Arizona’s maturing culinary scene helps tourism industry taste success

Above: Himalayan salt seared ahi tuna from LON's at the Hermosa Inn. The dish won the 2018 Foodist Award for Best Signature Dish. Lifestyle | 13 Jan |

Attention, foodies: Arizona’s restaurant concepts, resort dining offerings and stand-alone eateries are your culinary playground — open and ready for palette-primed discoveries.

And the culinary world has noticed.

Cafe Monarch and Steak 44 recently made OpenTable’s list of the 100 Best Restaurants in America. The Royal Palms Resort and Spa’s Mix Up Bar was named one of “The Coziest Restaurants in America” by Food & Wine Magazine. And Different Pointe of View, Elements at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort, Mariposa in Sedona, and Vivace Restaurant is Tucson are all among the 100 Most Scenic Restaurants in America, according to OpenTable.

Not only that, places like Joyride, Culinary Dropout, Farm & Craft, LON’s at Hermosa Inn and Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails have become known for their diverse and unique menu offerings, revitalizing Valley neighborhoods along the way. Valley restaurateurs are aiming to bring communities together through food – celebrating a vibrant and sustainable Arizona while collaborating with local purveyors. In the process, the Valley has been transformed into a food mecca. These authentic dining experiences, elevated ambiance and creative environments have not only given rise to some of the best food you’ll find, they are driving Arizona’s economy and tourism industry. Grab a napkin, it’s time to eat.

Community roots

Typically, when it comes to foodie-oriented cities that excel in sustainable, community-based dining, Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Austin are among the front-runners. As attention shifts toward our neck of the desert for its multi-award-winning chefs (and other local and national accolades), Arizona’s restaurant community’s effort at sustainability is becoming more transparent.

“We have several local partners for produce, grains, beef and cheese,” says Melanie Volkers, director of sales and marketing for LON’s at the Hermosa Inn. “We have been working with Crow’s Dairy and Hayden Flour Mills since 2010. We recently started working with Rovey Dairy — a 100-year-old farm that is starting to raise lamb, which we have on our dinner, lunch and brunch menus.”

LON’s also collaborates with Bob McClendon of McClendon’s Select, and is the first in line to receive the certified organic farm’s squash blossoms in the spring, as well as many other seasonal produce items.

“We pride ourselves on always offering a seasonal-inspired menu,” says Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chef Dushyant Singh. “Our goal is to be the local resident of Phoenix’s ‘home away from home.’ It’s our priority to use locally based ingredients and produce whenever possible. We buy pretty much exclusively from local purveyors we trust and who provide quality ingredients.”

Riot Hospitality Group exclusively sources sustainable and locally grown products for its five local restaurants: Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, El Hefe, Hand Cut, Farm & Craft and Riot House, as do many other midtown and downtown restaurateurs.

Raising the bar

“We have several local partners for produce, grains, beef and cheese,” says Melanie Volkers, director of sales and marketing for LON’s at the Hermosa Inn, which has been a Valley favorite for many years. (Provided photo)

Foodies want more than simply a good meal. They want an experience. Yes, Arizona organically provides a spectacular desertscape backdrop, but the historic areas that have been revived — such as the one that houses LON’s — offer even more experience for the dining buck.

“When dining outside on the award-winning patio, guests enjoy the beautiful gardens and Camelback Mountain,” Volkers says. “If dining inside, guests can see the exposed adobe bricks inside the main dining room. All of the western artifacts coupled with the (Lon) Megargee artwork throughout, immerse diners in a truly authentic Arizona ambiance.”

Upwards Projects strategically dotted its Postino, Windsor, Churn, Federal Pizza and Joyride eateries in historically relevant buildings they deemed as integral to the Midtown Phoenix neighborhood that houses them. Not only does this community-oriented spirit appeal to residents, but it also attracts foodies looking for an elevated dining experience. Postino, for example, was purposely designed to expel the haughtiness that often accompanies wine bar atmospheres and invite a broader demographic to a more relaxed experience.

“Downtown Phoenix is the Valley’s epicenter for dining, shopping, entertainment, employment, education, living, professional sports, arts and culture — and continues to grow,” Singh says. “The Blue Hound, within the Kimpton Hotel, is situated right in the heart of downtown and across the street from Talking Stick Resort Arena and Chase Field — placing it in an appealing position for anyone frequenting the area. Plus, the comfortable, local and homey atmosphere and ambiance make it welcoming to all walks of life and visitors far and wide.”

Unique offerings

Alongside down-to-earth, yet elevated ambiance and delicious menus that get their inspiration from places ranging from the Mediterranean to the Middle East (and everywhere in-between), many of the downtown and midtown Phoenix foodie attractions offer unique happenings beyond those on the daily menu.

Ocotillo Restaurant, that describes itself as New American seasonal cuisine with a touch of local Arizona influence, has an onsite sommelier, coursed luncheons and Santa Maria-style barbeques as part of its additional offerings.

“LON’s award-winning wine list adds to the dining experience as the expertise of our sommeliers help diners identify the perfect wine pairing for their meal,” Volkers says. “We feature nearly 7,000 varietals from Arizona and around the world. LON’s wine program has been awarded the Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator every year since 2015.”

Wine lovers can also try out Café Monarch, Mariposa, Steak 44 and Vivace Restaurant, which were all recently named to the list of the 100 Best Restaurants for Wine Lovers in America.

Several additional restaurants in the area focus on farm-to-table events and classes for community members and visitors to enjoy.2018 Sam Fox of Fox Restaurant Concepts “Outstanding Restaurateur” (for the 11th year in a row)

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