Let’s get down to it. Who makes the best burger in the Valley? Where can you find the best hot dog? Lots of places have wings, but who’s flats and drums are the tip-top? And who knows how to fry a potato better than anyone? You have questions, we have answers.
Here are the Best of Phoenix 2021 award winners for favorite American restaurants and cuisine. In addition to the basics above, we’ll also uncover the best diner, steakhouse, Creole restaurant and barbecue spots in the Valley. There’s a few old favorites and a couple new surprises. The American melting pot certainly does not disappoint.
Stoop Kid 901 North First Street, #107
Too many burgers are about the bacon or the chiles, the aioli or the fried egg. The burgers at Stoop Kid are about beef. When you sink your teeth into this bagel shop’s single or double, you can tell that you’re eating an animal. The patties are packed with rich, primal juice. The ratios of the burger emphasize everything just right. The Pobrecito is a proper single patty with American cheese, pickle, onion, ketchup, and mustard, the cookout burger of your youth dialed to 11. The Stoop Burger is bigger and sexier, a tall double spilling cheddar from brioche. Steve McMillen’s burgers are downright flawless — not bad for a bagel joint.
Best Hot Dogs
Der Wurst 6522 North 16th Street
Hot dogs exist on a spectrum. There’s the sketchy side (gas stations and sporting events) and the gourmet side, which is where Der Wurst hangs out. Every Der Wurst dog starts with a Schreiner’s Fine Sausages product and a local, baked-from-scratch pretzel bun. All the offerings have slightly off-color names; we like the Dirty Sanchez, which comes with chorizo, cheese, and jalapenos; the Schnitzel Licker, a breaded and fried dog with lemon mayo and arugula; and the Strap-On, a vegan hot dog. There are other choices on the Der Wurst menu, too, like loaded fries and desserts, but the creative, delicious variations on the standard hot dog are what keep us coming back.
The Hudson Eatery & Bar 1601 East Apache Boulevard, Tempe
The food-from-the-fryer desire is very real. Sometimes you need something hot, starchy, and high in sodium. But instead of sliding behind the wheel and sitting in the sad, emissions-pooping drive-thru at some nearby fast-food joint, roll up to The Hudson Eatery & Bar in central Tempe. This newer neighborhood spot serves quality comfort food and bourbon, but the fries are a major bright spot. They’re not too thin, but not a steak fry — these are slender, lengthy boys encased in a nicely crunchy shell. Every piping-hot fry’s surface is heavily textured and simply seasoned with just the right amount of salt and pepper (or so it’s seemed when we’ve had them). These are very good fries — like two full rungs above fast food.
Noble Eatery 4525 North 24th Street
Why not make sandwiches using our metro’s most celebrated bread? The baker behind that bread, Jason Raducha, doesn’t have to try too hard to make a beautiful Italian sandwich on his chewy semolina roll. But he does. He takes a minimalistic approach to making sandwiches, his creations at Noble featuring quality ingredients, smart combinations, with no parts out of place. A caprese ditches raw tomato for roasted, mozzarella for burrata, and balsamic vinegar for saba. It’s a more decadent version of the classic. Similarly, he jolts tuna with cabernet vinegar and incorporates potato, making for a fresher, heartier, more sophisticated sandwich. It’s all impressively executed and well-sourced, an ideal older-school sandwich shop for today’s age of eating.
Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Beckett’s Table 3717 East Indian School Road
The Beckett’s Table’s grilled cheese isn’t like any you’ve had. It’s a play on textures, turned inside out: a golden bun, topped with roasted strands of asiago, oozing with an international blend of cheeses. The pillowy brioche is stuffed with a gooey blend of manchego, asiago, white cheddar, mozzarella, and fontina. Sharp, mild, zesty, piquant, and nutty dance together. How does Beckett make a fluffy brioche bun work with the softness of the five cheeses? Unlike other grilled cheese sandwiches, where the crunch comes from the outside (toasted bread), here it comes from the inside of the sandwich (crispy pancetta). A tomato and roasted pepper bisque accompanies the sandwich. Pro tip: Try at least one nibble with the sandwich dipped in the creamy soup. It’s a perfect bite.
Best Fried Chicken
Stacy’s Off Da Hook BBQ and Soul Food 1804 West Glendale Avenue
There was a while there when we couldn’t make it through the week without Stacy’s Pampered Pig sandwich (juicy pulled pork and dark-meat chicken), but we’re better now that we’ve acquired an addiction to the fried chicken at this Glendale Avenue food stand instead. We’re not sure what Stacy and company are putting into the breading of their juicy deep-fried hunks of fowl, but we don’t really care, so long as they keep doing it. Their three-piece dinner can be had with collard greens or candied yams, but we’re always tempted to order it with another side of the crispiest, moistest fried chicken we’ve yet to eat.
