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Pizzeria Owner Turns Pies into Stunning Celebrity Portraits

Pizzeria Owner Turns Pies into Stunning Celebrity Portraits

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Here's Domenico Crolla proudly posing with his Rihanna pizza creation.

Some artists use paint, pencils or clay as tools to make their art; Domenico Crolla uses cheese and tomato sauce. Crolla is the owner of Bella Pizzeria in Glasgow, Scotland, and has gained notoriety as an international award-winning pizza chef, as well as a pizza artist. Crolla uses a round pizza pie as his canvas, and paints using tomato sauce and cheese to create amazing likenesses of celebrities like Beyoncé, Jay Z, Rihanna, Marilyn Monroe, and President Obama, just to name a few of the dozens of pizza paintings he has created. Crolla does not sell his artwork for consumption, although he has auctioned off these pizzas in the past for charity.

“I created my first designer pizzas, the Mortal Kombat pizza and [portrait of] Bruce Lee , in October 2011. I wanted to show the Chinese that pizza could be crafted in the same way that they model peppers or carrots into table and plate decorations,” Crolla told The Daily Meal. “ So I came up with a technique to carve the mozzarella on the pizza to form faces or logos. I suppose I was good at art in school, but my pizza art is the first time I’ve used art since then.”

The Daily Meal has learned that the newest Crolla project will be a portrait of Mark Zuckerberg for his upcoming birthday. Here is a sneak-peak at the pizza portrait:

Crolla said that he would love his creations to be made into posters or a book so that everyone could enjoy them, since pizza does not last that long.

Here are more Crolla creations:

His Holy Cheesiness Pope Francis.

Cheese we can believe in.

Clearly, gentlemen prefer pizza.

Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi

Guido’s Pizzeria and Tapas hosts an outdoor pop-up pizza event every Friday and Saturday

Pizzas are cooked to order in a wood-burning oven built onto a custom-made trailer.

As restaurants continue to struggle to service diners in limited-seating dining rooms, they’re coming up with more and more creative ways to feed guests outside.

Every night at Peno in Clayton, Pepe Kehm converts the adjacent parking lot (pictured at right) into casual table seating.

At Vicia in the Central West End, guests order food and drink, then grab a table under a covered alfresco area, in the grass, or on the meandering sidewalk in front of the restaurant.

At The Capital Grille in Clayton, managing partner Geoff Dill has extended patio seating to include the entire plaza, quadrupling the seating at cloth-covered tables.

At Truffles in Ladue, a carpet of interlocking, rubberized tiles covering the asphalt has reduced the temperature by 10 degrees, according to general manager Aleks Jovanovic.

In Fox Park, at Little Fox, guests eat grab-and-go fare under a tent in a lot across the street.

A refrigerated prep table fits into a dedicated slot on the trailer

This week’s most innovative pivot, however, goes to Miguel "Mike" Carretero, owner of Guido’s Pizzeria and Tapas on The Hill.

Beginning this week and continuing every Friday and Saturday afternoon, the restaurant hosts a pop-up pizza party on Shaw Avenue in front of the restaurant.

The star of the show is Il Forno, a custom-made, wood-fired oven on wheels. Several varieties of individual-size, St. Louis–style pizza are made to order and cooked at 540 degrees for five minutes. Although other choices are available, Carretero prefers to top the pies with a blend of mozzarella and Provel, which he says seems to satisfy even Provel naysayers. (In the coming weeks, Neapolitan pies will be offered, which cook in two minutes at 900 degrees.)

Carretero says he’s doing double duty while providing hot pizza on the fly in a fun environment, he's also showcasing a mobile kitchen of sorts that can travel just about anywhere. In addition to pizza, Il Forno can turn out Italian and Spanish appetizers and dishes, the same as the restaurant does.

“If a dish can be cooked in or adapted to a wood-burning oven, we can make it happen,” he says.

Il Forno is available for wedding receptions, birthday parties, family dinners, reunions, corporate events, and make-and bake-parties. In the meantime, check out the bright-red contraption on Shaw Avenue on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m.–2 p.m., when a 9-inch pizza and a fountain drink costs $12.

Tomato Pie featured

When it comes to challenges in the kitchen, I tend to get a bit fixated. If a recipe fails (sad face) I go straight into problem-solving mode until I have exhausted.every.single.possibility. I guess it’s the neurotic perfectionist in me.

If you’ve been reading LMS for awhile, you know all about my love for Tomato Pie. The Tomato Pie I’m talking about is not like pie pie. There’s no pastry crust, no mayonnaise, no raw tomatoes decoratively placed on top. No, Tomato Pie is more like a Sicilian-style pizza but without the cheese on top. It’s a simple pleasure of thick, soft crust, and sweet, tangy tomato sauce.

Roasted tomatoes = more flavor

I’ve discovered how difficult it is to find it outside of the Philly area (and Utica, NY, so I hear) and it appeared I was not alone in my quest for a decent recipe. Years ago, I tried my hand at making homemade Tomato Pie and posted about it. Blogger friends, you know how you sometimes go back and read your earlier posts and cringe? Well, the cringe for me on this one was that I knew I could do better. The sauce was spot-on and needed little tweaking, but the crust. Sigh. The crust I was not satisfied with.

I recently received an email from a reader who had moved from Philly. Her family missed Tomato Pie terribly and she wanted to make it for her daughter’s 4th birthday party. This was just the motivation I needed to master this Tomato Pie crust, once and for all.

The pie from Corropolese is my gold standard. Their crust is soft and spongy, airy and chewy. That’s the kind of crust I wanted. It was more like focaccia than a regular pizza dough, so that’s where I started. I cross referenced multiple recipes, experimented with bread flour, tested different proofing times, baking temps, and saucing techniques…I got a little nuts. Three flour runs and one messy, sticky, dough explosion later and I nailed it.

The dough should be pliable, like warm, elastic play-doh, but tastier.

The crust I ended up with is adapted from Tyler Florence’s Fabulous Focaccia. It results in a crust that is airy, soft, and chewy inside. I’m definitely keeping this recipe on hand for times when I just want to make straight up focaccia.

For my Tomato Pie modification, I ended up baking the crust about 2/3 of the way done before adding the sauce, to prevent the dough from collapsing and getting too dense. I found that if I added the sauce first, the dough didn’t rise as well, probably because of the weight of the sauce. Best of all, this recipe requires no overnight proofing, no multiple proofing, and I discovered an easy clean up trick with the use of some parchment paper.

Next time I won’t be lazy and will press the dough out all the way to the edge, promise.

The sauce I simply updated to vine-ripened tomatoes, and used more of them than in my first version.

It is with pleasure and pride that I present to you, Tomato Pie 2.0! Enjoy!!

Newest Video Recipe - Vanilla Pudding

Sometimes all we need is a bowl of creamy smooth Vanilla Pudding to satisfy a craving. It is amazing how you can take everyday ingredients like milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla, and transform them into a dessert that tastes so good. It is easy to make, and it is delicious hot, at room temperature, or even cold. It looks so enticing when served in pretty bowls with a dollop of softly whipped cream and a sprinkling of toasted nuts.

When you make Vanilla Pudding what you are really doing is making a 'cooked' custard. The difference between a pudding and a custard is that a pudding contains cornstarch. Cornstarch is used to make the pudding thick enough to eat with a spoon. Puddings have to be cooked carefully to prevent lumps. So keep the heat fairly low and use a heavy bottomed saucepan, making sure that you stir constantly with a large heatproof silicone spatula or wooden spoon. Once the pudding has become thick, like mayonnaise, remove it from the heat and add the butter and vanilla extract. If you have any lumps, strain the pudding. If you like your vanilla pudding warm, then by all means eat it right away. But if you like your pudding cold, simply press plastic wrap onto the surface of the puddings and refrigerate until firm (a couple of hours). For those who like a skin (film) on the top of their pudding, let the pudding cool uncovered and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Try to use good quality ingredients when making a Vanilla Pudding. Since vanilla is the prominent flavor in this vanilla pudding, try to use "pure" vanilla extract. Another option is to use pure vanilla bean paste. This paste contains vanilla seeds so your pudding will have those lovely little black seeds in it. You can also use one whole vanilla bean. To use the bean cut it in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and pulp. Add this, along with the pod, to your milk when you are bringing it to a boil. The pod can then be removed, rinsed, dried, and placed in some granulated white sugar to make vanilla sugar.

