Phoenix is a city of many flavors. All you have to do is drive around the 101 or 202 and you’ll find an edible landscape of spicy duck curry, jerk chicken burritos, and upscale cheeseburgers topped with fermented kimchi. With so many options, it can be difficult to decide where to eat, so we asked one of the Valley’s star chefs to show us around.
Samantha Sanz grew up in the border city of Nogales, Sonora, where her family owns the iconic, 60-year-old restaurant Trocadero. After graduating from Scottsdale’s Le Cordon Bleu, she spent a year in France, then returned to the Valley to cook at the James Beard–nominated Virtù Honest Craft. Today you can find her heading up the kitchen at Talavera inside the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, where she fuses Latin American flavors with a Spanish steakhouse setting.
Over the phone, we spoke to her about the hottest neighborhoods, the latest dining trends, and where to get a good Sonoran hot dog.
The best dining neighborhoods
“I always send people to the Central area [Central Avenue between Indian School and Camelback Roads]. You can have amazing coffee at Lux, a little pastry, maybe a cocktail, and get your work done or read a book and just relax. And then you have [Chris Bianco’s] Pane Bianco, which has amazing sandwiches and lunch fare, seasonal salads, and beautiful desserts.”
Sanz also recommends a stop at the midcentury modern shopping center Uptown Plaza, especially Chula Seafood. “I’m a seafood person so I always go there,” she added. “I love that neighborhood right there because there’s so much to choose from and all of those restaurants are quality restaurants.”
Where to eat and drink in downtown Phoenix
“I like going to Hanny’s. I snack on cheese boards and stuff like that. It’s been open for the longest time, but the vibe they have is so modern. They slice the fresh charcuterie right there at the bar. They have all kinds of drinks, and there’s always some kind of art exhibition going on. It’s just a really cool vibe.”
“Also you have Little Rituals, which is awesome, too. [Co-owner and bartender Aaron DeFeo] makes killer drinks. He made me some last time I was there and I was just amazed by his craftsmanship and talent. I feel like downtown Phoenix needs more dining spots because the bar scene is really freaking cool right now.”
Going beyond the chain restaurants
“A clear example is Glai Baan. There’s nothing ‘chain’ about that restaurant. It’s a tiny little house that was turned into a restaurant, run by a really talented chef and her husband. And they’re producing amazing street food from Thailand. It’s locally owned and it’s really, really good. I also like Hush Public House up here in Scottsdale. They’re doing really good food, they’re cooking with seasonal ingredients. It’s a really good place to have a good meal and just chill.”
Seek out the strip malls
“One of my favorites is Andreoli Italian Grocer [in a strip mall off Via Linda in Scottsdale]. I adore that place and I’m really lucky that it’s close to my house because I just love it so much. Just having the option of having a killer deli sandwich with an amazing pasta that’s always authentic with the right seasoning and really good olive oil is heaven for me.
“That’s what happens in L.A., right? You have all these strip malls with all these killer restaurants because the rent is cheaper than buying the land or making something. The same thing is happening in Phoenix, too. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s actually a very good thing. It’s time for people to stop thinking that for food to be good, it needs to be fancy.”
A spotlight on local ingredients
Across the Phoenix-Scottsdale area, chefs are starting to cook with more native ingredients from the Sonoran Desert. Tamara Stanger of Cotton & Copper in South Tempe glazes her ranch chicken with foraged mesquite, while Brett Vibber pioneered the use of wild grapes, mushrooms, and more at his now-closed Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine in Cave Creek. “They’re both really into native, indigenous ingredients; they both forage all the time, and they do those kinds of dinners,” said Sanz.
“My boyfriend Rene [Andrade] of Ghost Ranch [in South Tempe] has been selling this pepper called chiltepin. We grew up with it in Sonora and it grows on the ranch of his family in Baviácora, Sonora. It’s a wild foraged pepper. We don’t grow it, it just comes from the mountains each season. He’s selling it to make sure that people understand the pepper, and he’s also been giving the pepper away for free to chefs so that they get to try it and see if they like it. A lot of the chefs are already playing with it, and you’re seeing it on all the menus.”
Where to get a Sonoran hot dog
“There are actually two places for Sonoran hot dogs [wrapped in bacon and covered in Mexican ingredients like beans and avocado]. There’s one called Nogales Hot Dogs that’s on 20th Street and Indian School Road. And there’s another place called El Caprichoso. They’re pretty good.”
Samantha’s favorite under-the-radar spot
“We love to go to this little Thai restaurant that’s in Phoenix. Most people don’t even know about it; it’s called Sa Bai Modern Thai on Thomas Road [in an old Wendy’s]. It’s run by a family, and you see the grandmother cooking in the back. I love to go there because it’s not pretentious at all, it’s just really, really good food. I always get the papaya salad and these crispy chicken wings with a spicy glaze. It’s just really unpretentious food cooked by a Thai grandma.”
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