Seek out these 6 unique restaurants in Phoenix

A signature chef’s spread with local cheeses, cured meats, and brick-oven baked loaves at Quiessence at the Farm at South Mountain. | Credit: Quiessence at the Farm at South Mountain

In the Valley of the Sun, more than a handful of restaurants challenge dining norms, inspired by Arizona’s cultural powerhouse.

A tropical rooftop bar in the East Valley is home to almost 50 rescue birds. A downtown pizzeria, decked with one of the state’s first full-size wood-burning ovens, fires up award-winning pies. A North Scottsdale restaurant accommodates practically every known dietary restriction with its clean and cosmopolitan plates.

Each of these six spots breaks boundaries in this lively desert metropolis. Read on for a list of some of the Phoenix area’s most cutting-edge restaurants to grab a reservation at right now.

Kai Restaurant at Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass (East Valley)

At Kai, the wheat berries and mushrooms featured in this dish were sourced from Native American farms in the area. | Credit: Jill McNamara

It’s not just Kai’s sumptuous chorizo and scarlet runner bean chili that gives it cutting-edge status. Nor is it the Forbes five-star rating. Or the expert execution of plates crafted with indigenous ingredients, such as cholla buds and corn, grown on local tribal farms. It’s a combination of these powerful factors, plus newly appointed chef de cuisine Drew Anderson’s renowned cactus melange. The desert dessert is a tasting platter of Saguaro seed macaron, prickly pear-pitaya fruit, Nopale lime sabayon, and a snifter of prickly pear mead—don’t miss a bowl of cactus sherbet for dessert.

Santé (North Scottsdale)

Dietary restrictions are never a problem at Santé. Vegetarians, vegans, paleo, keto, and gluten-free diners flock to this accommodating North Scottsdale gem. Santé’s customizable plates, such as salmon belly crudo with ponzu slaw and raw chilled zucchini lasagna, lean cosmopolitan—but they’re made with organic, locally sourced ingredients. The menu also stands out for offering shareable options for diners with differing dietary needs (both vegan and traditional cheeses appear on its cheese board, for example). With an impressive mocktail list to boot—smoky apple cider, anyone?—it’s a spot that elegantly challenges conventions and expectations surrounding healthy eating and adds new meaning to inclusivity.

Quiessence at the Farm at South Mountain (Central Phoenix)

An organic garden onsite provides the produce for the plates at Quiessence at the Farm at South Mountain. | Credit: Quiessence at the Farm at South Mountain

Chef Dustin Christofolo, the force behind this unique fine-dining spot, is serious about cooking from scratch. Two of the Farm’s ten gorgeous acres—the restaurant is housed in the property’s original farmhouse facing South Mountain—are devoted to an organic garden that produces the ingredients for its multi-course tasting menus and elegant salads. While other area restaurants cook with locally grown bounty, Quiessence bases its menu on what looks freshest in its own backyard, so look for cucumber gazpacho, a micro-greens salad, or an entree served with seasonal jam made from farm-grown fruit.

The Perch Pub and Brewery (East Valley)

A unique animal encounter awaits at this rainforest-inspired retreat in the East Valley. The Perch Pub and Brewery, set on a rooftop in historic Chandler, is home to more than four dozen different tropical rescue birds such as macaws and cockatoos. All watch cheerfully as diners feast on green chile pork and vegan pizzas, washed down with imaginative stouts, ales, and fruit-infused brews; the bar is stocked with over 30 taps, and the selection changes frequently. To all that, add live local music and you’re in for a truly one-of-a-kind meal.

Pizzeria Bianco (Downtown)

Chef Chris Bianco’s showstopping pizza has earned praise from the likes of Rachael Ray, Bon Appétit, and even Vogue. The James Beard Award winner’s sought-after pies stand out for using hand-shaped mozzarella, sauce made daily from Bianco’s home-grown tomatoes, and a special arugula variety that’s as peppery as any grown in Italy. Housed in a former 1920s red brick machine shop in downtown’s historic Heritage Square, this game-changing dining destination is home to one of Arizona’s first full-sized wood-burning ovens. One always waits for a table at this inimitable spot, and the wait is always worth it.

Anhelo (Downtown)

Chef Ivan Jacobo transforms throwaway ingredients into memorable meals at Anhelo. | Credit: Anhelo

There’s sustainability, and then there’s this fine-dining spot, where executive chef Ivan Jacobo transforms throwaways into heavenly meals. Instead of pouring out half-empty bottles of wine, he makes them a key ingredient in marinades and uses them to braise his wagyu Denver steak and beef Wellington. He swaps out piles of kitchen compost for microgreens from local organic farms, then folds them into a tasty beet and yogurt salad. Menus change nightly and are often built around delicacies from Arizona-based Alaskan Pride Seafoods. Anhelo, which means “desire” in Spanish, longs to raise the bar when it comes to locally sourced dining. Thanks to Jacobo’s trailblazing efforts, it most certainly delivers on that mission.

Robrt Pela is an NPR affiliate correspondent whose writing has appeared in Psychology Today, The Advocate, and for 30 years in Phoenix New Times.

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