Stay safe and let's get baking!!

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Verace TSG at Eataly

At Eataly, the Verace TSG pizza is simple, the Neapolitan crust topped minimally with bright, barely sauced tomatoes, creamy mozzarella di bufala from Naples, herbaceous fresh basil and extra-virgin olive oil. TSG, short for Traditional Speciality Guaranteed, is a European Union designation given to any food made using the techniques or ingredients of a region within the EU. Indeed, this is the most true-to-Naples pizza not only at the Italian food emporium, but perhaps in the entire city. Puffed, chewy edges charred by a wood-fired oven surround a halo of imported ingredients. My only quibble: It’s served sliced, not whole to eat with a fork and knife as it’s done in Italy. Order it uncut, and, if you want, with red pepper flakes and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on the side. $19, one size only. 43 E. Ohio St., 312-521-8700, Chu

Get the Neapolitan-Style Pizza Recipe Featured in the Apple TV+ Thriller Servant

Pizza meets mystery in the new episode of Apple TV+&aposs psychological thriller Servant.

The horror series from M. Night Shyamalan returned for its second season in January with even more suspense𠅊nd a dark plot line that revolves around a fictional pizza restaurant.

Viewers continue to follow grieving parents Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) and Sean (Toby Kebbell) Turner in the new season, as they search to find Leanne (Nell Tiger Free), the quiet, God-fearing babysitter they hired to care for the "reborn doll" they bought to fill the void after tragically losing their newborn son Jericho.

In the third episode, naturally titled "Pizza," Dorothy becomes more frantic to locate Leanne, who she thinks kidnapped her son. After following different leads, the couple scouts out a large estate where they believe Leanne is hiding. During their stakeout, they notice a food delivery truck dropping off meals at the home𠅊nd it sparks an idea. The Turners will create a fake pizza delivery company called Cheezus Crust, hoping they&aposll receive an order from the residents so they can find a way into the house.

To prepare for the pizza-filled episode, food consultant Drew DiTomo, a Philadelphia-based chef and restauranteur, was tapped to prepare dozens of Neapolitan-style pizzas each day and teach the cast how to make them on-camera. "It takes a lot of technique and a certain confidence with your hands to learn how to make pizza from scratch," he said. "It was a lot of fun to get our hands on something that people spend their whole lives working on."

Since pizzas needed to be hot and ready for their close-ups at any time, DiTomo was cranking out pies all day. "The crew had this constant supply of fresh pizza going around the set. I thought people would get sick of it after awhile. Nope! They kept eating pizza after pizza over several shooting days," he said. "Even after 12 takes, they were still coming back to my kitchen with empty trays. We&aposd be testing and shooting out pizzas and people would be hovering around the pizza oven asking, &aposIs there any pizza left?&apos"

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Watch "Behind the &aposPizza&apos Episode" with M. Night Shyamalan

According to DiTomo, the production team imported "this big, beautiful wood-burning pizza oven right outside of the prep kitchen" so they could achieve the perfect chewy, crispy, puffy Neapolitan crust.

"It could cook six pizzas at a time. This was an oven that you would use in a professional environment. And it was amazing to watch these guys fly this thing in on a crane. We had to pour cement and build a deck so we could make these beautiful pizzas on the show. It also required a specialized gas line so we could shoot this episode high- lighting pizza. It again showed the breadth production went to for the food we prepared this season," he says.

While cooking pizzas for the show was a treat, DiTomo said he enjoyed the process of teaching the actors the most. "Just watching Toby and Tony, watching their confidence bloom as these beautiful pizzas that they had made themselves came out of the oven, was a joy," he said. "I tried to focus on the mechanical movements of Toby&aposs hands, making sure that he had those abilities so he looks good with any kind of movement with his hands. So, we made a lot of pasta, a lot of bread doughs and a lot of pizza. What a joy it was to work on this episode."

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup butter, cut into chunks
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup cubed mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup cubed pepperoni
  • 1/4 cup pizza sauce
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk

1: In a food processor, combine the cream cheese, butter, flour and sea salt. Pulse until the mixture comes together into a dough. Remove the dough from the food processor and divide into 2 disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

2: Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Once the dough has chilled, remove from the plastic wrap and roll out on a floured surface until the dough is a little less than 1/4 of an inch thick.

3: Using a large cookie cutter, about 5 inches in diameter, cut circles out of the dough. You can roll out the excess dough and repeat this process until you've used all of the dough.

4: In the center of each circle, add 1 teaspoon of pizza sauce, 2 teaspoons of mozzarella and 2 teaspoons of pepperoni. Sprinkle with oregano.

5: In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and the milk to make the egg wash. Egg-wash the edges of the circle and fold over to close the hand pie. Seal the edges closed using your thumb.

6: Place the hand pies on a piece of parchment paper and brush the egg-wash mixture over the tops. Cut a thin slice into the top of each hand pie as a vent.

7: Bake the hand pies for 15-20 minutes until they are golden brown and the crust appears flaky. Remove from oven and serve immediately with a side of pizza sauce if desired.

Oscar pizza: Meet Ellen DeGeneres’ delivery guy (not an actor)

Yes, Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres actually ordered pizza during Sunday night’s show, and a real delivery man, not an actor, showed up with the pies.

But the pizza didn’t come from Pizzeria Mozza or Sotto, or any of the other “trendy” celebrity-frequented hot spots in L.A. It came from the Big Mama’s and Papa’s location on Sunset Boulevard, a little more than a mile from the Dolby Theater at Hollywood and Highland where the Oscars were held.

The Los Angeles-based franchise has already posted photos on its website, with their delivery man dressed in a hoodie, a baseball cap and a red apron, handing out pizza to Harrison Ford.

His name is Edgar Martirosyan, but he’s not just a delivery guy. He’s actually the owner of the Big Mama’s and Papa’s pizza location.

According to USA Today, he’s owned the pizza shop for eight years, but delivering a pizza or two isn’t out of the ordinary. He does everything from delivering pizza to baking and managing 20 stores. We’ve reached out to Big Mama’s and Papa’s pizza and will let you know when we hear back.

Jared Leto snagged a piece of cheese pizza for his mother, while Brad Pitt requested, then later chowed down on, a piece of pepperoni. “House of Cards” star Kevin Spacey grabbed a box then started distributing the pie to the crowd behind him.

According to ABC News, DeGeneres has ordered from Big Mama’s and Papa’s before for her daytime talk show.

Celebrities in the audience shared their pizza party on Instagram and Twitter. Jamie Foxx’s daughter Corrine Foxx shared a photo of herself eating the pizza on Twitter with the caption “Thanks @TheEllenShow haha we were actually starving. #pizza #oscars.” You can see Channing Tatum and his wife Jenna Dewan in the background with their own slice.

Have you had Big Mama’s and Papa’s? Was it Oscar-worthy? Let us know in the comments below.

'The Great British Baking Show' should help us escape 2020, but the new season is just bitter

6 new and returning shows coming to tv this fall include "Fargo" on FX and "Ratched" on Netflix. USA TODAY

For a certain segment of TV viewers who love all things quaint, British and baked, there is nothing as wonderful as new episodes of reality series "The Great British Baking Show." It's especially needed in 2020, the year of unrelenting tragedy amid the COVID-19 pandemic and other disasters — returning to the darling white tent in the English countryside, where everyone is kind to each other and cakes are piled high, is a massive relief.

So it's unfortunate that the first quarantined episode of the series (streaming now on Netflix) continued the recent trend of throwing out the elements that made the show a phenomenon in the U.K. and a cult hit in the U.S., in favor of increasing Instagram-inspired absurdity. And it may be tough to make TV during the pandemic, but the judges, hosts and producers can't blame coronavirus for the problems. They're all self-inflicted.

