As culinary contributor to The Scout Guide Phoenix & Scottsdale, this is my third of four posts covering their Dine Like a Local contest. This year you may notice that I am posting the winners on a quarterly basis and have focused each post on a specific area of the Valley. Below are the winners of the best restaurants in Old Town and South Scottsdale. In writing this post, I took a nostalgic trip down memory lane as this list includes several I frequented upon first moving to the Valley in 1993. I love seeing that some old favorites have stood the test of time!
NOTE: If you missed my first post on Central, Uptown and Downtown Phoenix, you can find it here, and my second post on Arcadia and the Biltmore area here. In each category, the winners–chosen by the public–are listed first, followed by one of my choices from the nominated restaurants, as indicated by the stars**.
My hope is for you to try some of these spots, and as always, please drop me a line to tell me what you think! In the meantime, eat and drink well locally! xoM
COFFEE, TEA, & SWEETS:
Fourtillfour, on the corner of 1st Avenue and Marshall Way, resembles a renovated garage, with much of the seating outside on the patio and on the grassy shaded yard. Fourtillfour’s owner, Nico Samaras, found inspiration for the concept from his time living in San Francisco and the spaces he would frequent in the beautiful City by the Bay. As a Marine Corps. veteran, car enthusiast, and avid traveler, Samaras has been around vintage cars all of his life, and wanted to combine his love of caffeine, cars, and adventure. Every weekend, they host “Cars and Coffee” events…so check their website for the schedule. The name, Fourtillfour, is derived from the vanity plate on Samaras’s Porsche model 356, when read on a clock is 3:56, or four minutes till four. They serve a variety of coffee, lattés, espresso, cappuccinos, cold brew and tea, my favorite drink for the moment being the Vanilla Lavender Latté. Fourtillfour also sells its own brand of coffee, Four Coffee, that is roasted in-house and sold in what looks like oil cans. Fuel for the body, if you will.
7105 E 1st Ave, Scottsdale, AZ. www.fourtillfour.com
Where to go to wash down the best avocado toast in town with some of the best coffee in town? Berdena’s is a cozy specialty coffee shop on 5th Avenue and Goldwater that, in addition to killer avocado toast, has organic and local coffees and pastries. Other favorites include honey lavender lattes, cardamom rose lattes, plus quick savory breakfast options like a breakfast sandwich, a burrito, and The Oliver, with a fried egg, cheddar cheese, arugula and house-made chipotle aioli, served on a brioche bun. Owner Jonathan Madrigal kept the interior pleasant and cheery, with black and white ceramic tile and a periwinkle blue Synesso espresso machine that will brighten anyone’s day. Berdena’s fans in Central Phoenix will be thrilled to know that Madrigal recently opened a second location in The Fred shops off Missouri and 12th Street.
7051 E 5th Ave suite i, Scottsdale, AZ. www.berdenas.com
BRUNCH & LUNCH:
Arcadia Farms Cafe
Carolyn Ellis opened Arcadia Farms in 1990 as a small carryout market and bakery on 1st Avenue. Thirty years later, Arcadia Farms has evolved into a beloved “ladies who lunch” boutique café, a gourmet marketplace, private dining venue, and a full service catering company. My favorite has been, and probably always will be, the Warm Chopped Vegetable Salad topped with a Crab Cake or Salmon, depending on my mood. That being said, I encourage you to try one of The Classics, like the Chicken, Wild Mushroom and Leek Crepes. They also have a lovely list of wines by the glass and by the bottle, but if you get too rowdy, remember this is a “ladies who lunch” spot and you will be shushed (I speak from experience). Don’t have time to lunch? Pick up a salad, sandwich, or homemade chicken to-go at The Marketplace (and don’t forget a Lemon Cake Cookie!). Or, go online to check out their dinners to-go for $50 and $100, plus a schedule for cooking classes. It appears there is nothing Carolyn Ellis cannot do. Here’s to another 30 years!
7014 E 1st Ave, Scottsdale, AZ. www.arcadiafarmscafe.com
Postino’s Winecafe appears to be well loved as it made both the list for the Arcadia/Biltmore area and the Scottsdale area. In case you didn’t catch my previous post, here is a recap: Craig and Kris DeMarco opened the first Postino WineCafe in the old Arcadia post office next to La Grande Orange on Campbell and 40th Street. After having returned from a vacation to Italy in the late 90’s, they realized Phoenix needed a place where you could get a good, affordable glass of wine along with a bite to eat. The Postino Arcadia WineCafe was born, and now there are 17 across the country with plans for more. The Scottsdale Highland sits inside a 1960’s building that housed the former Valley National Bank branch. Brent Karlicek is the beverage director for the company and he curates a wonderful wine list as well as a seasonal wine-based cocktail menu to pair with their famous bruschetta, panini sandwiches, and savory salads.
4821 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ. www.postinowinecafe.com
** Chula Seafood
Jon and Mandy Heflin and Hogan Jamison, founders of Chula Seafood, have made it their mission to bring the highest quality fish to the Valley. Jon’s father, an avid swordfish fisherman, established connections within the fishing community in San Diego. Using this network, Jon and Mandy bought a van and started transporting fresh fish from the wharf in San Diego to Phoenix, supplying select restaurants and chefs in the Valley, such as Chris Collins, Atlas Bistro, FnB, and Sam Fox. By fostering these contacts, they were able to build a retail presence selling fish in Vincent’s Saturday market. Their first brick and mortar (they now have 3) is Chula Scottsdale, affectionately called Rosie. They pride themselves in showcasing what is available and fresh, from tuna, oysters, urchin, and rockfish to California halibut. Chula’s other two locations are in Uptown and North Scottsdale.
