If your image of Scottsdale is all swimming pools and golf courses--well, you're not too far off the mark. But Scottsdale is also home to an ever-evolving scene of local restaurants, ranging from sandwich shops to grand resort dining rooms. For those of looking for a great meal that won't break the vacation budget, we present to you our top choices for Best Value restaurants in Scottsdale. There's no need to sacrifice taste and quality at neighborhood restaurants such as Defalcos Italian Grocery, a venerable local favorite that has been dishing out hot, delicious gooey Italian pasta dishes and pressed sandwiches for decades. Come for the authentic antipasto, stay for the cannoli. Next up, there is Tacos Jalisco, where the humble dining room belies the magic happening behind the kitchen doors. This is a great stop for take-out on those days when you're craving Mexican comfort food. If you want to enjoy a special meal out without the three-course meal price tag, we recommend Swaddee Thai Cuisine, which features an elegant dining room, friendly and attentive waitstaff, and a delicious and affordable menu of traditional Thai dishes. Families looking for a friendly place to dine will want to head over to Randy's Restaurant and Ice Cream, where the pie is always homemade, making it nearly impossible not to splurge on dessert.
10 Pesto Prima Cafe & Coffee
Classically trained chef Nathan Liggett brings his philosophy of fresh homemade cuisine at a great price to South Scottsdale with the opening of Pesto Prima Cafe & Coffee. Discriminating coffee drinkers will appreciate the French pressed cups of coffee and large selection of locally roasted espressos and coffees. Breakfast is made from scratch in the kitchen, and the lunch menu boasts sandwiches made with house roasted turkey and chicken, flavored with a variety of special homemade sauces, aioli and pesto. For breakfast, sample the delightful Prima Breakfast Wrap, made with scrambled eggs, Colby Jack cheese, fried potatoes, tomato, red onion, baby spinach with basil pesto aioli on your choice of tortilla. On the lunch menu, staples like the Classic Chicken Sandwich--oven roasted, hand-carved chicken breast, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, aioli and red onion on French white bread--shine for their fine ingredients and simplicity. ((480) 994-3500)
9 Cien Agaves
Fun, funky and right in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, Cien Agaves Tacos and Tequila is a favorite stopping point for out-of-towners and anyone with a soft spot for tasty tacos and top shelf tequila. The heart of the menu is The Taco Stand, an expansive taco menu where you can pick and choose from house specialties like the Grilled Ono Taco or zesty Tinga Taco, a crispy corn tortilla stuffed with chipotle-marinated shredded chicken. Can't decide? Choose the dos or tres taco especial, which comes with your choice of two or three tacos. Enchiladas, burritos, and chimichangas are also well-represented here. ((480) 970-9002)
8 Arcadia Farms Cafe
Arcadia Farms has been a favorite Scottsdale lunch spot for years, setting a regional standard for fresh, artful cuisine. Arcadia Farms Cafe uses wholesome, natural, and organic products to create signature menus that feature fresh pastries, desserts, sandwiches, salads, and entrees. Try the Wild Mushroom, Spinach and Goat Cheese Tart, made from caramelized leeks, fresh baby spinach, wild mushrooms, mozzarella and Fossil Creek goat cheese with organic baby greens. Specialty salads include the Pesto Grilled Shrimp Salad, made with marinated and grilled shrimp, baby lettuces, baby tomatoes, diced avocado, goat cheese, grilled corn and lime vinaigrette with crumbled, frizzled tortillas. You can't really go wrong with anything on the fresh, seasonal menu. (480-941-5665)
7 El Molino Mexican Cafe
This venerable local cafe dishes up down-home, no-frills Mexican food that has drawn a loyal local following over the years. Classic Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes such as tacos, burros, enchiladas and quesadillas are consistently good and served with the fresh, housemade salsa. If you're ready to throw caution (or calorie concerns) to the wind, try one of the chimichangas, perfectly crisp on the inside and stuffed with meats and spices on the inside. Want to take the flavors of El Molino home with you? The restaurant also sells market and deli items, including fresh masa, chorizo, tortillas and salsa, so you can bring the flavors of the Southwest to your kitchen table. ((480) 946-4494)
6 D'lish Kitchen & Coffeehouse
