Flavors from Oaxaca, Cuba, and Yucatan add depth to the menus at Fuego Bistro restaurants, three gourmet Mexican oases that pride themselves on their modern culinary touches. Among the warm reds and yellows and inviting black wicker chairs at the original Fuego Bistro, diners dig into ancho-dusted salmon croquettes and a seafood chili relleno with lobster cream-chili sauce.
Wrigley Mansion has been Phoenix’s grande dame for over 80 years, built as a 24-room estate between 1929 and 1932 by chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. as a 50th wedding anniversary present for his wife, Ada. However, the on-site Geordie’s Restaurant & Lounge is much newer – the Italian eatery opened in the 1990’s – but still retains the gracious elegance of the grounds with white tablecloth service and plenty of upscale entrées to choose from. Chef Robert Nixon makes his own pastas and breads, and plucks his own herbs from the Wrigley’s garden, then sends out statement dishes like the signature Bisteca alla Fiorentina, a 32-ounce Porterhouse for two, or tagliatelle tossed with daily seafood. The patio is extremely popular for periodic jazz nights and a sunset happy hour, though the gilded, baroque interior is nothing to shy away from, either.
Nestled within a charming 1930s farmhouse on a former artichoke plantation, Coup Des Tartes entrances guests with meals of American-tinged French and Mediterranean fare culled from organic meats and locally raised vegetables and fruits. Like Charles de Gaulle's album of sensitive acoustic singer-songwriter ballads, the restaurant combines stately Gallic character with disarming intimacy, framing meals of herbed chicken and grass-fed filet mignon with warm, flickering candlelight. Amid the 14-table space's cozy coved ceilings and hardwood floors, guests happily sup upon Moroccan lamb sandwiches or rich, creamy cheese, pairing dinners with beer or wine brought from home. Across the courtyard from Coup Des Tartes, the private Rendez-Vous dining room welcomes guests into a luxurious, yet rustic cocoon of slate tile floor and glowing chandeliers, provisioning feasts and fetes with freshly baked breakfast pastries, catered luncheons, and multicourse dinners.
For most people, making pancakes is sort of a mindless process. But Joe Seriale isn’t most people. Though a chef at heart, Joe was determined to learn every facet of the food-service industry—throughout his career, he’s been a cook, head waiter, bar manager, traveling private chef, and has held upper management positions at food-supply companies. So when he finally got the chance to open his own restaurant, he knew exactly what he needed to do to set his diner––and its food––apart. For his menu at Joe’s Diner, he wasn’t interested in making run-of-the-mill pancakes. He created a recipe for buttermilk pancakes that convinced the Phoenix New Times to proclaim his the city’s best in 2010. The extra effort can be seen in many of Joe’s dishes, including biscuits with homemade chorizo gravy, muffulettas with family-recipe tapenade dressing, and fresh baked pies. And, of course, there's also the meatloaf first made famous at a café owned by Joe's grandma Dan, who gave him his first job at the age of 11.
Working alongside Joe is his wife, Joan, who has more than 15 years of restaurant experience and grew up less than a mile from the diner. Together, they serve breakfast and lunch in a dining room that harkens back to the diners of olden days, complete with black-and-white checkered floors, red vinyl booths, and meal orders transmitted through Morse code.
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.
It’s hard to imagine now, but once upon a time, people actually had to go to the photo lab and wait days to see how their pictures turned out. One such lab sat at the corner of 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard in Phoenix, but with the dawn of digital photography, its days were numbered. The lab finally closed down in the early '90s, and city culture soon took over—it first became a coffee house and neighborhood hangout, and later a hip urban café and espresso bar. This latest incarnation is called 32 Shea, and some of its defining characteristics are as old-school as monochrome photography. Take the coffee, for example: the beans are roasted locally and the flavor syrups are homemade with seasonal ingredients. When night falls and the café transforms into a trendy restaurant, flickering candles lend an air of timeless romance to meals of creative bruschetta, toasted-ciabatta sandwiches, and crispy lavash pizzas. Of course, there are plenty of ultra-modern touches designed to attract Phoenix’s hipster set. Among the most notable are a sleek bar made from 100-year-old reclaimed wood and a drive-through window that lets car-bound diners can take the café's gourmet cuisine to go.