I’ve been a guest of the Scottsdale CVB now two times for the purposes of research and though some of these referenced experiences were made possible by them, even in such a case, all opinions are my own as always.
Incredulity seems to be a common reaction when I tell people how amazing Scottsdale, Arizona is. Especially as a food town. But it is. Amazing. Especially for those people, like myself, who like to celebrate life and all its beauty by dining and drinking.
In order to support my case, I decided to compile as complete a list as possible of all the best places to fill one’s belly in the greater Scottsdale (sometimes Phoenix) area. Of course, I haven’t yet been everywhere, but I will confess I made the title for SEO purposes primarily and since I love Scottsdale so much, I do plan to add to this list with future trips!
All meals and drinks referenced were actually consumed by me. Unless I mention otherwise. All pictures are my own. Hence why I haven’t provided images for every single place mentioned, sometimes I just enjoyed eating and didn’t take photos. I try not to supplement with press photos preferring to give you my take always.
Before we get to the list itself, you can read more of my stories from Scottsdale by visiting these posts, just make sure to open them in a new tab so you don’t lose this list *wink*:
Where to Stay
Touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West
Top 5 Scottsdale Recommendations
I have to start with the Westin Kierland Scotch Library as Scottsdale is rumored to have gotten its name because of Scottish immigrants who worked to bring the railroad into Arizona from the east. The Scotch Library keeps their traditions alive by dressing their Ambassadors in kilts and maintaining an incredible collection of single malt as well as blended Scotch Whisky. Some bottles are very rare and expensive. Some I have never seen anywhere else in the world. Matt is the gentleman I met when I visited and he’s one of 4 men on staff who make it their business to know all there is to know about Scotch. Matt is actually the buyer for the library’s collection and he also consults with customers who want to begin or add to their own collection. Whether you just want to enjoy a dram or two as I did, or whether you want to shop for a collection, I can’t recommend the Scotch Library highly enough. Bonus: the hotel itself offers a bagpipe salute to sunset every evening at 6:30 PM and it is performed of course by a gentleman in a full kilt!
I couldn’t make a list like this without including a place that indulges both my love of caffeine and my love of craft beer. Luckily, such a place does exist in Scottsdale in the form of: Sip Coffee & Beer. Not only is the interior design and mood of the place so up my alley but the people are as well. You’re not likely to stay for only a few minutes, you’re more than likely to get talking either to an employee or fellow patron and totally lose track of time. There might even be an adorable dog to visit with. Here almost anything goes but one thing you can guarantee is the quality of the beverage options, the worst part will be narrowing down your choice[s].
Cartel Coffee Lab supplies the coffee for Sip, mentioned above, but they also have their own brick and mortar. They serve coffee all day long, and also beer. I really loved the way they did Iced Coffee, it was one of the best I’ve ever had. Cartel is not far from another favorite independent shop of mine that’s down in the Misc part of this list (Super Chunk), and it is located in Scottsdale’s Old Town. They have 5 more locations in other parts of Arizona.
Great breweries or bars that focus on beer: Union Barrel House, Goldwater Brewing Co, Two Brother’s Brewing Co, Badwater Brewing, Papago Brewing Co, Craft 64. All have their charms and all are great options. I can’t really recommend one over the other. I did them all together in one tour and I’d return independently to each if I visited again. All had very good craft beer, good atmosphere and almost all emphasize Scottsdale or Arizona brews only.
John Christie is the head bartender at Second Story Liquor Bar and it’s because of him that I found out about the Scotch Library. John is an expert on whiskies and whisky and he excellently trains his bartenders on all things libation including the creation of their own bitters and syrups. No cocktail I tasted at Second Story was anything short of spectacular and while it’s difficult to get photos because of how dark it is, that mood might just be responsible for why you’ll want to stay for a very long time. The food is worthy of a review as well, particularly the specialty dessert: a rum cake that’s grilled and served warm.
If you’re not looking for craft beer and you just want a Bud somewhere that feels authentic “Old West” then Buffalo Chip Saloon on the far border of Scottsdale will give you that and the chance to make table top s’mores. Just be prepared that you might also get pulled into a line dance by an outgoing local.
Kazimierz World Wine Bar – Wooden wine casks line the walls and abundant candlelight makes it feel like a European wine cave. 1,850 types of wine are available. If you’re overwhelmed the Nifty Fifty list helps narrow down the impressive selection. Wine flights are available and the specialty martini menu is also worth perusal. Hungry? Try the Egyptian flatbread pizza.
Rusty Spur Saloon – Scottsdale’s last real cowboy saloon in the Old Town. It is a registered historic landmark and was the Farmers Bank of Scottsdale from 1921 to 1931, before it closed during the Depression. The old bank vault is still there, holding liquor instead of money.