The antidote to an unhealthy fast-food, grab-and-go breakfast has arrived in Scottsdale, and the results are delicious. Or should we say "D'lish." This kitchen and coffeehouse dishes out organic, wholesome, yet always tasty, breakfast items such as sandwiches, bagels, pastries, burritos, and frittatas.Vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, and protein-packed dishes are labeled for your convenience. A wide assortment of specialty coffee drinks, smoothies, and teas are also available. Skip the unsatisfying fast food drive-thru, and try D'lish, which offers fast, friendly drive-thru service for busy morning work commuters. This is also a great coffeehouse destination. All coffee is free trade, locally roasted and brewed fresh. (480.247.8537)
5 Tacos Jalisco
There's nothing fancy about the small dining room at Tacos Jalisco in Scottsdale, but sometimes all you need is good food served up by expert cooks. This is the case at Tacos Jalisco, a tiny neighborhood restaurant located next to a laundromat that is dishing out tacos, burritos, tostadas, tortas and enchiladas that rival the best in town. Creamy beans, fluffy rice and a long menu of take-out classics make this a must-stop destination for those days when you're craving Mexican comfort food. Easy, fast and always flavorful, a great stopping point for a quick lunch, or order take-out for those long nights around the pool. Friendly service and fresh agua frescas (traditonal Mexican fruit coolers) offer further incentive for making a stop here. ((480) 941-9095)
4 Blue Burrito Grille
Blue Burrito Grille is a fast casual Mexican food restaurant dishing out healthy, fresh takes on Southwestern favorites like burritos, tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas. The signature Big Blue Burrito is made with your choice of grilled chicken or pork carnitas, no-lard black or pinto beans, rice, sour cream, guacamole, cheese and lettuce. Another house favorite is the Mexican Torta Sandwich, a fresh roll stuffed with tender grilled fajita chicken or pork carntias, chipotle mayo, jack cheese, sliced tomato, lettuce, diced pickled jalapenos and guacamole. Fresh salads, create-your-own combos, and fresh house-made salsas round out the menu at this friendly and fast neighborhood spot. ((480) 951-3151)
3 The Cider Mill Gourmet Market and Sandwich Shop
This quaint family-run store and restaurant is gaining a well-deserved reputation for its menu of fresh, artisanal sandwiches, salads, flatbreads, homemade soups, sides and desserts. Whole sandwiches are served with your choice of chips or substitute pasta salad, potato salad or spiked cottage cheese. Try the uniquely delicious Brit's Brie and Pickle sandwich, wedges of brie cheese, crisp dill pickles served on a buttered baguette. Simple, delicious, and unforgettable. The Cider Mill Dip is another sandwich of note, a hot roast beef sandwich featuring creamy horseradish and melted provolone on crispy milano bread, with a side of au jus for dipping. (480.994.1366)
2 YC's Mongolian Grill
Fresh and tasty is the operating culinary philosophy at YC's Mongolian Grill, where diners are invited to create their own stir fry creations. Simply choose from the assortment of enticingly fresh ingredients and step back and watch as one of the grill's experienced stir fry chefs cooks up your creation. Guests are invited to come up with their own combinations of meats, vegetables, noodles and sauces for a one-of-a-kind stir fry. Sauces range from bold and flavorful to tangy, spicy and sweet. This is a popular lunch spot for diners seeking a healthy and budget-friendly alternative to greasy diners and fast food options. ((480) 948-8011)
1 Defalcos Italian Grocery
If you're looking for an original, family-owned Italian deli, Defalco's Italian Grocery is the real thing. This local treasure is located just south of downtown Scottsdale, on the border between Tempe and Scottsdale. The menu features traditional pasta dishes and hot sandwiches. You'll see a lot of loyal customers coming in before dinner to carry out one of the take-home dishes, or shopping for high quality Italian products such as hand-made ravioli and imported olive oil. Enjoy the outdoor patio with a plate of eggplant parm, chicken cutlet, or lasagna. The dessert menu includes traditional Italian classics like cannoli and tiramisu. (480-990-8660)
About Patricia Escarcega
Patricia Escarcega has lived in the Arizona desert since she was a teenager. She works as a writer and editor in Phoenix with her four dogs and two cats.
She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona and is working on a novel about growing up in the 1990s.
Read more about Patricia Escarcega here.