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10 Best Restaurants to Experience Southwestern Cooking in Phoenix



Southwestern food in Phoenix is many things, but one thing it isn't is boring.

One great place to experience the zesty, spicy and undeniably tasty flavors of Southwestern cooking is at Sierra Bonita Grill, a comfy bar and grill offering a full menu of regional classics. This long-standing midtown Phoenix restaurant serves classics like pork osso bucco, served here with green chile, cheddar, roasted baby carrots, cipollini onions, zucchini, and a Hatch green chile sauce. 

For a local take on Southwestern cuisine, head to Barrio Cafe, a central Phoenix mainstay known for its gourmet sensibility and creative, modern take on Mexican and Southwestern fare. Try the guacamole, which is peppered with fresh kernels of pomegranate, for a tangy, fruity kick of flavor. 

For one of the most unique southwestern-inflected menus in town, head to Vincent's on Camelback. This landmark midtown Phoenix restaurant is the domain of chef Vincent Guerithault, who masterfully blends classic French cooking with Southwestern traditions and ingredients. 

Of course, you probably shouldn't miss Los Dos Molinos in south-central Phoenix, which has been serving up chile-spiked New Mexico-style southwestern dishes for decades. Green chili and red chili classics abound - just don't say we didn't warn you about the tongue-scathingly hot dishes. 

 


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Rustler's Rooste


Rustler's Rooste is Phoenix's down home theme restaurant, a destination cowboy steakhouse serving up thick and juicy steaks, ribs, chicken and seafood. Appetizers are rather unique at this popular restaurant (rattlesnake, anyone?), but it's all part of the fun. One of the more popular dining options at Rustler's Rooste is Cowboy Stuff, a family-style dinner that includes barbecue chicken, shrimp, beans, baked potatoes, swordfish, pork ribs, sirloin steak strips, corn-on-the-cob, fresh raw vegetables, and rolls with a side of butter and honey. It's a good idea to come hungry. The restaurant also offers stunning views of the Valley, which might be the top attraction at this tourist-friendly destination.

Recommended for Southwestern because: Rustler's Rooste is full of Old West ambiance for those seeking southwest kitsch.

Patricia's expert tip: Take home a souvenir from the General Store, open nightly from 5:00-10:00 PM.

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Los Dos Molinos


The tagline at Los Dos Molinos is "The Hottest Food in Phoenix." And though Los Dos Molinos is a perennial favorite around town, we think that the folks at Los Dos Molinos mean that literally - the New Mexico-style dishes here tend to be on the hot side of the Scoville scale. If you show up on a weekend, be prepared to wait for a table. The machaca pizza is a good start, and of course you'll want to sample either the red or green chili - both are fine renditions. Tangy guacamole, huge margaritas, chile-spiked ribs, and hefty portions also prove satisfying.

Recommended for Southwestern because: If you love hot and spicy New Mexican-style food, Los Dos Molinos is your ticket.

Local Expert tip: There are two locations of Los Dos Molinos in Phoenix, but the classic destination is in south-central Phoenix.

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Kai


Kai is noteworthy on so many levels that it's difficult to know where to start when describing it. The esteemed crew includes Consulting Chef Janos Wilder, Executive Chef Michael O'Dowd, and Chef de Cuisine Jack Strong. They have devised a menu of incredible food using ingredients grown on local tribal farms in dishes with a definite Native American slant, such as seared prairie squab and oxtail-merguez sausage frittata with cuitlacoche sauce and charred tomato crema, and grilled buffalo tenderloin with smoked corn puree, scarlet runner beans, saguaro blossom syrup and cholla buds. A tasting menu is also available, with or without wine pairings. The ideal spot to enjoy such earthy-yet-ethereal food is Kai's patio, with a view out over the Estrella Mountains. With a prickly pear margarita in hand.

Recommended for Southwestern because: Kai, which means "seed" in Pima, is one of the best - and priciest - places to experience modern, artful Southwestern cuisine in Metro Phoenix.

Patricia's expert tip: Start your dinner experience with one of the signature martinis. Simply incredible.

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La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop - formerly known as La Condesa - is not your run-of-the-mill taco shop. Here you'll find fresh produce sourced from local farms and combined with the unique and traditional flavors of Mexico: bright green tomatillos, chipotle chiles, Oaxacan cheese, and soft, pillowy tortillas, all combined to create startling and delightful flavors. The menu is small, but you can't go wrong with any of the seven specialty tacos. There are also specialty quesadillas, burritos and combo plates. Artful, authentic and always tasty, the tacos here are exquisite. A great part of the allure of La Condesa Gourmet Taco Shop is the excellent salsa bar. It's impossible to try just one.

Recommended for Southwestern because: One of the biggest and most unique salsa bars in the city makes La Santisima a must-try gourmet taco shop for fans of Southwestern cuisine.

Patricia's expert tip: La Santisima has one of the most impressive gourmet salsa bars in town. Try the strawberry salsa.

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Since it opened, folks have been clamoring to this hopping, no-reservations-accepted restaurant for its inventive southern Mexican and Southwestern cuisine. Abandoned are bland burritos and tacos in favor of lush, richly layered flavors achieved with zesty chiles, authentic cheeses, and complex moles. Start with guacamole prepared tableside (peppered with fresh pomegranate fruit) and then consider cochinita pibil, a delectable slow-roasted pork dish. Grilled steaks, seared duck breast, and seafood enchiladas are also much-requested. Plus, there's no better dessert than deep-fried fritters with goats' milk caramel - ask anyone. The restaurant also delivers a winning margarita, perfect for a long, leisurely afternoon with friends.

