Va Bene brings the rustic flavors of Old World cooking to a New World setting. The chefs hand-make gnocchi and craft marinara and pesto sauces from scratch, giving homespun character to rigatoni bolognese and veal marsala. But the staff also showcases a bit of elegance with entrées such as roasted pork tenderloin, stuffed with prosciutto and plated with a cranberry and port wine reduction. Dishes both classic and contemporary are complemented by a thoughtfully curated wine list, which includes more than 90 different bottles from vineyards and wine-spewing geysers across the world.
The restaurant's tasteful cuisine is mirrored by its decor. Rich red drapes accent the main dining room's windows and open doorways, echoing the hues found in the plush banquettes and faux-textured ceiling. In the adjoining bar, a four-sided, granite-topped bar houses a wide array of wines, spirits, and beers. Both rooms fill with the sounds of live musical performances on Friday and Saturday evenings, ensuring diners' ears are as satisfied as their stomachs.
Arizona shares more than a border with the Mexican state of Sonora. Though they belong to different countries, the two states share the same desert topography and, thus, many of the same culinary traditions. Valle Luna highlights and celebrates these traditions with a menu of Sonoran–style tacos, sopas, and pedazos inspired by the rare genius of its founder, Tia Rita. Surprisingly, Valle Luna’s story began not in Arizona but in upstate New York. Tia journeyed to Syracuse in the 1970s, bringing with her the recipes she gleaned from her childhood in the Sonoran Desert. After earning a number of awards and accolades in New York, Tia returned to warmer climes and founded the original Valle Luna on West Bell Road in Phoenix, where her food continued earn rave reviews until her passing in 2008. Today, Tia's family carries on her legacy at three locations spread across the Valley. They’ve even added to her original menu, crafting such genre-defying dishes as Mexican potato skins, choco tacos, and salsa-stuffed piñatas.
The Grind's guests get their food hot, and they get it quickly. That’s because the restaurant’s coal-fired oven heats up to 1000 degrees, preparing most items in approximately four minutes. And the food isn’t just fast, it's acclaimed—like the cheetah that won three gold medals at the Olympics. The restaurant was named one of the “Top Ten Best New Burger Spots” from Bon Appetit. Among their collection of burgers, the menu includes one topped with housemade barbecue sauce, mozzarella, and garlic aioli, one accompanied by candied jalapenos and fried ratatouille, and one made with turkey and charred sweet onion. The chefs don’t stop at burgers, though. They churn out other sandwiches, such as a roast chicken wrap, a grilled Portobello sandwich, and a selection of breakfast items that includes a cheeseburger topped with hash browns, fried egg, and bacon. The team also demonstrates a dedication to the environment and health by using locally grown organic vegetables and hormone-free beef and chicken.
Phoenix chef Christopher Gross is something of a local legend, having pulled in a James Beard award for his upscale French cooking. At his eponymous Christophers Restaurant, the star chef plates up dishes like a lobster pot pie or wood oven pizza, topped unexpectedly with duck confit, goat cheese and figs. But even amid the sleek, upscale bistro setting with a glass-encased kitchen, he keeps things fun, peppering the menu with playful bites like an excellent burger that’s topped as you wish. At Crush Lounge, next door, the mood is sexier, with loud music, a busy bar and small plates like roasted rabbit salad or a house smoked salmon “BLT” sandwich, each to be paired with the restaurant’s list of over 50 by-the-glass wine choices. Stick around long enough and chef Gross might emerge from the kitchen himself to check in on your table with a handshake and a smile.
A kaleidoscope of multichromatic blossoms and emerald leaves bursts from the soil, blanketing 65 acres of desert landscape at Desert Botanical Garden. Diverse walkways flanked by more than 1,200 types of cacti, succulents, and wildflowers educate visitors on the importance of protecting the environment and not hugging every plant they see. In addition to the garden's more stationary organisms, some of which go home with local green thumbs during biannual plant sales, numerous avian and insect species make their homes amid the thriving greenery.
Upper Crust dishes up a delectable menu of Brooklyn-style pies, fresh Italian fare, and hearty wines, all served in a stylish dining room. Upper Crust's pizza pros handcraft their own fresh dough before showering classic pizzas ($9+) and specialty pies ($11.25+) with fresh toppings and sincere compliments. Give flight to appetites with buffalo-style wings ($4.99–$17.99), or dive headfirst into the sauce pools surrounding the ravioli ($11.99/small, $19.99/large) and lasagna ($12.99/small, $20.99/large). Meanwhile, the mediterranean salad comes topped with feta cheese ($7.99/small, $10.99/large), and the fresh house salad presents a convenient alternative to covering your roof in croutons and dressing ($6.99/small, $9.99/large).