Lobby Bar at Four Seasons Scottsdale – What the head bartender here can do with Bourbon for summer cocktails is nearly unbelievable. I had to taste to believe and I am hooked. I wish he worked in NYC!! Yet another reason to visit Scottsdale, over and over.
I love it when the food at a bar is as good as the cocktails. Such is the case with Jade Bar at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, which has lovely views of the resort and the valley, an expansive seating area, live music and truly terrific cocktails.
Elements at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain is helmed by celebrity Chef Beau MacMillan. He might just be the friendliest person you will ever meet in Scottsdale and his food is as wonderful as his personality. The best local produce is used to highlight seasonal flavors and create a menu that changes to reflect what’s going on at the moment. Nothing I tasted disappointed and if I had the time, I’d eat at Elements again every time I was in Scottsdale.
Talavera at Four Seasons Scottsdale is the result of the genius of self-trained Chef Mel Mecinas. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in Scottsdale, ever; though it is a steakhouse, and one that doesn’t disappoint, even the salads blew me away. What Chef Mel does with locally sourced vegetables is simply beyond words.
Proof at Four Seasons Scottsdale is like an upscale version of a classic American diner. They serve up Southwest-style breakfasts complete with a fresh pressed juice menu that’s oh-so-NY-or-LA. The juice is so good, I got in the habit of ordering one to go whenever I would leave the resort. For breakfast, my habit was ordering their Huevos Rancheros. The only version of it I’ve ever had that was better, was at another Four Seasons property, Beverly Wilshire! Proof is also open for lunch and dinner and every Sunday, Proof does Buy One Get One ice cream sundaes. As an ice cream lover, it’s reason enough for me to give Proof high marks!
FnB – Part-owner Pavle Milic’s other venture, Bodega/AZ Wine Merchants, is an oenophile paradise with varietals grown and bottled in the Grand Canyon state as well as local produce and artisanal products from MJ Breads, Queen Creek Olive Oil and Maya’s Farm. But his restaurant with Chef Charleen Badman has since 2009 been bringing all those ingredients out of coolers and display cases onto the plates of very very happy diners. So wonderful is the offering at FnB that the restaurant has won a long list of awards and been recognized by the prestigious James Beard Foundation. I hate to use cliché phrases such as “can’t miss” but FnB fits that phrase better than most.
Virtu Honest Craft – Chef Gio Osso first gained praise for his cuisine at the now-closed Estate House in downtown Scottsdale. The menu at Virtu is rotating and features items like hand-made pastas, oxtail and house-made sausages. There’s a 30 bottle global wine list plus a curated selection of craft beers. Ingredients are sourced locally. Virtu was picked as the #1 Restaurant for 2013 by The Arizona Republic and it was named to the Top 20 Best New Restaurants list by Esquire Magazine. Bonus: it’s located in, and a part of, Bespoke Inn Café & Bicycles which is the Valley’s only luxury bed and breakfast. I was able to tour the rooms but I have yet to be a guest, and it’s on my list of places I want to stay!
Café ZuZu in Hotel Valley Ho – All of the food at Hotel Valley Ho is amazing, ESPECIALLY the room service Toffee Pancakes, but at ZuZu you get to sit down and enjoy the full range of the hotel’s culinary delights in style. The setting feels like a set from Mad Men and the food harkens back to that era but shows a refinement that is so now. It’s simple food, made very very well using fresh, local ingredients. Executive Chef Charles Wiley was named one of “America’s Ten Best New Chefs” by Food & Wine Magazine.
Chef Bryan Dooley is the man behind Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue. He began cooking with his family as a child and his restaurant is the culmination of that lifelong passion in the form of a sit down eatery with a takeout and event space next door. Black and white old Western movies are projected onto the wall, a guitar hangs on a peg with the note “Play Me” and Bryan does something with local ingredients and traditional BBQ flavors that I’ve never seen anywhere else in the USA. He’s even partnered with a local brewery to create two beers served only at the restaurant and most recently published a cookbook that includes a recipe for a Romaine Salad which is indescribably delicious. Yet another surprise, to find a salad that’s so good it almost takes the spotlight away from the BBQ!!
Barrio Queen – Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, who also spearheads Barrio Cafe which is a Phoenix favorite, opened this restaurant in late 2011 with a partner. Unfortunately, in late 2014 she left and now Barrio Queen operates without her. When I dined at Barrio, Chef sat with us and talking to her was the highlight of the meal for me. But the tacos were so good, I went back twice more on my own before leaving Arizona. Open from breakfast to late dinner, Barrio Queen offers traditional street food favorites, such as tacos and tortas and more than 250 varieties of tequila. Get the Horchata to drink with your tacos, or with dessert. It’s the best I’ve ever had. I hear even without Chef the food is still very good but if you want the experience I had, with Chef, try out one of her other restaurants or her cafe in the airport.
