Scottsdale is a tricky town to navigate because it stretches over a big territory. There are quite a few shopping centers and navigational points to help you, but a traveler can easily get lost in the mix. Great restaurants are often hiding in the shadows of chain restaurants, and it’s hard to know what is what unless you spend some extended time there. The chains can be an enjoyable meal, but the real treat for foodies is to dig past all of the advertising and signage to eat great food that you can’t find anywhere else. Here are my recommendations (for better and worse) from our eating adventures in Scottsdale and Phoenix.
Eat The Best Meal We Had at Culinary Dropout near Fashion Square Mall. They are owned by Fox Restaurant Concepts, a restaurant conglomerate that specializes in somewhat high end, yet casual attire cuisine. Culinary Dropout takes you on a culinary journey that highlights American favorites with a whimsical twist. A classic French Dip is served with French Onion soup instead of traditional au jus, allowing you to add the rich caramelized onions to a tender meaty sandwich. My ahi tuna salad was served with cabbage, sesame seeds, and wasabi crusted peas for a surprising crunch and kick. Their food is smart, well executed, and just one look at the menu insures you’ll be back to try other things. They have an equally impressive cocktail list for an evening out or a warm day on the patio.
Would I Go Back? Yes, for culinary inspiration, an amazing meal, and great atmosphere.
Get Your Pho On– Smooshed between a run-of-the-mill sushi spot and a nail salon is Tea Light Cafe, an innocent shop that seats no more than ten people or so. The menu consists of mostly pho and noodle bowl dishes, and I ordered chicken pho on a colder day for lunch. For about $7 I got a half-gallon of rich and savory with chicken broth. On the side came all the traditional fixings; steamed chicken, rice noodles, Thai basil, sliced jalapenos, and bean sprouts. There are a variety of condiments to use at your discretion- I tend to concoct a mix of sriracha chili sauce to add a kick and hoison sauce for some sweet and tangy. The key with pho is patience; it tastes the best when the basil and jalapenos have time to emit their aromas into the broth. It’s worth the wait.
Would I Go Back? Yes- for a quick, light, and reasonably priced meal.
Stuff Yourself Skinny at Pita Jungle, my favorite Mediterranean restaurant in the area. Pita Jungle is a health-focused restaurant with a large menu full of enticing fresh options. I ordered the Mediterranean Plate, which comes with three dips and pita, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), tabbouli, falafel, and spicy green beans. It’s easily large enough to eat as an entrée, but would also be a great starter to share with the table. I particularly loved the baba ganouhj, which had a smoky flavor I’ve never tasted before. I’m definitely going to try and recreate it soon. Ryan ordered the beef gyro, which I would say was standard. His pesto pizza, however, was terrific. It came with thick slices of tomato, homemade pesto, and caramelized mushrooms. It’s a little small for a meal in itself, but great as an appetizer! If they have the gazpacho for the soup of the day, order it. It’s the best I’ve ever had.
Would I Go Back? Yes, for a great lunch outside on the patio.
Do Not Stuff Yourself Skinny at Fontana di Amore, a health conscious restaurant that I found a Groupon deal for. I was enticed by their gluten-free and vegetarian friendly menu, and I thought it would be worth a try. We tried the guacamole, turkey burger, and millet salad. Ryan quickly commented, “It tastes healthy,” which for someone who strives to cook that way, is a total rejection. Just because food is good for you doesn’t mean it should lack flavor, presentation value, or textural appeal. Unfortunately, this meal lacked in all categories. I might give them a chance again if I went for breakfast, but don’t see myself returning.
Would I Go Back? No.
Eat Fish in the Desert- coastal residents maybe weary, but we had incredible sushi twice in Arizona.
The first is a personal favorite, Blue Wasabi, because of their unique rolls and enticing martinis. They have flat screens for whatever game is on and a buzzing bar and patio. Here are four of my favorite rolls that I suggest sharing with the table for the best variety in taste and texture:
“Eating Nemo”- salmon, thinly sliced lemon, and ponzu for something light and refreshing.
“Chuck Norris”- spicy salmon and panko shrimp with sashimi salmon.
Gordon Gecko”- shrimp tempura and jalapeno topped with seared tuna and spicy sauce for a kick in the mix.
“Killer Bee”- California roll with eel, sliced mango, and sweet soy for tangy and meaty goodness.
Order the salmon sashimi appetizer with cream cheese and caviar- it isn’t on the menu, and is my gift to you. The indulgence you must partake is the Rockin’ Shrimp Tempura- served piping hot in a martini glass with sriracha mayo. It is a table favorite every time if you are selfless enough to share it.
Would I Go Back? I have, and will, anytime we visit Scottsdale.
Dining Tip- Eat a little early, between 4:30 and 6:30, when almost the entire menu and martini list is half price for happy hour.
Our second sushi trip was with new friends who chose Pure Sushi Bar in North Scottsdale. Unlike Blue Wasabi, with a trendy bar scene and loud atmosphere, Pure provides a soothing aesthetic of bamboo and neutral colors and quiet ambiance. You should always judge a sushi restaurant by its sashimi, and judge Pure by its wheel appetizer- yellowtail with thinly sliced jalapeno. Spiciness is balanced with umami-rich ponzu sauce to complement fresh caught fish; it’s a great start to excite the taste buds for a memorable meal. My next course was seaweed salad, which I am pretty picky about. I loved it. Ryan and I shared three rolls as our entree- the White Monster, October Festival, and Dragon Fire. Without going into too much detail, I would say you couldn’t go wrong with the rolls. They use creative sauces like Asian pesto, sesame dressing, mango sauce, and peanut vinaigrette, and pair them with very fresh fish and crunchy textures. All out an amazing meal.
Would I Go Back? Yes, for a romantic dinner date.
Satisfy Your Sinful Sweet Tooth- Go no further than Sweet Republic Ice Cream in downtown Scottsdale. They have been featured on Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate” and in USA Today’s “Top 10 Ice Cream Parlor’s for 2011”. That’s pretty big bragging rights. They have unique and original flavors with decadent mix-ins. We tried the salted butter caramel and the real mint chip (where you can see the ground up fresh mint!). Absolutely divine. If you can’t make it in the shop, look for their food truck driving around town!
Would I Go Back? Yes, but rarely, for a very indulgent treat.