go into the menu items at this Scottsdale breakfast destination, which has 14 different pancakes on the menu ranging from a simple short stack to Banana Cream Cakes (fresh bananas and cream, graham cracker pecan crumb, and caramel) and Wildberry Bliss Cakes (stuffed with blueberries, layered with vanilla mascarpone, topped with vanilla cream, fresh wildberries, and glaze). The folks who run this restaurant have spent decades in the industry, and it shows; you really can do no wrong here.
Best Pasta Dish: Pappardelle Bolognese at Pizzeria Bianco (Phoenix)
Chris Bianco may be best known for his amazing pizza skills, but his pasta chops are also seriously on point. You’ll find pasta on the menu only at Pizzeria Bianco’s newer second location, and there are only two options: spaghetti with tomato sauce, and pappardelle with grass-fed beef bolognese and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Opt for the second; the pasta is house-made and perfectly cooked, and the sauce is simple and flawless.
Best Pizza: Pizzeria Bianco (Phoenix)
Astute readers will notice Chris Bianco popping up all over this list, and even though Bianco no longer personally makes every pie that Pizzeria Bianco turns out (a bout of “baker’s lung” nearly killed him), the pizzas at this restaurant gave the chef his initial claim to fame. This is another case where any pie will likely be better than most you’ve had in your life (that rosa with red onions and pistachios!), but the signature Margherita will recalibrate your pizza baseline forever: tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil.
Best Restaurant for Breakfast: Matt’s Big Breakfast (Phoenix and Tempe)
Matt’s has two Phoenix locations and one in Tempe, and they all open for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. daily. Its owners strive to use the best ingredients possible, including cage-free eggs, all-natural pork and beef, and local organic produce. Offerings include a breakfast sandwich with two eggs, two slices of thick-cut bacon, American cheese, and grilled onions; three eggs scrambled with Molinari sopressata; two eggs served with an Iowa pork rib chop; and made-from-scratch waffles and pancakes.
Best Sandwich: Housemade Mozzarella at Pane Bianco (Phoenix)
The owner of Pane Bianco, Chris Bianco, originally opened a small pizzeria in 1988, simply called Pizzeria Bianco. In 2005, Bianco opened up this restaurant, which quickly became one of the premier sandwich shops in the Southwest. The shop was originally takeout only, but upgraded to a full-service restaurant in 2012.
Pane Bianco is known for its split focaccia sandwiches. The bread, made to order in a wood-fired oven, is thin, crackery, and crispy, and the real star of the show. The best way to enjoy it is with some thinly sliced house-made fresh mozzarella tucked into it along with some basil and olive oil; rotating add-ins include fresh tomatoes, wood-roasted peppers, and prosciutto.
Best Soup: Gadzooks Enchiladas & Soup (Phoenix)
Gadzooks founder Aaron Pool has become renowned for his enchiladas, which are made with handmade tortillas, slow-braised meats, and fresh-grated Mexican cheese, and he gives his soups just as much attention as his enchiladas. His restaurant takes a DIY, fast-casual approach, which means that your (already stellar) homemade tortilla soup of spicy potato corn chowder can be kicked up with an endless variety of meats, sautéed vegetables, sauces, cheeses, and other Mexican-inspired toppings.
Best Sports Bar: The Draft Sports Grill (Mesa)
The Draft, as locals call it, gives the classic sports bar a modern twist, using fresh ingredients to prepare all menu items in-house, like the Arizona spring rolls and asada tacos. They even employ DigitalPour, a live beer list on a 10-foot digital menu screen, to allow patrons to keep track of how much is left of their favorite keg.
Best Steakhouse: The Stockyards (Phoenix)
The Wild West is still alive and well at this 70-year-old gem, established to feed all the cattlemen in the then-nearby packing houses and still going strong in a slightly out-of-the-way corner of the city. An old-time saloon and murals of the Old West greet diners, but this place is no gimmick, being painstakingly restored in 2004. Huge corn-fed steaks are grilled over an open flame, with bestsellers including a 20-ounce buffalo rib-eye and an 18-ounce prime rib. Other options include three sizes of rib-eye, two sizes of New York strip, and three sizes of fillet.
Best Sushi Bar: Roka Akor (Scottsdale)
Yelp/ Roka Akor
Roka Akor may be a huge restaurant, specializing in sushi as well as steak (with three additional locations and a fourth in the works), but it’s legendary for a reason: It’s really, really good, and the quality of the sushi alone makes it one of America’s best restaurants for sushi, hands down. Fish is flown in fresh daily, and you can sample it à la carte, in a flight of bluefin tuna, in a chef’s selection of five or seven pieces, or as part of a $128 omakase. Should you opt for the omakase, expect to get your money’s worth: Chef Jason Alford only serves the rarest and highest-quality ingredients that come through his kitchen, so don’t be surprised if you’re served wagyu steak, black cod, lobster tempura, uni, a lavish platter of at least 10 varieties of sashimi, tableside-shaved black truffles, and several varieties of dessert. You might want to skip lunch that day.
Best Taco: Fish Tacos at Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca (Phoenix)
Formerly known as Tacos Atoyac, this beloved Phoenix taquería closed down with no notice a couple years back and reopened nearly a month later with a new name, and, thankfully, the same menu. Though the standard lineup of meats are all spectacular (and even the tripas, or intestines, are good), the fish taco is the way to go. Flaky white fish is fried until golden brown and crispy and then topped with shredded cabbage and a flavorful chipotle sauce. Roasted onions and jalapeños are offered for free on the side; you’re going to want to say yes to those. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.