The quarantined contestants of the 2020 season of "The Great British Baking Show." (Photo: Mark Bourdillo/Netflix)

The new season, numbered Season 8 on Netflix and Season 11 across the pond, has two major changes: The bakers remained in a "bubble" instead of returning home between weekends of filming, and co-host Sandi Tosvig has been replaced by British comedian Matt Lucas. Keeping the bakers at the tent for as long as they survive in the competition is actually more like standard American reality series like "Top Chef" or "MasterChef." The "Baking" model meant even contestants with demanding jobs and personal lives could participate during their free time. But during the pandemic how we define free time and where we work has changed anyway.

Lucas was a strange choice for the hosting gig. Tosvig joined the series in 2017 with Noel Fielding, replacing the comedic duo of Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. Fielding leans more towards the cringe and silly comedy while Tosvig provided warm, maternal energy for the bakers. Replacing her with Lucas, known for his own cringeworthy style, turns both hosts into a sideshow rather than reassuring emcees. In the first episode, his bits were more distracting than amusing.

Hosts Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas. (Photo: Mark Bourdillon/Netflix)

Everything coming to Netflix in October: From Adam Sandler's new movie to more 'Schitt's Creek'

But the real problem with the season premiere was the showstopper challenge, the third of three tasks the bakers are given over each episode. In recent years, particularly since the series jumped from public broadcaster BBC to for-profit Channel 4 in the U.K., the challenges have veered from simple-but-stunning classic cakes and pies to absurd "biscuit selfies," "naturally colored bread sculptures," and "landscape desserts." The challenges feel like they're designed not for British teatimes but for Instagram likes. And, unfortunately, they can go very wrong.

This week's showstopper involved the bakers creating a cake in the shape of a bust of their favorite celebrity. Let's just be honest, this is a pretty stupid idea for a challenge. If you know anything about cake baking (and the devoted fans of this series absolutely do), you'll know that carving cakes is literally a recipe for bad cake. To retain an odd shape the cakes need to be firm and dry, which is not particularly palatable. To design a cake into a human face, excess amounts of fondant icing (a moldable and edible cake frosting that tastes awful) needed to be used. It wasn't a test of baking but of sculpting, and how many home bakers are champion sculptures of the human form? What does that have to do with baking something that tastes good?

Contestant Rowan with host Noel Fielding and judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood on the new season of "The Great British Baking Show." (Photo: Mark Bourdillon/Netflix)

Considering none of the bakers are professionals, the cakes just didn't look good, and most didn't taste very good, according to judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood. Watching the sloppy faces of what was meant to be Lupita Nyong'o or David Attenborough was more akin to watching Netflix's "Nailed It!" — a series devoted baking that's so bad it's hilarious — rather than "Baking," which usually celebrates amateur excellence.

It was a poor start to the season, all the more disappointing, because the whole year of 2020 has been one big "bad bake," to use the show's parlance. When the world is this tough we don't need Instagram cakes, we need the simplicity of "Baking" at its best. Producing TV in quarantine, with restrictions and safety regulations and isolation, is hard, but COVID isn't the reason "Baking" is failing. The flavor of the series is off, and it might never be quite as sweet again.

50 Best AZ Restaurants

We ate. Then we drove. Then we ate some more. On and on, until we felt qualified to hand you this hand-picked platter of the Grand Canyon State’s finest culinary outposts, from Winslow to Sonoita and many points between.

Valley food fanatics do not nosh on foie gras-stuffed quail alone. Nor do they exclusively dine in the prime culinary corridors of Scottsdale and Phoenix. We tried to keep these facts in mind while compiling our list of Arizona’s 50 best &ndash or, if you prefer, most essential &ndash restaurants.

Our editors and food writers were instructed to consider not only their fine-dining fantasy spots, but also the comfort-food classics and down-home ethnic eateries that help define Arizona’s culinary scene &ndash not just in the Valley, but all over our vast state, staggering their lists to include lonesome gems in remote parts of Northern and Southern Arizona. You’ll find the cumulative product of their expertise here: 50 restaurants you should try, no matter how far the drive. And just to make sure we’ve covered every base, we asked Valley food experts to rank their favorites, too, in a range of styles and categories. Let the noshing begin.

Northern Arizona

Cottage Place
Awards: Award of Excellence, Wine Spectator (1996-2010) Top 100 Restaurants, Open Table (2012)
Talk about rarified company. In 2012, this longtime Flagstaff fine-dining favorite was recognized by as one of the nation’s 100 best restaurants, joining fellow Arizona honorees Kai, Binkley’s and ShinBay. Not too shabby, right? Chef Frank Branham excels at continental cuisine with subtle Southwestern influences, charming diners with dreamy concoctions like house-made ravioli filled with forest mushrooms, onions and goat cheese, served in a sweet marsala cream sauce.

Cozy and crowded, Cottage Place is exactly what it sounds like &ndash a homey, unapologetic ode to refined indulgence, where you can lay waste to a slice of hazelnut-graham-cracker-crust-topped French silk pie with chocolate-and-cinnamon Chantilly cream and not feel the slightest bit bad about it. 126 W. Cottage Ave., Flagstaff, 928-774-8431,

Brix Restaurant & Wine Bar
Awards: Top 95 New Restaurants in the World, Condé Nast Traveler (2007) Flag’s Best Restaurant, Sunset Magazine (2007)
Located inside a historic carriage house, Brix has the casual-chic feel of a European bistro and a seasonal, farm-focused menu that favors growers in the Four Corners region. The antipasti starter gives diners the chance to taste cheeses and charcuterie from around the world the delicacies are paired with house lavosh and Queen Creek olives. Owners Paul and Laura Moir continue the global food tour with a wild mushroom risotto showcasing tender, earthy Italian black truffles, toothsome asparagus, Parmigiano-Reggiano and arugula. The steak frites has a Southwest twist: It’s topped with chimichurri and chili butter. Now in its eighth year, Brix is arguably the most decorated restaurant in Flagstaff &ndash the grande dame of fine dining in the high country. Side note: If tables are scarce, try nearby Criollo Latin Kitchen, conceived by the Moirs as a sassier Latin companion piece to the Brix flagship. 413 N. San Francisco St., Flagstaff, 928-213-1021,

Coppa Café
Awards: Best of Flagstaff, Arizona Daily Sun (2012)
After meeting in Costigliole d’Asti, Italy, and cooking from the Adriatic coast to Barcelona &ndash braving Swiss superstar Daniel Humm’s kitchens along the way &ndash adventurous husband-and-wife team Brian Konefal and Paola Fioravanti brought their European sensibilities to Konefal’s hometown. Coppa’s entrées are as rustic and charming as the eatery’s mismatched chairs and “farmhouse glam” accessories. Local mushrooms foraged from Flagstaff forests accent crustless quiche or seasonal dishes like juniper-scented wild boar with ricotta and acorn squash puree.

Konefal has an excellent handle on the classics, skillfully adulterating shepherd’s pie with creamy polenta and jazzing up butternut squash with coffee. Meanwhile, pastry chef Fioravanti’s desserts are exceptional &ndash rich and decadent without the twitch-inducing sweetness of American recreations. Her lavender-peach macarons melt like sugary clouds on the tongue. 1300 S. Milton Rd., 928-637-6813,

Tinderbox Kitchen
Awards: Best Restaurants, Arizona Highways (2010) Award of Excellence, Wine Spectator (1996-2012)
Chef and co-owner Scott Heinonen’s CV includes a stint as personal chef to Paul McCartney. If his cuisine is good enough for a Beatle, you better believe it’s a hit with Flagstaff foodies. The menu at Tinderbox Kitchen changes seasonally but maintains a focus on “redefined” American comfort food. The oh-so-tender New York strip steak masters that divine ratio of blackened char to juicy interior rareness, and is served with pungent horseradish mashers and broccolini. Still, the jalapeño macaroni and cheese might be the most unique item on the menu. The indulgent dish is topped with duck leg confit, mustard crumbs and truffle oil. Pop into the adjacent Tinderbox Annex for a cocktail and house-made charcuterie before dinner, and know you’re dining at one of the high country’s great gastropubs. 34 S. San Francisco St., 928-226-8400,

Awards: Best New Restaurant, Arizona Daily Sun (2011) Best Restaurants, Arizona Highways (2013)
What started as one man’s hobby of making pizzas in a wood-fired oven in his backyard became Pizzicletta, a 650-square-foot, 15-seat, open-kitchen restaurant south of the train tracks in Flagstaff. Though his degree is in geology, owner and chef Caleb Schiff developed a passion for pizza when he first visited Europe.