Recommended for Southwestern because: Barrio Cafe offers a creative take on Mexican and southwestern cuisine, making it ideal for foodies and fans of creative and modern southwestern cooking.

Patricia's expert tip: A popular house specialty here is the slow-roasted cochinita pibil.

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Rustic yet casually upscale, Dick's Hideaway is the kind of place locals take out-of-towners for an authentic taste of traditional Southwest flavors. Lunch, breakfast and dinner is served at this small local gem, where the smell of slow-roasted pork greets the steady stream of diners at all hours of day. The Southwest-inspired botanas (appetizers) menu makes a great starting point . Try the roasted garlic plate, served with roasted peppers and green chiles bubbling over with flavor, or the tomatillo toast, grilled chicken and ham served over toast and smothered in green chile peppers, tomatillo salsa and cheddar cheese. Although you can get great burgers, salads and past at Dick's, the Santa Fe Trail menu is the real star of the show. For a little taste of everything, try the New Mexican Platter, featuring a red chile pork tamale, cheese relleno, chicken burro, rice and beans�all simmered in your choice of green or red sauce. But if you want to eat like a local, try the Carne Adovada, a house favorite featuring smoked pork roast simmered in red chile and served with rice, beans and a tortilla. Not to be missed for a true taste of the southwest.

Recommended for Southwestern because: Dick's Hideaway offers an authentic take on traditional Southwestern and New Mexican cuisine.

Patricia's expert tip: Breakfast is king at Dick's Hideaway. Stop in for a traditional plate of huevos rancheros, or if you're really hungry, Vic's green chile meatloaf and eggs makes for a hearty and delicious first meal.

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It's hard not to stop and stare at the bright, neon-lit sign annoucing "Gadzooks - Enchiladas and Soup." Venture into this modern, sleek fast-casual restaurant and you'll be reward with exactly what the sign promises: pretty darned good enchiladas and soup. The main attraction here are the enchiladas, which you can customize with your choice of gourmet meats (including a very popular Modelo beer-braised bison) and veggies, fresh Mexican cheeses, and assorted salsas and other toppings. You can also choose your choice of tortillas (all of which are made in-house in front of your eyes). The custom dishes are brimming with fresh ingredients and unique flavors, making Gadzooks one of the best places to enjoy a local take on Mexican food.

Recommended for Southwestern because: If you're looking for a uniquely Phoenix restaurant to experience southwestern cuisine, don't miss Gadzooks, which specializes in enchiladas.

Patricia's expert tip: Don't miss the beer-braised bison enchiladas, which are usually available for lunch. Come early, because sometimes they run out of bison during the dinner rush.

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What could be more "southwest" than a killer burrito? That's the house specialty at the PHX Burrito House, a mom-and-pop cafe tucked away inside a charming bungalow off 7th Avenue. The homemade burritos manage to be both hefty and delicate, with fresh, pillow-y tortillas wrapped around succulent meats, veggies and cheeses. One of the house specialties is the winning shrimp burrito, stuffed with grilled shrimp served with avocado, lemon juice, cabbage, pico de gallo and hot sauce. Other burrito options include grilled chicken, pork carnitas, steak, beef, and shredded beef. Not in a burrito mood? The eatery also dishes out tasty quesdillas, tacos, and salads.

Recommended for Southwestern because: The PHX Burrito House specializes in one of the region's most popular southwestern comfort foods: gourmet burritos.

Patricia's expert tip: Love seafood? Try the awesome shrimp burrito.

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This central Phoenix bar and grill is named after the historic Sierra Bonita Ranch in Southeastern Arizona. The restaurant offers an authentic Southwestern culinary experience, dishing out menu favorites such as their house Cowboy Stew, made from braised beef, hominy, carrots, onions and chiles in a rich beef broth, then garnished with crispy sweet potato strips and served with a warmed flour tortilla (fried egg on top is optional). For a hearty take on traditional Tex-Mex cooking, try the smoked Red or Green Chile Pork Roast, a smoked pork roast served with charro beans, roasted tomato rice, salsa fresca and a warmed flour tortilla.

Recommended for Southwestern because: Sierra Bonita Grill offers Arizona-inspired dishes that bubble over with the flavors of traditional Southwestern cooking, including chiles, wood-fired meats, and spicy stews.

Patricia's expert tip: Happy hour deals are available from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the bar.

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Vincent on Camelback


Vincent on Camelback has been a Valley favorite since the 1980s, when Chef Vincent Guerithault pioneered his unique brand of Southwestern-inflected French cuisine. Chef Vincent boldly marries traditional French techniques with indigenous Southwestern ingredients and flavors, with remarkable and inimitable results. Try the lobster chimichangas, perfectly crisp on the outside and stuffed with succulent lobster in a basil beurre blanc and a side of avocado corn salsa. Other stand-outs include the duck tamale with Anaheim chile and raisins. Vegetarians will love the little turnover of heirloom tomato, egglplant and zucchini with a mild creamy gorgonzola. The wild boar loin with a parsnip puree and habanero sauce. You'll want to save room for dessert, because Vincent on Camelback is home to arguably the city's most decadent cr�me brulee, with a spectrum of flavors that include vanilla, chocolate, coffee, passion fruit and Grand Marnier.

Recommended for Southwestern because: Vincent's on Camelback is a Phoenix landmark restaurant, famous for its upscale fusion of French and Southwestern cooking.

Patricia's expert tip: Don't pass up the decadent creme brulee.

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Meet Patricia Escarcega

Patricia Escarcega works as a writer and editor in Phoenix.

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