Scottsdale for Foodies: Where to Eat and Drink in 'The West's Most Western Town'
Scottsdale isn’t a new vacation getaway location, by any means. But, if we’re being honest, it’s probably more commonly known for its deserts than its desserts, and golf courses rather than its restaurants’ main courses. However, things are changing, and it's fast becoming a dining destination that savvy food travelers are paying close attention to, with an influx of talented chefs and an abundance of incredible local produce readily available to them thanks to the city’s unique environment and climate.
Fine Dining Brings the Best Out of Local Southwest Produce
Scottsdale has been blessed with an influx of passionate chefs who have embraced the southwest climate and unique access to fresh produce. A year round abundance of sunshine results in an ability to produce a plethora of diverse flavors, from vibrant tomatoes to robust ancient grains and beans, and chefs are spoilt with a bounteous variety of ingredients at their disposal.
Acclaimed Scottsdale local, Chef Matt Carter spins a modern take on both Italian and Mexican food in his two fine dining concepts, Fat Ox and The Mission. The former is one of Scottsdale’s most elegant dining rooms, with dignified polished wood tones and stately marble trimmings lining the interior. It’s a dimly lit, moody space and sits at the higher end of the pricing scale, but it’s a dinner experience that showcases some of the best pasta in the city. Its Rosso Crest Di Gallo is a perfectly cooked pasta, wonderfully al dente, and is smooth and rich with a fatty duck sausage and mushrooms. Bursts of sweetness from huckleberry playfully cut through the warmly amiable plate, livened up further with a pleasant tartness from dandelion greens. But Fat Ox’s garganelli is the true medalist of the evening, a splendidly simple and utterly perfect dish. It’s one of the most delicately thin rolls of pasta your teeth will ever sink into, cooked masterfully with enough of a gently bite that dissolves into a wondrously gratifying mouthful. Topped with an unctuous slither of speck, and laden with a modest amount of truffle butter and and olive oil, its a harmonious medley of vibrance, fat, and satiating tender carbs.
The second of Chef Carter’s titles, The Mission, brings a true southwest flavor to Old Town Scottsdale. A Latin inspired restaurant, it serves up the expected Mexican offerings in artisanal tacos and table side guacamole, but in a strangely alluring melancholic setting, even if you may require your phone flashlight to read the menu. Their pork shoulder is smoked and slow braised for twelve hours, and with a sweet and spicy pineapple habanero glaze, makes for a deliciously morish taco. There’s a prevalence of contemporary southwest influences flavoring the edgy Latin dishes, with the short rib barbacoa and duck carnitas tacos worthy of a second round.
FNB, a concept from Chef Charleen Badman composes its menu around the diverse relationships it enjoys with local Arizona farmers and wineries. A primarily vegetarian based menu, it manages to showcase the very best local produce sourced from properties that are as physically close to the restaurant as possible. With five different rivers emptying into the valley, the region is an agricultural hotbed, with seasonal produce from literally a few miles away rotating through the menu dependent on their availability each week. Their house falafel is a spectacular plate, herbaceous and fragrant, bursting with a proud celebration of the freshness of the local ingredients, its powerfully intoxicating aromas wafting out from the first cut.
The Drinks Scene is as Diverse as its Food Scene
From hotel poolside cocktails to locally distilled spirits, Scottsdale’s beverage offerings are impressive. But specifically, they bring out the best characters of the city, and its diverse drinking opportunities showcase what’s so charming and alluring about Scottsdale. Goldwater Brewing Company in Old Town Scottsdale serves over 15 of their own specially crafted beers, all served directly from their brite tanks and tap system, with a slick, industrial vibe, in their Goldwater Tap Room. It’s here where you can try their ‘Desert Rose’ Cactus Ale, a local favorite, the vibrantly red colored, light bodied ale is a lively and refreshing beer, made from Noble hops and fresh cactus fruits, along with various local flowers and botanicals indigenous to the Sonoran Desert.