Less than three years after opening the flatiron-shaped eatery, he now has pizza lovers lined up around the block for Neapolitan-style pies, homemade gelato, naturally leavened hearth bread and a thoughtful beer and wine menu. The simple margherita pizza &ndash topped with tomato, mozzarella, pecorino, basil and extra virgin olive oil &ndash is divine. Add sopressata or prosciutto di parma to any pie for a small cost. Gelato flavors change daily, and it might just be some of the tastiest cream this side of Rome. 203 W. Phoenix Ave., Flagstaff, 928-774-3242,

The Turquoise Room
Awards: Best Restaurants, Arizona Highways (2008) Gold List Award, Condé Nast Traveler (2009) James Beard Foundation, Best Chef Southwest nominee (2012)
Exploring the lonely stretch of Interstate 40 between Flagstaff and Holbrook, travelers may not realize quiet downtown Winslow lays claim to one of Arizona’s most isolated, but no less regarded, dining destinations. Anchoring the historic La Posada Inn &ndash originally built by famous railroad tycoon Fred Harvey in 1930 &ndash The Turquoise Room serves food that would impress fressers in a city of any size.

Highlighting a seasonal, largely Arizona-sourced menu of contemporary Southwestern dishes, James Beard Award-nominated chef John Sharpe holds true to his convictions with rustic concoctions like lean, pan-seared elk medallions, served with a sharp black currant brandy sauce over mushroom corn flan and crispy red chile pork carnitas, with a fruit salsa and creamy polenta. For a proven winner, try the chef’s now-signature spicy black bean and sweet corn soup. Think of the Turquoise Room as the Northern Arizona answer to Greg LePrad’s newly-opened Overland Trout in Sonoita: frontier dining of the highest order. 305 E. Second St., 928-289-2888,

Elote Café
Awards:Guest Chef, Your Life A to Z (Channel 3 TV)
We loved Jeff Smedstad’s lamb adobo when he made it at Los Sombreros in Scottsdale, and we love it just as much now that the chef has relocated to Sedona. Perched above the Kings Ransom Sedona Hotel, Elote Café has quickly assumed regal status in Northern Arizona’s gourmet food scene, with delicacies inspired by Smedstad’s 15-year culinary expedition in Mexico during his pre-Sombreros years. Spectacular small plates like seafood tacos filled with ancho-glazed cod and shrimp are tempting, but we always go back to the lamb adobo, a braised Colorado lamb shank topped with a sweet-and-spicy ancho-chile sauce. It’s simply the best Mexican grub north of the Carefree Highway. 771 SR 179, 928-203-0105,

Awards: Top 25 Resorts in the Southwest, Reader’s Choice Awards, Condé Nast Traveler (2013) Best Hotels in the USA, U.S. News & World Report (2012, 2013)
When the Enchantment Resort sprang for a face-lift in 2012, it also got Che-Ah-Chi, its new flagship restaurant and one of the most picturesque dining experiences in Arizona. Sit outside for up-close views of Boynton Canyon, or get cozy indoors with floor-to-ceiling windows and suspended lighting that makes it feel like you’re dining among the stars. The food is pretty stellar, too. Chef David Schmidt takes a resort staple &ndash lobster bisque &ndash and turns it into culinary high art with beech mushrooms and a drizzle of lemon oil. Are you game for game? Schmidt serves his buffalo tenderloin with a poached pear, Marcona almonds, gorgonzola and pearl onion agrodolce. It’s hearty and elegant all at once. 525 Boynton Canyon Rd., Sedona, 928-282-2900,

L’Auberge Restaurant on Oak Creek
Awards: Top 10 Southwest, Condé Nast Traveler (2013)
It makes perfect sense that Chef Rochelle Daniel &ndash having honed her French-fusion cooking skills under Matt Carter at Zinc Bistro in Scottsdale &ndash should take over the top toque at L’Auberge, where the seasonal menu is likely to feature apple-butter-slathered foie gras with gingerbread or some other glorious twisting of Gallic culinary convention.

Admirably, Daniel prefers to do her twisting with Arizona-sourced ingredients, meaning the wisps of apple in your pumpkin bisque, poured over a huddle of fresh crab right in front of your eyes, were farmed down the road. Vive la regionàle. Yet no matter how personally addictive we find the pine-smoked venison, it’s the splendid creekside setting that makes L’Auberge the epitome of Arizona destination dining. That is how you wash down a meal. 301 Little Ln., 928-282-1661,

SchoolHouse Restaurant
Awards: People’s Choice Award, The Great Sedona Chili Cook-off (2013)
Nestled inside an antique schoolhouse, this New American diner opened its doors in 2013 under the helm of Chef Christopher Dobrowolski and his wife, Laura Fayette-Dobrowolski. Check out creative appetizers like the Dr Pepper-baked wings, or pierogi featuring red kraut and white truffle pesto. The buttermilk fried chicken is a guaranteed diet-buster, served with a side of corn-and-cotija-cheese waffles, sherry-braised purple kale and chorizo gravy and a fine selection of microbrews from the Four Corners region won’t do your calorie panels any favors, either. Take note: Chris is renowned for his out-of-this-world peach cobbler. 202 N. Main St., 928-634-0700,

Pizzeria Bocce
Think of this indoor-outdoor restaurant in Old Town Cottonwood as the “Pizzeria Bianco of Yavapai County.” Owners Eric and Michelle Jurisin opened Bocce &ndash their sixth Arizona restaurant &ndash last July, focusing on creative salads, Napoli-style wood-fired pizza and signature cocktails. You can’t go wrong with the Americano: a 12-inch pie topped with sweet tomato sauce, spicy pepperoni, chunks of hand-stretched mozzarella and fresh basil.

Whatever pizza you choose, don’t skip the Fork & Knife Caesar salad &ndash possibly the best Caesar in Northern Arizona. The romaine lettuce, crostini and parmigiano are topped with a creamy lemon dressing and anchovies by request. 1060 N. Main St., 928-202-3597,

The Asylum
Awards: Award of Excellence, Wine Spectator (2001-2003) Award of Excellence, North American Restaurant Associations
Perched on Cleopatra Hill inside the legendary “haunted” Jerome Grand Hotel, The Asylum sports creaky floors and other gothic details that seem part of a theme-park ride &ndash but the food is no gimmick. Chef/owner Richard Paisch elevates standard, must-please-everyone hotel fare with delightful sparks of Southwestern flavors, and curates an award-winning wine cellar stocked with 200 labels, including several varietals from nearby vineyards. The best seats are on the patio overlooking Jerome, with sweeping views all the way to the San Francisco Peaks. Dine on grilled, achiote-rubbed pork tenderloin with an apricot-chipotle glaze, sip a floral Arizona Stronghold Tazi, and tell those ghastly ghosts to haunt someone else. 200 Hill St., Jerome, 928-639-3197,

