Phoenix enjoys a vibrant dining scene these days, but 50 years ago (heck, maybe 25), it was considered a cow town specializing in steakhouses, Mexican restaurants, and little else of any interest. Although great restaurants were harder to come by back then, they did exist.: You just had to know where to find them. From foie gras splashed with Sauternes to lobster chimichangas, here are a dozen spots that have been around at least three decades (a lifetime by Phoenix measurement), all of them still popular and vital today.Read More
12 Indispensable, Classic Phoenix Restaurants
A dozen restaurants that have remained relevant for decades
Different Pointe of View
For breathtaking views of the mountains, desert, and twinkling lights of Phoenix, this lovely fine dining restaurant, perched on a hilltop overlooking the city, is hard to beat. DPOV, which opened in 1982, is the longest consecutively awarded AAA Four Diamond restaurant in the Valley, which means diners can expect elegant ambiance, deferential service, and a regional American menu that runs to classics such as lobster bisque; foie gras with honey-seared pineapple, Sauternes, and brioche pain perdu (think French toast); and roasted rack of lamb with heirloom polenta, oven-cured grapes, curried carrots, and fig gastrique.
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Spinato's Pizzeria and Family Kitchen
Chicago natives Ken and Elaine Spinato opened their first Valley pizzeria in Scottsdale back in 1974. It was an instant hit for a couple of reasons — namely, thin, crispy crusts; sweet, robust tomato sauce; generous toppings; and green olives, an unusual topping to Phoenicians but a familiar one to Chicagoans back in the day. The green olives are inexplicably gone now, but Spinato’s, which now boasts six Valley locations, remains a great place to get a Chicago-style pizza as well as other classic Italian fare. For an entertaining seventh option, snag a slice at the concessions at Footprint Center, where the Phoenix Suns and the Phoenix Mercury play.
Originally built as the Judson School for Girls by prominent local doctor John C. Lincoln, this gracious old adobe morphed into a restaurant and lodge (and got the name change) in 1937. It soon became a popular hangout for Valley movers and shakers, not to mention Hollywood celebs like Clark Gable. A major makeover in 2009 expanded both outdoor and indoor seating, and restored this historic landmark to its former glory. It remains a wildly popular brunch spot, famous for its gorgeous desert setting and sticky buns. But don’t dismiss the relaxed happy hour or a lovely evening on the patio over steak, trout amandine, or beef stroganoff. For a splurge, try the $68 flash-fried lobster bites, served with spicy chipotle lime sauce and drawn butter.
Owner Richardson Browne brought hearty New Mexican cooking to Phoenix in 1988, dishing out tomatillo toast, carne adovada, smoked turkey enchiladas, Santa Fe chicken (napped with jalapeño hollandaise), and the famous green chile potato to a population that fell in love with his sturdy, unpretentious food and made the place a popular neighborhood go-to. When the original location burned down in 2009, Browne moved Richardson’s across the street, next to his other restaurant — The Rokerij — but he kept the layout and decor exactly the same: Saltillo tile, deep comfy booths with pillows, and a copper-topped bar. Better yet, the new location has a lovely, laid-back outdoor bar, shaded by vigas.
Vincent on Camelback
Make no mistake: Chef and owner Vincent Guerithault — Phoenix’s first celebrity chef — is French through and through, but he is also the granddaddy of Southwestern Cuisine in Phoenix, famous for his raisin-studded duck tamales, smoked salmon quesadillas, and lobster chimichangas stuffed with goat cheese and basil-leek pesto. He opened Vincent’s to universal acclaim in 1986, and after the fervor for southwestern cuisine waned, he settled into a classic French menu peppered with a handful of signature Southwestern dishes. Expect rich, satisfying classics such as beef tenderloin with green peppercorn sauce and duck confit with pommes Lyonnaise. The setting is old school yet gracious, a maze of cozy rooms filled with ornately framed art. Meanwhile the broad and deep wine list has been honored by Wine Spectator. Vincent’s Market Bistro, situated behind the main restaurant, is perfect for a less formal, less expensive French meal. Regulars frequently pop in for takeout beef Wellington, beef Bourguignon, or duck a l’orange.