Old Town Scottsdale offers tourists the opportunity to cool off with a cold beer and live music in one of the most iconic Arizona settings at the Rusty Spur Saloon, the oldest bar in Scottsdale. The physical building itself oozes with intriguing Scottsdale history, formerly housing the Farmers’ Bank of Scottsdale, and the bank vault door now opens to house the bar’s liquor. It’s a lighthearted night filled with sprightly local characters, where you’re guaranteed to have a few laughs, and sing along to some of your favorite western songs over a great choice of reasonably priced beers.
For cocktail lovers, there’s endless options at the numerous hotels and restaurants, including the earlier mentioned The Mission, where the southwest’s obsession with avocados is transformed into a more unique cocktail. Their renowned avocado margarita made with Cazadores Añejo tequila, avocado, pressed lime is surprisingly successful, refreshingly smooth, but with a lively southwest pulse that deservedly, has guests coming back for.
In a city that serves up celebrated pizza all across town, the next step is finding somewhere to eat said pizza with the perfect drink pairings. Craft 64 is somewhat of a local secret, that from the outside, looks more like a quiet residential house with a front patio and understated, almost discreet signage. Step inside though, and it’s a cozy neighborhood bar, with a true local feel, decked out in large inviting wooden tables, and a real homely warmth throughout the entire open room. Behind the abounding wall of 36 taps sits the kitchen with a large wood fired pizza oven, constantly pumping out the freshest and most delectable of pies. To accompany your piping hot prosciutto, fig, and arugula pizza, and balls of fresh house made mozzarella, choose from local Arizona beers, unique award winning ciders, and an exclusive wine list. It’s a wonderful lovable drinking hole, whose food, all made fresh with locally sourced ingredients, will have you staying for hours.
Brunch is Big. Really Big.
Is there anything better than a brilliant brunch under clear blue skies on a sunny afternoon in Arizona? Well, maybe if it’s by a swimming pool, as is the case with the Andaz Scottsdale Andaz Resort and Spa, whose stunning poolside restaurant, Weft & Warp features a laid back indoor outdoor dining room that opens up to view of the resort’s stunning palm tree lined swimming pool. With picturesque views of the iconic mountain ranges, the restaurant serves up the perfect weekend brunch, with traditional classics done with a locally quirky Scottsdale twist, like Dirty Hash Brown with green chili pork and queso, and a Blue Corn Short Stack boasting orange poppy seed custard and rye whisky syrup topped with popcorn.
If you want to take things one step further, and you’ve got an insatiable appetite for brunch done in the most extravagant of ways, you’ll have to put a visit to Hash Kitchen on your list. This lively local hotspot brings a childlike excitement back into brunch, with eccentric creations that somehow taste even better than they logically should. From the fluffiest of Banana Split Brioche French Toast that’s a sweet pillow of happiness with every bite, to a a wonderfully outlandish Fruity Pebbles Pancakes bursting with sugary rainbow goodness baked into each bite - these are servings that will test the stretchiest of stretchy pants.
To accompany this, their extensive drinks menu keeps the whimsical celebration going, with spiked a Cereal Milk Flight, with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Captain Crunch, and Coco Puffs cocktails, and an over the top build your own Bloody Mary Bar with the most voluminous and never-ending selection of toppings that will make the vodka and tomato juice seem more like the garnish.
Scottsdale Has A Major Sweet Tooth
Dessert lovers, get ready. This city knows how to tempt you with the most drool-worthy of sweets. Tucked away in a nondescript residential and corporate complex, Scottsdale bakery SweetDees is a true local’s secret. Their endless array of the most artistic and beautifully crafted of baked goods will have you staring at the glass counter in awe for hours, but trust me, you cannot leave without trying their cruffins. Beautifully flakey on the outside, and satisfyingly chewy on the inside, they’re beyond delicious. They’re also known for their ingenious seasonal creations, often ornamentally themed for the holidays, and will have you posting all over Instagram.
For a cookie with a local bite, you need to check out Super Chunk Sweets and Treats’ mesquite chocolate chip cookie, that brings in travelers from all over the world. The culinary artists in the kitchen create numerous fantastical cake creations, but you must order their iconic mesquite cookie; a shortbread cookie made without eggs, sweetened with evaporated cane juice sugar. The mesquite flour, native to the southwest, adds a unique, almost sandy texture and a smoky and nutty flavor. It’s a fascinatingly complex bite that is incredibly easy to eat, and you’ll understand why people can’t stop talking about Scottsdale’s uncommon take on the chocolate chip cookie.
