Chef Jose Garces reigns over a mini restaurant empire in Philadelphia that includes Amada, Tinto, Distrito, Chifa, Village Whiskey, Garces Trading Company, and JG Domestic. Recently, the Ecuadorian-American chef expanded westward, opening Old Town Whiskey and an outpost of Distrito in the newly reopened Saguaro hotel in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona. Frequent trips to Phoenix leading up to the openings gave Garces plenty of time to scout out the city’s food scene. Here, he shares his best finds.

Eliana’s
“Eliana’s isn’t big, and it isn’t fancy—they don’t even have a web site—but it’s some of the best Salvadorean food I’ve had. Their pupusas (shown) are legendary in the Phoenix area, and for great reason: they’re simply made, seasoned perfectly and served without any fuss or circumstance. You sit down, you order, you eat. It’s intimate in a way, knowing exactly why you visit a restaurant and being there for that one special thing. It doesn’t matter that it’s next door to a Pep Boys or that the décor features a drop ceiling and tiki torches indoors (thankfully, unlit).  It’s just simple, great food, and I respect and appreciate that.” Eliana’s, 1627 N 24th St., (602) 225-2925

El Farol
“It’s no secret that I really, really loved the food I ate when I traveled to Peru, and I’m always looking for places to get those flavors here in the States. I found some seriously delicious versions at El Farol, a small restaurant on Thomas Road. There’s a lot to love about this place: their posted hours of operation, which are “Wednesday—Sunday from 11:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. and Mondays and Tuesdays for special occasions or reservations”; their no-frills menu of unapologetically Peruvian cuisine; the thick curtains on the windows that shield you from the eyes of passersby as you dive fork-first into the aji de gallina. They also make a killer pisco sour, one of Peru’s best additions to the culinary cannon.” El Farol, 5534 E. Thomas Rd., (602) 595-1842

Phoenix Public Market
“The Public Market bills itself as an ‘urban grocery and wine bar,’ and what a genius undertaking it is: as a program of Community Food Connections, a 501c3 non-profit organization, they create access to healthy food and lend critical support to local micro businesses and small Arizona farmers, ranchers and other food producers. In addition to the grocery and wine bar, they operate an open-air market two days a week, which is a perfect place to explore the goodies that farmers bring in fresh from the fields that day.  They host great community events and I love their devotion to their cause, which is bringing fresh, healthy food to people every day.” Phoenix Public Market, 721 N Central Ave., (602) 254-1799 

Maya’s Farm
“As the owner of a farm myself (Luna Farm, in Bucks County, Pa), I have a deep appreciation for the effort and energy that goes into bringing fresh produce out of the ground, and at Maya’s Farm, they do it really, really well. The seven-acre farm is situated on an ancient riverbed, meaning that the soil is incredibly fertile, and as a result, they grow and sell some of the finest vegetables and herbs around.  They offer farm tours and host a farmers’ market. For a chef, visiting a farm is a little like going to the playground as a child: there are a million things to see and touch and interact with, and it’s hard to know where to be first.” Maya’s Farm, 6106 South 32nd St., (480) 236-7097

Photo by Weholden.