Italian-born Chef Marcellino Verzino met his wife Sima, a singer at the time and the entertainment for the evening, when he was the Chef at a restaurant just outside of Rome. Love kept them together and made them husband and wife, through restaurants across Europe and North America before a visit to friends in Arizona made them fall in love with the American Southwest and first led them to open Marcellino Ristorante in 2002, at the time, in Phoenix. In 2010 they moved to Scottsdale and the restaurant now sits right next to aforementioned Barrio Queen near the Old Town. Chef is multitalented, helping to create many of the wood fixtures that make the indoor space intimate and welcoming. He also created an outdoor fountain showcasing a photo he took in Italy and wine bottles from the restaurant. The menu is filled with his spin on very classic Italian flavors but there are surprises as well. Most surprising was just how INCREDIBLE his made-in-house pasta is. Several are made every day, and special pastas pop up regularly. They’re as good or better than any fresh pasta I’ve ever had in Italy and the whole experience is a truly lovely one.
The record for the longest time I’ve ever spent at a restaurant in the greater Scottsdale area goes to Hula’s Modern Tiki because my friend Matt and I closed it down with the owner. It’s dark inside and though modern in decor, just cozy enough (like a true Tiki bar) that you too might want to stay all night. And that’s before you’ve even tasted the incredible food and classic cocktails with a modern spin…
Distrito at The Saguaro is another restaurant bringing south of the border flavor to Scottsdale. The food is wonderful, the decor even more so. An outdoor patio makes it the ideal place to enjoy a margarita and some tacos very close to the Old Town so right after you can walk off all the calories by frequenting art galleries.
If you hate snakes as much as I do, be forewarned that ordering a Tequila or Mezcal flight here includes a taxidermy rattlesnake. Otherwise, dining at La Hacienda at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is eventful only in the sense of how excellent the food is and how fun it is to watch them make a boozy Mexican Coffee table-side for dessert. Complete with lots of fire and the evocative scent of cinnamon, it’s definitely something you want to leave room for. Though that will be a challenge since every dish is very large and all are more than enough to write home about. i.e. The food is wonderful!
Citizen Public House in Old Town is helmed by Chef Bernie Kantak. Typical menu items include gorgonzola-emmental mac-n-cheese or pan-seared scallops served over roasted sweet corn grits with snow pea greens, bacon, and cola gastrique AND The Original Chopped Salad which is so revered and loved by locals and visitors alike that it has its very own Facebook page! The cocktails are also worth a trip in and of themselves. As are the desserts.
Food Truck Caravan – You’ll find up to 15 of Arizona’s finest gourmet food trucks serving foods from around the world in a parking lot from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. every Saturday night. More than 35 trucks rotate each week. Lounge on pillows and area rugs or sit at one of the communal picnic tables with misters and/or heaters for your comfort and listen to live music under the stars.
My very favorite place to indulge my sweet tooth in Scottsdale is Super Chunk Sweets & Treats. Not only is the caramel corn utterly incredible, but so are all their other desserts and their home made ice cream flavors that utilize fresh herbs and natural flavors. The husband and wife team of Sergio and Country Velador create everything in house and they make it all look so easy. From the minute you walk in, it seems that their passion and love for people has created a place where they love to make people happy. With sweets! I love that nothing is ever too sugary or too sweet. Their treats are perfectly balanced. Try eating in, either at the table inside the shop or on their outdoor patio. Either way, you’d be crazy not to love Super Chunk.
I could be guilty of saving the best for last by mentioning Singh Farms now. But given how many incredible places are on this list, it’s all relative by now. Anyway, only open on Saturdays from 9 AM to 2 PM, it’s the kind of place you have to plan to visit. But in your plans, make sure to go hungry and don’t eat before you arrive. When you do, you’ll have more choices than you need on where to eat and what kind of food to have. Though one thing that every vendor has in common is that they source their ingredients from the farm. So the pizzas that are baked fresh on-site use corn and squash and zucchini and other vegetables that have just been plucked out of the ground that day. The fresh pressed juices, use fruits from the farm as well. There’s a market where you can buy goods canned on site, flowers grown on site, vegetables that were just harvested etc etc. During the week, chefs like Michael Cairns of Montelucia Resort & Spa, trek through the farm sourcing vegetables for their kitchens. Singh carries the name of its owner, Ken Singh. He took a previously barren plot of land totaling 20 acres and using no pesticides or unnatural fertilizers brought forth from it a literal oasis of a farm that made me think he also created what people think of when they use the word Utopia. I kid you not, it’s THAT incredible. But don’t take my word for it, go, and see if I’m wrong. Singh has only a FB page but you should find everything you need to plan your visit here.
Now, if you’re planning a visit to Scottsdale, I’d love to know what other questions you might have? And if you’ve been or live in Scottsdale but you have feedback for me, chime in. Let’s make this truly live up to its title as the “complete” guide to eating and drinking in Scottsdale!!