Duck and Decanter
When The Duck, as it’s affectionately called by its legion of regulars, opened in 1972, it was housed in a tiny cottage beside a grassy, tree-shaded park, but — as so often happens — developers paved paradise and put up a parking lot. However, this popular sandwich shop and market — which also sells wine, coffee, cheeses, and other gourmet items — survived the shake-up, moving in 1985 to a cozy spot just across the driveway, where it’s been dishing out creative, high-quality sandwiches, soups, and salads ever since. Check out the “signature nooners” section of the menu for fun sandwiches such as the “the Duckling,” a Thanksgiving-ish assemblage of smoked duck breast, roasted turkey breast, cream cheese, cranberry relish, and spring mix on cranberry-walnut country bread.
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Miracle Mile Deli
This New York-style deli and catering company, founded by Brooklyn native Jack Grodzinsky, has been a Phoenix fixture since 1949, turning out towering sandwiches stuffed with pastrami, corned beef, brisket, turkey, and all the usual deli fixings. Over the years, various locations have opened and closed, and now, this sleek new incarnation is all that’s left of the former mini empire. But no matter. The sandwiches are as delicious, comforting, and filling as ever. Try the famous “Straw” — hot pastrami, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut piled on the bread or roll of your choice — or be virtuous with one of a half-dozen healthy salads, a nod to changing times.
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Restaurant founder and local legend Jack Durant died in the ‘80s, but his pink stucco steakhouse on Central Avenue lives on, operating the same way it always has since opening in 1950. Only tourists enter through the front door; everyone else walks through the kitchen to enter a dimly lit dining room with flocked red wallpaper that conjures a 19th-century bordello. Nearly everything else about this endearing old place — including its deep tuck-and-roll booths, perfect martinis, relish trays, and charred steaks — sits so squarely mid-century you half expect to see a member of the Rat Pack wander in.
DeFalco's Italian Deli & Grocery
Cramped, crowded DeFalco’s has been famous for its eggplant parmigiana, meatball sandwiches, and classic Italian American subs since 1972, moving twice to accommodate its ever-growing clientele. The center of the shop is crammed with Italian foodstuff — dried pasta, olive oil, San Marzano tomatoes, all the ingredients needed to make an Italian dinner at home — but good luck getting out of the store without ordering something to eat right there on the spot. Go light (the restaurant offers half sandwiches) or settle in with a full meal of arancini, lasagna, pizza (including Sicilian deep-dish), and tiramisu. The menu is gigantic, so the hardest part is simply deciding.
This cheery, brightly painted Mexican food stalwart has been going strong since 1964, turning out a huge selection of AZ-Mex and Sonoran classics, including burritos, enchiladas, tamales, tostadas, and tacos as well as dozens of dishes seldom found all together in one place. Few Mexican restaurants in town offer eight soups, eight breakfast plates (including obscure huevos divorciados), and 16 grilled dishes (including pork chops, ribs, and liver). If there’s still room at the inn, top it all off with capirotada or churros for dessert.
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The Stockyards Steakhouse
In its first incarnation back in 1947, The Stockyards was little more than a coffee shop for the cowboys and cattlemen who either worked at or visited cattle baron Edward A. Tovrea’s 200-acre feedlot next door. Seventy-five years, one major rebuild, and two remodels later, Phoenix’s first steakhouse is still its most beloved — relaxed and rich in history without a whiff of modern steakhouse pretension. Frequented by downtown business folks and families alike, it’s the go-to for old-school dishes like shrimp cocktail, buttermilk onion rings, bison meatloaf, prime rib, Chateaubriand, and, of course, juicy, aged steak in a variety of cuts and sizes. Try the legendary calf fries if you’ve got the cojones for it.
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The Original Carolina's Mexican Food
The original South Phoenix location is spare and maybe even a little rundown, but nobody cares because the Sonoran Mexican food served here since 1968 is homey and delicious. Flour tortillas are made fresh throughout the day; they are soft, pliant, and nearly transparent — easily the best in town. Make sure to order something that makes use of these spectacular wrappers: maybe a breakfast burrito, a burrito stuffed with machaca or a crunchy, sour cream-topped chimichanga. Grab a package of those ethereal tortillas to take home.
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