To beat the Arizona heat, head to Sweet Republic for some of the best ice cream in the state. Located inconspicuously in a quiet strip mall, this ice creamery serves up meticulous old school classic flavors done masterfully, but they’re also known for their wacky and curious cold creations. Flavors such as Sichuan Pepper Chocolate and Coconut Cashew Curry will leave you scratching your head because, despite your hesitations, their bizarre pairings aren’t just for shock value - they actually taste brilliant. Their Basil and Lime sorbet can act as a palate cleanser before you move on to an epic sundae such as their Toffee Banoffee, with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, almond toffee brittle, salted butter caramel sauce, whipped cream, bananas, and crushed nuts.
Speaking of Instagram worthy desserts, anyone in search of the most picturesque of sweet posts has to head to Ruze Cake House. Sitting quietly in the Arts District of Old Town Scottsdale, this charming cafe serves up a plethora of Instaworthy treats in a beautiful and crisp white, cleanly styled setting. From a hot pink prickly pear tea with boba and pink cotton candy, to painstakingly detailed cactus cookies decorated with stunningly intricate colors that make for the perfect Scottsdale present, this is a feast for both the eyes and tastebuds. Their macarons are phenomenal, with rotating seasonal flavors baked into technically perfect, crispy cushions that will require you to take a moment after each bite.
The City is Having a Tasty Retro Revival that Elevates Classic Southwest Flavors
Make no mistake, despite its colorful amalgamation of different culinary influences brought upon by the migration of chefs from all over the world, this city has a distinct flavor when it comes to its food and drink identity. Much of that today, comes from a lovable nod to its retro roots, set against the picturesque backdrop of the stunning southwest. Think the vibrant flavors matching classic inviting swimming pools, luscious palm trees, and crisp desert air. It’s an old school profile, elevated by talented and inspiring chefs, eager to stamp their mark on traditional favorite dishes. From nostalgic dessert houses and diner burgers, to taco Tuesdays and dive bars, the revival of a charismatic past and fetching eld comes through across the city’s food and drink scene.
For example, it’s not difficult to find good Mexican cuisine in the southwest, but Scottsdale’s Diego Pops manages to bring a playful twist to all time favorite dishes, such as their splashy spin on nachos, the Brussel Sprouts Nachos, a social media favorite. A gargantuan pile of chips piled with roasted Brussel sprouts, street corn queso, queso oaxaca, fresno chilis, bright pickled onions, roasted garlic beet crema, and finally topped with a fried egg, makes it a perfect sharing snack with their refreshing margaritas. It’s a festively casual, retro happy hour, with splashes of hot pink neon lights, colorful print wallpaper, and cozy pastel blue booths.
When it comes to iconic accommodation in Scottsdale, Hotel Valley Ho rightly claims center stage. A true city gem, the hotel opened as an oasis escape for Hollywood stars back in 1956, and still maintains its snazzy flair today. Its restaurant, Zuzu is a enchanting step back in time, with its dining room encompassing all that is so alluring about the property’s history through not only its endearing decor, but also from its menu offerings. Their renowned showstopper milkshakes will bring out the little kid in the most stoic of adults, as you dig into a colorfully monstrous creation of toppings and flavors that rotate each month. Their lunch menu offers a delectable choice of different sandwiches and burgers with a modern twist, such as the Korean BBQ burger and prime rib grilled cheese, in a retro-chic dining room with warm quintessential local hospitality. Hotel Valley Ho just oozes a spirited mid-century character - it’s pure personification of Scottsdale’s affectionate character, and a lovable nod to its fascinating past.
The locals tell me that you can drive right across the city of Scottsdale in under 40 minutes. Despite its size, there’s a disproportional number of restaurants proud to welcome in foodie visitors to its tables, offering a fresh revitalization of southwest flavors. Scottsdale might not be the first thought when it comes to internationally renowned culinary destinations, but it holds its own as a charming and convivial table for accomplished local chefs celebrating the prominent array of superior local produce.
The journalist writing this article was hosted by Experience Scottsdale.