Valley Wings 15414 North 19th Avenue, Suite C
We’re personally of the opinion that there should be far more outposts of Valley Wings around the metro, but until that happens, we’ll gladly make the trip to either the west Phoenix or south Scottsdale locations. How else are we going to enjoy these hot, crispy, perfectly done wings? Each drum or flat is nice and meaty, and the sauces are phenomenal. We’re partial to the tangy Valley Sauce, the more-hot-than-honey Honey Hot, the rich Garlic Parmesan, and the thick Sweet Teriyaki. Order some wings to go, and you’ll get home to find your food perfectly packaged — no accidental mixing of sauces here. Valley Wings also sells chicken tenders and a few varieties of loaded fries, but if you walk out the door with no wings, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Little Miss BBQ 4301 East University Drive
Surprised? Year after year, Scott and Bekke Holmes produce barbecue so good that second best is but a distant speck in their rearview mirror, if visible at all. At the original Little Miss BBQ location, a humble lot not far from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, smokers puff deep into the night, lines form in the morning, and sliced brisket lands on the first blessed tray just after 11 a.m. Barbecue is done in the Central Texas style, meaning beef-centric with a minimal rub and mild smoke to let the greatness of the meat shine. Brisket, pastrami, and beef rib are all outstanding. Even the smoked turkey is uncommonly juicy, a solid 10/10.
Best Burnt Ends Deluge
Phat Turtle BBQ 30845 North Cave Creek Road, #107, Cave Creek
Finding burnt ends — the uneven, barky ends lopped off a brisket — on local barbecue menus isn’t easy. But Michael Sloan’s Phat Turtle BBQ does Kansas City-style barbecue; burnt ends are a must. Phat Turtle’s have a heavy smoke and the long, unholy dissolve of wildly fatty slow-cooked meat. You can order them on a plate or platter, caramelized with barbecue sauce for a sweet starter, or chunky and spilling from the bun of a happily sloppy sandwich. Burnt ends are by far Phat Turtle’s best meat, a jiggling cornerstone for this barbecue joint that claims to smoke low and slow in “Kansas City, Arizona.”
The Stockyards 5009 East Washington Street
People say you can get a really good porterhouse at any number of places around the Valley. But can you? Not according to us. So we swear by the steaks at this Phoenix perennial, which serves the finest corn-fed slabs of beef in town. The Stockyards’ claim that it’s “Arizona’s Original Steakhouse” isn’t hooey — the restaurant has been with us since 1947, offering entrees with an emphasis on hearty flavors and honking portions. There’s no gourmet trickery here; no mushroom sauces or demiglace to detract from the filets and sirloins, the giant baked potatoes and fresh-steamed vegetables. And if you find yourself wanting to eat a little less food or spend a little less money, don’t sleep on the restaurant’s 1889 Saloon, a side room with turn-of-the-century appeal and a lighter menu of sliders, wings, and even calf fries. What we’re saying is: Take your meat-and-potatoes ass to the Stockyards.
Welcome Diner 929 East Pierce Street
We have one teeny-tiny complaint about Welcome Diner: We don’t get to eat there as often as we want. The retro-style diner is only open for breakfast and lunch on the weekends, which means we usually have to wait till dinnertime to belly up to the counter. But it’s worth the wait. Fortunately, we can order off Welcome’s breakfast menu any time of the day or night. The Whip Toast (French toast with berry compote and whipped cream) is a favorite. But there are no bad choices on Welcome’s tight menu of burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, and chicken and biscuits. If it’s hot or rainy, we try to squeeze into Welcome’s retro-chic interior, but on crisp fall nights, we love to eat and drink on the patio, where denizens of the Garfield neighborhood gather to enjoy this local treasure.
Best Soul Food
Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe 808 East Jefferson Street
Since 1964, Elizabeth White’s hallowed soul food joint has catered to the downtown masses. Stepping in for a lunch of classic soul food plates like juicy, shattering fried chicken or stewed oxtails melting off the bone feels like existing inside of a textbook photograph, or stumbling onto a movie set. The Sharpied walls, half-open kitchen, and quick, friendly service feel teleported out of an older age of hospitality. You can’t miss with the food here. Even the stewed collard greens and unadorned black-eyed peas are completely on point. If you want to end a pilgrimage to Mrs. White’s with a bang, finish with the sweet potato pie.
Best Cajun/Creole Food
Flavors of Louisiana 13025 West Rancho Santa Fe Boulevard, Avondale
As born-and-raised Southwesterners, we’re deeply envious of anyone who got to grow up eating the kind of food they serve at Flavors of Louisiana. Now that we’ve been initiated in the ways of Cajun and Creole cuisine, we’re hooked. What should we talk about first? Maybe the Dunkin Catfish, two perfectly done strips of fried fish on top of crawfish etouffee-covered rice. Or the Cajun Trio of jambalaya, crawfish pie, and gumbo, which delights the senses and stuffs you to the gills. It’s all excellent, and all served with a smile by Flavors of Louisiana’s charming staff (that Southern hospitality thing is no joke). Resist the temptation to finish your entrée; take it home. That way, you can end your feast with peach cobbler or beignets. Or both.
Fry Bread House 4545 North Seventh Avenue
It has been more than a year since Fry Bread House founder Cecelia Miller passed away, but her legacy lives on in the form of puffy, craggy, golden-crisp frybread. At this legendary Phoenix Tohono O’odham restaurant, long a pillar of the urban Indigenous food scene, frybread comes in so many satisfying ways: in burgers, as tacos, with stews, even laced with warm chocolate sauce for the kind of dessert you involuntarily close your eyes to as you eat, soul awash in hot joy. The frybread here is so great, though, that you can eat it plain — experiencing the full gustatory potential of the dish.