Amuse Bouche
Awards: Best New Restaurants, PHOENIX magazine (2009)
This tiny BYOB bistro hidden in a strip center in the town of Surprise is just that &ndash a delightful, delicious surprise. Even the New York Times took notice, penning a glowing story about the westside gem in 2010. Surrounded by corporate restaurant chains, husband and wife chef/owners Snir and Kierstin Mor turn out exquisite French-influenced food, including the best quiche in town, and on Sundays, a royal breakfast that puts four-star resorts to shame. Dinner changes frequently, often getting a mid-week tweak depending upon the whim of the chef, but some menu items never change. Award-winning meatloaf shares menu space with seasonal seared scallops finished with celery root over truffle risotto. 17058 W. Bell Rd., Surprise, 623-322-8881,

Barrio Café
Awards: James Beard Foundation, Best Chef Southwest semifinalist (2010, 2011) Top Ten Mexican Restaurant, PHOENIX magazine (2011)
Vibrant fusion cuisine put Barrio Café on the culinary map in 2002, introducing Phoenicians to a whole piñata of flavors they never imagined while chomping on Sonoran burritos and refried beans. Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza’s signature dishes (including chiles en nogada, a roasted poblano stuffed with chicken, fruit and nuts, gilded with an almond cream sauce), groundbreaking pomegranate-seed-spiked guacamole and adventurous new additions (try pipián verde, a green mole made from pumpkin seeds) place this colorful neighborhood restaurant at the top of the Valley’s Mod-Mex food chain. Pair the food with tequila or mezcal, choosing from Barrio’s extensive collection, one of the Valley’s largest. 2814 N. 16th St., 602-636-0240,

Beckett’s Table
Awards: Award of Excellence, Wine Spectator (2012) Best New Restaurants, PHOENIX magazine (2011
Look up “neighborhood restaurant” in the dictionary and you may well find Beckett’s Table. Of the Valley’s many well-executed, middle-brow American eateries &ndash think St. Francis, Tuck Shop and Rusconi’s &ndash this is our favorite. The cozy, living-room-esque décor coupled with an open kitchen and a well-stocked bar set the tone for Chef Justin Beckett’s modern comfort food, which includes old favorites like gooey grilled cheese with pancetta and a side of roasted red pepper soup, and smoky shrimp and andouille sausage on top of creamy grits. Chef Beckett also tweaks the menu frequently for the never-the-same-dish-twice crowd. 3717 E. Indian School Rd., 602-954-1700,

Cave Creek
Awards: Best New Restaurants, PHOENIX magazine (2004) Hot 50 Restaurant Guide, Bon Appetit (2005) James Beard Foundation, Best Chef Southwest finalist (2012, 2013)
Chef Kevin Binkley opened his small Cave Creek laboratory of modernist American cooking in 2004, and a decade later helms arguably Arizona’s most revered restaurant. Offering a dining experience full of edible fireworks and his now trademark sense of humor, Binkley &ndash a one-time protégé of East Coast culinary legend Patrick O’Connell &ndash traps you in a funhouse cylinder of gourmet inspiration. One moment, it’s a miniature sloppy Joe amuse bouche, and the next, a trio of kurobuta pork lard morsels so pure they taste like butter. Unabashedly embracing the foams, freezings and assorted culinary gizmos of the molecular gastronomy school, Binkley has netted countless accolades for his multi-course menus, using techniques and ingredients that can be found nowhere else in Arizona. From spherified gazpacho to foie gras-stuffed quail, his is a dining playground nonpareil. 6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., 480-437-1072,

Bink’s Midtown
Awards: 2013 New Restaurant of the Year, PHOENIX magazine
Binkley again? Well, yeah. Parked in a quaint 1940s bungalow with original hardwood floors and beam ceilings, Bink’s Midtown gives the Arcadia crowd a taste of Chef Binkley’s gastronomic brilliance in an environment friendlier to the Valley’s shorts-and-polos crowd. The food here is beauteous, with buttery Pacific sand dab and tangy five-spice duck breast presented as edible works of art. Seasonal produce offerings &ndash all of them sourced from Arizona &ndash are afforded celebrity status at Bink’s indeed, where else in the Valley can you find a humble bowl of jicama dressed up with chickpeas, dried tomatoes, several intriguing herbs and a dab of spicy yogurt? It’s like My Fair Lady for vegetable-lovers. And lest you dismiss Bink’s as a haven for veg-heads, consider its award-winning bacon cheeseburger, with oinker ground directly into the meat. 2320 E. Osborn Rd., 602-388-4874,

Bourbon Steak
Awards: AAA Four Diamond Award Forbes Four-Star Award Best of Award of Excellence, Wine Spectator
San Francisco celebrity chef Michael Mina’s 6-year-old shrine to surf and turf is not your father’s steakhouse. It’s a subliminally sexy food palace with clean lines, floor-to-ceiling glass and soft, black leather banquettes. Appetizers are innovative: Think “bacon & egg” with succulent pork belly, deep-fried egg and kimchi. Steaks are decadently poached in clarified butter and finished on a wood-burning grill. And Mina was smart to give the top toque to local superhero chef Chris Curtiss, a master at handmade pasta, whose otherworldly gnocchi melts on the tongue. Curtiss has a way with seafood, too, whether skate wing or golden tilefish, creating stunning flavors that rival the steaks. 7575 E. Princess Dr., 480-585-4848,

Christopher’s & Crush Lounge
Awards: James Beard Best Chef Southwest (1995) Best New Chef, Food & Wine (1989) Christopher Gross, the iconic chef whose original Christopher’s jump-started the Valley’s modern cuisine movement in 1990, keeps things exciting at the third incarnation of his eponymous restaurant by focusing on what he does best &ndash modernized classic French bistro fare with occasional flashes of haute cuisine on one end and bourgeois people-pleasers on the other. Standbys include Côte de boeuf for two, Alsatian onion tart, escargot en croute, fried frog legs, and if desired, a $140 serving of exquisite Russian caviar. Stylishly and energetically appointed, with the adjoining Crush Lounge adding a touch of sex appeal to the Gallic gestalt, Christopher’s is still the roi of French dining in the Valley. 2502 E. Camelback Rd.,602-522-2344,

Citizen Public House
Awards: Best New Restaurants, PHOENIX magazine (2011), Best New Restaurant, Phoenix New Times (2011), Best New Restaurants in America, Esquire magazine (2011)
When Chef Bernie Kantak unveiled this upscale gastropub in 2011, he had a lot to live up to: namely, a solid reputation earned during his decade at Cowboy Ciao, and the fact that CPH occupies the building that housed the original Trader Vic’s. Kantak’s refined spin on comfort classics combines with mixmaster Richie Moe’s innovative cocktails and a friendly, energetic vibe to make Citizen the hottest late-night nosh on the block. Juicy spiced lamb pairs with tzatziki and pickled veggies for an exotic burger, while pungent gorgonzola and Emmental make Kantak’s mac and cheese a grown-up crowd pleaser. Other highlights include a chopped salad so well-balanced it has a dedicated Facebook following, and the addictive jolt of dessert diva Tracy Dempsey’s espresso-laced sticky bun bread pudding. 7111 E. Fifth Ave., 480-398-4208,

Awards: Best New Restaurants, PHOENIX magazine (2008)
Cornered in an otherwise ordinary suburban shopping plaza in Chandler’s distant southern fringe, the award-winning Cork crafts food that is anything but routine. Since opening in 2008, Cork has generated destination-worthy buzz for its small-plates-driven menu of globally-hued New American cuisine and acclaimed wine program. Chef Brian Peterson, along with husband and wife duo Robert and Danielle Morris, showcase the very best of each season, and region, with inspired takes on classics, like the rich foie gras pound cake, cut with a citrus and date sauce the buttery mahi mahi, served with shishito peppers and lobster fried rice or the duck breast, with okra, duck bacon and Brussels sprouts. Culinarily speaking, it’s the savior of San Tan. 4991 S. Alma School Rd., 480-883-3773,

Awards: Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame Best New Restaurant, PHOENIX magazine (2012)
Based on the name, you’d think this hard-to-find gem would be a raw seafood restaurant. You’d be one-third right. Chef Cullen Campbell creates pristine plates of crudo, such as silky butterfish garnished with roasted tomato, lardo and arugula. The other two-thirds of the menu feature an eclectic collection of modern, Italian-inspired plates, which can be ordered a la carte or in money-saving multi-courses. The menu changes seasonally, but the phenomenal squid ink risotto is a mainstay. First, prime your palate with an imaginative cocktail in Bar Crudo next door before surrendering to the gracious service and wine knowledge of Campbell’s wife, Maureen. 3603 E. Indian School Rd., 602-358-8666,

Awards: 10 Best Restaurant Dishes, Food & Wine (2010) Best New Restaurants, PHOENIX magazine (2010)
For four glorious years, Chef Charleen Badman and front-of-the-house charmer Pavle Milic have beautified Old Town Scottsdale with their incomparable farm-to-table fare. Using locally-sourced ingredients, Badman crafts an ever-changing seasonal menu of small and large plates for lunch and dinner. If the stars align and you catch the “off-Stetson” chopped salad loaded with sweet persimmons, tart pomegranate seeds, thinly-sliced Brussels sprouts, chunks of jicama, crunchy walnuts and mild goat feta dressed in a delicate wash of sherry vinaigrette, consider yourself fortunate. Grab a seat on the adjoining patio, order a glass of Arizona wine and revel in a plate of Badman’s impeccable roasted chicken tinged with scallion-ginger sauce or lamb riblets with sherry vinegar and honey. 7125 E. Fifth Ave., 480-284-4777,

Richardson’s/ The Rokerij
Awards: Best Of Phoenix, Phoenix New Times (2007, 2008, 2013), Best Bars in America, Esquire magazine (2010)
After career waiter and sometimes hippie Richardson Browne rode his bicycle from Florida to Phoenix in the late 1980s, he purchased an old tack shop on a whim and converted it into a dark, cavernous eatery. Though the original Richardson’s burned down in 2009, the newly rebuilt restaurant and its Siamese twin, Dutch-Southwestern grill The Rokerij, continue to attract local bigwigs with a speakeasy vibe and hotter-than-Hades New Mexican fare. Moist carne adovada warms the stomach better than whiskey, and the mild poblano flavor of smoked turkey rellenos complements the earthy tang of green chile. Can’t handle the heat? The Rokerij’s pecan wood grill adds nutty sweetness to any meat, making for flavorful yet mild burgers and bacon-wrapped steak. 6335 N. 16th St., 602-265-5886,

Fry Bread House
Awards: America’s Classic, James Beard Foundation (2012)
This soulful, fuss-free temple to the heavenly virtues of fry bread &ndash that blistered, chewy, deep-fried dough we all know and crave &ndash is no longer the best-kept culinary secret in Arizona, thanks to its official branding as an “American Classic” by the James Beard Foundation in 2012. From the savory fry bread tacos pressed to the edge with slow-cooked red or green chile beef and lard-loaded refried beans, to the sentimentally sweet, easy-kill combo of powdered sugar and honey, Fry Bread House continues to serve its namesake specialty with no remorse for overindulgence or regard for the calorie-concerned. Along with Tuscon’s El Güero Canelo, it gets indigenous-AZ brownie points. 1003 E. Indian School Rd., 602-351-2345

Awards: AAA Five Diamond Award (2006-2014) Forbes Five-Star Award Award of Excellence, Wine Spectator
Arizona’s most decorated restaurant experienced a high-profile executive chef change in late 2012, yet it didn’t skip a beat. If anything, Kai is even better, with an updated, modern menu reflecting its Native American roots while embracing the future with global accents. Kai is king because of the understated elegance of the earth-toned dining room, stunning sunset views from the patio, sophisticated service that melts into the background, and dishes so artfully arranged it seems a shame to devour them &ndash until the first bite. Elk loin wrapped in jamón Ibérico de Bellota with truffle risotto, and cinnamon-dusted lamb loin over butternut squash and wattleseed spaetzle celebrate ancient ingredients with a contemporary spin. 5594 Wild Horse Pass Blvd., 602-385-5726,

Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles
Phoenix and Scottsdale
Awards: Best of the Valley &ndash Best Sandwich, PHOENIX magazine (2013)
Well before bacon cupcakes and salted caramel ice cream went mainstream, Larry “Lo-Lo” White perfected his salty-sweet technique under his granny’s wing at Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café. Launched in 2002, with a Scottsdale outpost added in 2008, Lo-Lo’s dishes up stick-to-your-ribs soul food with Southern attitude. Waffles are light and fluffy, topped with a heaping scoop of booty-building butter. Lo-Lo’s bird is crisp and succulent, its natural juices jacketed in buttermilk breading studded with a proprietary spice blend White won’t even divulge to his own wife. Beyond the crispy cluckers, Lo-Lo’s piquant PHAT AZZ catfish “samich” and red velvet cake with finger-lickin’ cream cheese frosting are worthy supporting players. It’s serious soul food in a soul-food-deprived town. 1220 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-340-1304 2765 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-945-1920,

Los Dos Molinos
Awards: Best Carne Adovada, Phoenix New Times (2011)
In the church of chile heat, Los Dos is pope. Several convenient Valley locations of this beloved New Mexico-style restaurant have opened since family matriarch Victoria Chavez debuted the original Los Dos nearly 40 years ago in the town of Springerville, but we’ll gladly burn a little extra gas to dine at the iconic, out-of-the-way South Phoenix outpost, set in the former home of silent film star Tom Mix. Known for its searing application of the infamous New Mexican chile in all its blistering glory, Los Dos beckons diners far and wide to dine on slow-cooked, chile-lacquered carne adovada ribs, marinated for days in the restaurant’s trademark, sweltering red sauce. It’s endorphin-rush dining at its finest. 8646 S. Central Ave., 602-243-9113,

Nobuo at the Teeter House
Awards: Best Chef Southwest, James Beard Foundation (2007) Best New Chef, Food and Wine magazine (2002)
Once upon a time, Nobuo Fukuda was a 20-year-old line chef at Benihana, making onion ring volcanos and the like. It’s a pretty funny thought, considering the James Beard Award winner’s towering artistry &ndash like Picasso inking cartoon panels for South Park. Perfecting the small plates technique that first won him acclaim at Sea Saw in Old Town, Fukuda does things with raw fish that feel vaguely supernatural &ndash for instance, draping spoonfuls of hamachi in grapefruit and trufflized ponzu oil in such a way that each bite seems directly piped into your umami pleasure zones. Similarly un-Benihana-like: a soft-shell crab salad married with peanuts and sweetened fish sauce for an unexpected Southeast Asian shwing. Of course, everything at this Downtown izakaya is splendid: the hot plates, the cold plates, the Japanese tea room lunch menu. If you love sushi, and want to take your love of Japanese cuisine to the next level, this is your graduate program. 622 E. Adams St., 602-254-0600,

Awards: Award of Excellence, Wine Spectator (2013) Best Late Night Ramen, PHOENIX magazine (2013)
In the mood for some spicy kangaroo or a meaty bison oxtail? Both have been known to star in the “improvisational” cuisine of Chef Joshua Hebert. Here’s how it works: Diners are presented with a menu that includes the aforementioned protein choices plus more mainstream selections such as soft-shell crab, white bass and New York strip steak. Cross out the proteins you dislike, write down any other food aversions, allergies and dietary restrictions, and Hebert and staff will create a minimum five-course seasonal tasting menu based on your answers. Like disciplined jazz musicians, they experiment freely, but always manage to hit the right notes. Frog legs with gnocchi? Shrimp cocktail with a miso gelée? Groovy, baby. 7167 E. Rancho Vista Dr., 480-663-7674,

Roka Akor
Awards: Best Sushi
Restaurant in the U.S., Travel & Leisure magazine (2008)
Pity the poor soul who dismisses this London-based dining brand as “corporate sushi.” From the showpiece robata grill to the obsessively fine-tuned food and service, Roka is anything but generic. Don’t miss the butterfish tataki, a delicate but palate-empowering raw fish served with dainty white asparagus and yuzu the crispy Brussels sprouts with a house-made Japanese mustard, flecked with bonito flakes or one of Roka Akor’s “steak collection,” which includes dry-aged and bone-in cuts of Niman Ranch and Australian wagyu beef. Roka Akor is not for the faint of wallet, but worth every delectable dollar. And if you want to cost-effectively join the party, it offers one of the Valley’s best happy hour values. 7299 N. Scottsdale Rd., 480-306-8800,

Awards: James Beard Award
semifinalist (2012) Best New Restaurants, PHOENIX magazine (2011)
Chef Shinji Kurita is all about subtlety. Everything at ShinBay is elegantly understated, from the soothing elemental décor to Kurita’s quiet demeanor and clean, flavorful fare. Dedicated fans of his defunct Ahwatukee restaurant rejoiced when Kurita left a temporary gig at a national teppanyaki chop-shop to open ShinBay in 2011. Here, chef-driven menus change like the tides, ebbing and flowing through nigiri, toubanyaki (tabletop grilled meats) and flavorful, brothy mushroom soup with tender, earthy mussels. There’s a reason we dubbed Kurita “The Fish Whisperer.” Despite Phoenix’s lack of coastline, ShinBay’s entrées taste ocean-fresh &ndash leaving us to wonder if Kurita discovered a mythical portal that instantly transports him to the sea and back. 7001 N. Scottsdale Rd., 480-664-0180,

Pizzeria Bianco
Awards: Best Chef Southwest, James Beard Foundation (2003) Best Pizza in the U.S., Bon Appétit
Without question, this is bucket-list pizza. More than simply a local destination for superior pies, Pizzeria Bianco has shaped the national food ethos on what truly constitutes the perfect pizza, seizing countless golden accolades along the way. Since opening in 1996, Bianco’s Downtown Phoenix outpost goes through blank waiting lists like boxes of Kleenex &ndash claiming a table for dinner on a routine Friday night continues to be one of life’s back-patting benchmarks. Celebrated for its signature wood-fired artisanal pizzas constructed meticulously with ingredients handcrafted or personally curated by founder and James Beard Award-winning pizza master Chris Bianco, food-driven tourists continue to make hungry pilgrimages to Phoenix for menu favorites like the classic margherita and the Wiseguy, made with house-smoked mozzarella, local fennel sausage and wood-roasted onions. 623 E. Adams St., 602-258-8300,

Awards: Food Network’s Iron Chef America (2007)
When you walk into Tarbell’s, two divergent thoughts come to mind: 1) Wow, what a classy joint, with its white tablecloths and nattily-attired clientele and 2) It’s so damn comfortable and inviting, you could belly up to the bar and linger all night. Since 1994, oenophile chef Mark Tarbell has courageously manned the front lines of the Valley’s fine-dining revolution. Perennial favorites include grilled Scottish salmon glazed with molasses, lime and McClendon’s honey atop crispy russet potato cakes and Mark’s “famous” ground veal and pork sausage meatballs smothered in house-made marinara served over spaghetti.

The chef publishes many of his recipes on the restaurant’s website, but why cook at home when you can be wined and dined by a living legend? 3213 E. Camelback Rd., 602-955-8100,

Tacos Atoyac
Awards: Best New Restaurants, PHOENIX magazine (2012) Best Fish Taco, PHOENIX magazine (2011) Best Fish Taco,
If it wasn’t so neat and tidy, this bare-bones Central Phoenix taco shop might be considered a dive. The intriguing menu of Mexican street food at candy bar prices draws diners from all corners of the Valley. Tacos are tops, especially the Baja-style fish taco and the pork- and- pineapple al pastor, but owners Dan Maldonado and Pablo Lopez also sling two humble Oaxacan snacks you won’t find anywhere else: memelitas (thick, chewy corn tortillas) and molote (masa fritters stuffed with potatoes and chorizo). It’s peasant fare fit for a prince. 1830 W. Glendale Ave., 602-864-2746

Vincent on

Awards: Best Chef Southwest, James Beard Foundation (1993)
Vincent Guerithault was practicing “chef-driven,” “seasonal” and “local” decades before they were boilerplate buzzwords. With the opening of his eponymous Phoenix restaurant in 1986, Guerithault almost single-handedly elevated Southwestern cuisine into the realm of fine dining with his signature, often playful layering of the regional style with classic French sensibilities. Authoring daily menus highlighted by then-scandalous dishes like duck confit tamales with raisins and mild Anaheim chile, and his equally infamous lobster chimichanga, filled with a silky basil beurre blanc, Guerithault permanently cemented himself in the Valley’s culinary consciousness. The James Beard Award-winner also exhibits an uncanny knack for adaptation, rolling out a much-admired small-plates menu in the restaurant’s Bleu Lounge. 3930 E. Camelback Rd., 602-224-0225,

Virtù Honest Craft
Awards: Best New Restaurants in America, Esquire magazine (2013) Top 5 Best New Restaurants, PHOENIX magazine (2013)
Named after the Machiavellian term for “achieving excellence,” this 35-seat modern Italian bistro should be loved, not feared &ndash that is, unless you fear deliciousness. Chef/owner Gio Osso dazzles with offerings that range from a simple salad of baby lettuces, red beets, squash and crunchy candied pecans to mind-scrambling symphonies like a trio of hazelnut-crusted scallops atop a bed of butternut squash studded with bacon and finished with white chocolate beurre blanc. Not yet a year old, Virtù is a tyro eatery with an old soul &ndash and a grilled octopus appetizer that haunts our fantasies. Along with Crudo, it’s the star of the Valley’s emerging Italian scene. 3701 N. Marshall Way, 480-946-3477,

Southern Arizona

The Abbey Eat + Drink
Awards: Best New Restaurant, Tucson Lifestyle (2011)
Artichoke dip with fresh dill and house-made crostini. Pot roast with black truffle pan gravy. Burgers with bacon jam. Comfort food is surely raised to an art form at this retro-chic gastropub, which conjures a friendly neighborhood vibe despite its upscale-shopping-compound address. Owned by the same folks behind Tucson’s popular Jax Kitchen, the Abbey is especially popular with locals on Tuesdays, when bottles of wine are half-price, and on Wednesday, which is fabled fried chicken night. The daily changing Breakfast for Dinner entrée is also a real crowd-pleaser. French toast and bacon somehow taste better after dark. 6960 E. Sunrise Dr., 520-299-3132,

Café Poca Cosa
Awards: Best Upscale Cuisine (2013) and Best Mexican (2011, 2012), Tucson Weekly
A staple of downtown Tucson dining since 1987, this one-time hole-in-the-wall traded up for more upscale digs, but its status as ground zero for authentic Mexico City soul food in Arizona endures. Chef/owner Suzana Davila elevates the food of her native land, turning out elegant renditions of classics &ndash mole, tacos, enchiladas &ndash as well as funky takeoffs on traditional flavors, like ancho chile-infused chocolate cake, plum-chipotle carne and tamale pie with rotating flavors and sauces. Try the scrumptious cauliflower, if it’s available. Davila keeps palates on edge with her twice-daily-changing menu, informed by her daily farmers’ market harvest, but is careful to mix old favorites with bold experiments. Put your trust in her and order the Plato Poca Cosa (chef’s choice) and a fresh fruit-laden margarita, and just say gracias. 110 E. Pennington St., 520-622-6400,

Cafe Roka
Awards: #1 Restaurant in Bisbee, Trip Advisor (2009-2013)
The picturesque town of Bisbee has a reputation for being quirky, but usually in an eat-it-out-of-a-can kind of way. So footloose food lovers throughout Southern Arizona were amazed 20 years ago when a New American restaurant offering reasonably priced and beautifully presented four-course meals &ndash including a sorbet palate cleanser &ndash opened on the town’s historic main drag. The dinners served in the intimate pressed tin-ceiling dining room continue to impress. Entrées on the weekly changing menu range from portobello mushroom and artichoke lasagna to New Zealand rack of lamb with new potatoes in a rosemary zinfandel sauce. 35 Main St., 520-432-5153,

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails
Awards: Best Chef: Southwest, James Beard Foundation Award (2000) Best Chefs America (2013) Best New Restaurants, Tucson Lifestyle (2011)
Chef Janos Wilder’s return to downtown, where he got his start in Tucson some three decades ago, is a globe-trotting departure from the regional Southwestern cuisine that scored him a James Beard Award. His self-described menu for a “new America” throws a block party on every plate with such dishes as a Laotian chicken and green papaya salad, Cuban achiote-rubbed pork loin and black mussels with Spanish chorizo. You can also savor such signature Wilder dishes as his Sonoran hot dog &ndash one of several upscale street food options on the bar menu &ndash and his chocolate jalapeño ice cream sundae. 135 S. Sixth Ave., 520-623-7700,

The Grill at Hacienda del Sol
Awards: Top Five Restaurants, Tucson Lifestyle (2011, 2012, 2013) AAA Four Diamond Award (2011)
The ultimate in special-occasion dining, this elegant Southwest-style restaurant is located at the lovely Hacienda del Sol &ndash a 1929 girls’ school turned historic guest ranch where Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy once bunked. The menu caters to both traditionalists and more adventurous foodies with dishes like roasted duck breast sided by Spanish chorizo and cranberry bean ragout, and game preparations such as roasted pheasant breast and venison chops. This is also the only restaurant in Arizona to receive Wine Enthusiast’s “Award of Ultimate Distinction” not once, but twice. Locals flock to the generous Sunday brunch book a table on the west patio for drop-dead gorgeous city and mountain vistas. 5501 N. Hacienda Del Sol Rd., 520-529-3500,

Maynard’s Market & Kitchen
Awards: Best Chefs America (2013) Award of Excellence, Wine Spectator (2013)
Served in a restored Southern Pacific railroad depot, Chef Addam Buzzalini’s innovative bistro fare &ndash think poutine and foie gras with pomme frites, and Niman Ranch organic roasted chicken &ndash channels the classic era of elegant rail travel with an art deco-style room that mimics a Pullman dining car. Everything is made from scratch, from the fresh-baked bread to artisanal ice cream. Browse the shelves of the casual, grab-and-bag market next door for a bottle of wine to accompany dinner. Freight trains still pass by grab a table on the outdoor patio to experience the sound effects full-force. 400 N. Toole Ave., 520-545-0577,

Awards: Opened 2013
Yes, it’s a bit unconventional to rank a restaurant that debuted in May among the state’s best, but owner Paul Moir’s track record in Flagstaff &ndash he’s behind the excellent Criollo Latin Kitchen and Brix Restaurant & Wine Bar &ndash suggests this stylish downtown dining room is no flash in the pan. Dishes like curried lamb stew with dates, and pork belly with butternut squash risotto are complex without being fussy, and the farm-to-table philosophy, including the use of ethically raised animals, guarantees maximum freshness with minimum guilt. Creative cocktails like the Green Thistle, a bracing mix of vodka, artichoke liqueur and citrus, add panache. 300 E. Congress St., 520-396-3357,

PY Steakhouse
Awards: Best New Restaurant, Tucson Lifestyle (2013)
Tucson’s south side is chockablock with Mexican mom-and-pops, so the recent arrival of this high-end steakhouse in the glitzy Casino del Sol, owned by the Pascua Yaqui tribe, has thoroughly disrupted the neighborhood’s culinary grading curve. Touches such as jalapeños in the creamed spinach and chorizo in the shrimp linguine lend Southwest zest to a classic surf-and-turf menu. The swanky dining room, a study in white with touches of black and gray, provides the perfect setting for the retro cocktails created by resort mixologist Aaron de Feo, arguably Southern Arizona’s top barkeep. 5655 W. Valencia Rd., 855-765-7829,

Awards: Top Five Restaurants, Tucson Lifestyle (2011, 2012, 2013) Zagat #1 Tucson restaurant (2009)
Chef/owner Daniel Scordato has dished out consistently fine Northern Italian fare to Tucsonans for so long &ndash since 1993 &ndash that Vivace sometimes gets overlooked in the rush to try the next new thing. But savvy locals and devoted out-of-towners keep the white clothed tables in the pretty Tuscan-style dining rooms booked year-round. The epitome of the good life, Southern Arizona style: sitting out on the patio and sipping Prosecco with a pear and walnut wedge salad, perhaps followed by artichoke-goat cheese cannelloni and pork Sorrentino with prosciutto and Fontina cheese. 4310 N. Campbell Ave., 520-795-7221,

Awards:Top Five Restaurants, Tucson Lifestyle (2012, 2013)
Celebrating its 15th anniversary, Sam Fox’s maiden culinary expedition reminds us why Fox Restaurant Concepts (FRC) has become a national mega-success: excellent food, great service and reasonable prices. Keepers from the original menu, like the smoked salmon and crème fraîche on a crispy potato galette &ndash a clever spin on bagels and lox &ndash never disappoint. Neither do the Bars of Sin, a praline chocolate cookie with cappuccino mousse that distinguishes FRC executive pastry chef Karen “Spike” Ames as a true dessert diva. Wildflower’s patio is one of the most appealing in town, with dramatic Santa Catalina vistas during the day, and a romantic, low-lit atmosphere come nightfall. 7037 N. Oracle Rd., 520-219-4230,

El Güero Canelo
Awards: Best Sonoran Hot Dogs, Tucson Weekly (2009-2013)
The Sonoran hot dog is Tucson’s most iconic dish, and this former roadside taco stand-turned-restaurant is its most famous advocate. For 20 years, Daniel Contreras and his family have served thousands of their signature pieces of heaven-in-a-sweet-bun: bacon-wrapped dogs grilled to a chewy, crisp perfection and loaded with beans, onions, tomatoes, mayonnaise and mustard, with some customers opting to dogpile with salsa, jalapeños, cheese and crema. But it’s more than just hot dogs on the menu the carne asada is grilled up almost around the clock and stuffed into tacos, burros, tortas and caramelos, a kind of torta/quesadilla hybrid. Everything is made fresh, with a toppings station chock-full of veggies, sauces and salsas. Good luck eating these delights slowly. Odds are you’ll spend hours licking between your teeth trying to get one last taste. Three locations, 520-807-9620,

Awards: Certificate of Excellence, Trip Advisor (2013)
When this Nogales, Mexico-based institution &ndash dating waaaay back to 1927 &ndash moved north of the border to artsy Tubac a few years ago, it stayed true to its pan-Mexican culinary roots, but spiffed up its digs. Don’t miss the superb moles &ndash particularly the hazelnut with ancho chiles, raisins and chocolate &ndash or the tamarind-chipotle shrimp on grilled pineapple. In season, the pomegranate-seed-studded chiles en nogada are a must-order, and the margaritas, from the classic to agave honey, are justly famed. After dark, the dining room gets seriously sexy, with the blown-glass teardrops suspended from the ceiling catching and refracting the light. 2221 E. Frontage Rd., 520-398-9421,

Overland Trout
Awards: Opened 2013
Talk about a change of scenery. Last year, Greg LaPrad left his gig at Quiessence, an oasis farmhouse restaurant anchored in the south Phoenix urban sprawl, for Overland Trout, a modest outpost in the wide-open prairie of Southern Arizona’s wine country. Making fast friends with local farmers and ranchers, LaPrad crafted a one-page seasonal menu reflecting the terroir of Southern Arizona and its close proximity to Mexico. Winter squash soup with house-made apple chorizo shares the spotlight with grilled quail marinated in local red wine, and hunter’s stew is packed with wild venison.

Although the restaurant has only been open since October, Arizona’s food and wine enthusiasts have already christened it “destination dining worth the drive.” At least, that’s what we’re calling it. 3266 State Hwy. 82, 520-455-9316,

Photos by Jim David, Mark Lipczynski, Brian Goddard, Richard Maack, Jamie Peachey, Laura Segall, Terri Lea Smith, David Venezia