8015 E Roosevelt St, Scottsdale, AZ. www.chulaseafood.com
DINNER & DATE NIGHT:
Sel is a small fine dining restaurant located amid the art galleries of Main Street in Old Town Scottsdale. Chef Branden Levine–incidentally the former executive chef at Café Monarch–and his wife, May, offer seasonal four-course tasting and vegetarian menus of contemporary American Cuisine; in addition, diners are able to order à la carte. Sel is quaint and chic, sourcing fresh, organic, and locally produced ingredients to the extent possible. As an example, items you might see on the menu include Ahi Tuna Poke, Iberico Pork Tenderloin Schnitzel, Grilled SFR Wagyu Filet Mignon, and Flourless Chocolate Tiramisu.
7044 E Main St, Scottsdale, AZ. www.selrestaurant.com
** FnB Restaurant
Executive Chef Charleen Badman hails from Tucson, and after working in New York City for several years, moved to Phoenix to open FnB with Pavle Milic, sommelier and now very popular winemaker of Los Milics Vineyards out of Elgin, Arizona. Chef Badman won the James Beard Best Chef of the Southwest award in 2019, and you can imagine that reservations are very difficult to come by. Once you do get that coveted ressy, put yourself in the hands of the servers to recommend dishes and a glass of Arizona wine to accompany them. Some of my favorite dishes in the past have been vegetarian based, as Chef Badman does wonders with vegetables. Just a glance at the sample menu has me imagining how delicious the grilled okra, with ginger labne and urfa hazelnuts must be.
7125 E 5th Ave #31, Scottsdale, AZ. www.fnbrestaurant.com
NEW & NOTEWORTHY:
Reserve Old Town
Reserve Old Town is described as an “ultra-fine dining” venue that is situated across the street–and owned by–the same owners as Monarch Café (see below). Reserve serves 25 diners per night, Wednesday through Saturday, from 6:30 p.m. to close. Guests enter through a garden for a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres before moving to a beautiful courtyard for dinner. Reserve offers a tasting menu of 8 courses, with other bites in between, for $285. Wine and cocktails are served by the glass under the guidance of three advanced sommeliers. I have read that the inspiration for Reserve came from a culinary expedition that executive chef and owner, Gustavo Lewkowicz, took through Spain. Reserve is high on my list to visit as I believe it is the only tasting menu in the Valley I have yet to try, so stayed tuned!
6934 E 1st Ave #102, Scottsdale, AZ . www.reserveoldtown.com
** Pizzeria Virtù
If you are looking for pizza that, in my humble opinion, is as good as Bianco’s (yes, I realize this is a big statement and I will stand by it), then head to Pizzeria Virtù on Scottsdale’s Main Street. Chef Gio Osso serves up Neapolitan-style pizza like the Affumicata, with charred tomato, smoked scamorza, roasted garlic and basil, plus dishes reminiscent of his first restaurant, Virtù Honest Craft–which he opened in 2013 and has one of the most beautiful patios in town–like the Ragu and the N’duja Arrabiata. You will also enjoy some killer cocktails and a beautifully curated wine list. Run, don’t walk.
6952 E Main St, Scottsdale, AZ. www.pizzeriavirtu.com
Café Monarch may look new, but don’t let the fancy Tuscan columns fool you. Monarch was originally located across the street in what is now Reserve Old Town, and owned by the talented Chris Van Arsdale, who cooked, served and bused while churning out amazing food. In time, he sold to a former employee, Christian Lewkowicz, who enlisted members of his family to buy Monarch in 2013. The Lewkowiczes – led by current executive chef Gustavo – then moved the operation into a former designer showroom across the street, adding a stunning bar, patio and extensive wine cellar boasting close to 2,000 bottles. You can choose from a four-course dinner or vegetarian menu, or order à la carte at the bar only.
6939 E 1st Ave, Scottsdale, AZ. www.cafemonarch.com
** ShinBay Omakase Room
ShinBay is a small, jewel box of a Japanese restaurant located on Scottsdale Road that is the closest experience to eating in Japan you will find in Arizona, and certainly is on par with similar concepts in large West Coast cities such as LA and San Francisco. Executive chef Shinji Kurita’s beautifully crafted dishes place an emphasis on the freshest ingredients. But it is also about the understated elegance, the meticulous attention paid to every detail. Each flawlessly crafted course is served in equally elegant and sleek Japanese china. Shinbay offers two seatings each evening, at 5:45 pm and at 8 pm. Reservations are required for the omakase tasting menu, and allow for 2 hours for the meal.
3720 N Scottsdale Rd #201, Scottsdale, AZ. www.shin-bay.com
An oldie but goodie located in the Scottsdale Civic Center mall, AZ88 opened its doors March 1988, hence the “88” in the name. Inspired by the good food, drink, and conversation, Karl Kopp opened AZ88 to create a bar and restaurant that would be so distinctive in its quality and style as to become a Scottsdale landmark. Known for its great burgers, galettes (flat bread) and martinis, the fare is simple and the presentation always artful. Remember when Cosmopolitans were all the rage? If you are still a fan, I am here to tell you that AZ 88 has the tastiest! Open until 1:30 it is probably one of the best places for a “final final” around town.
7353 E Scottsdale Mall, Scottsdale, AZ. www.az88.com
** Blue Clover Distillery
Co-owner and distillery GM Weston Holm makes premium small batch vodka and gin spirits at Blue Clover Distillery, Old Town’s first micro-distillery. Each Blue Clover bottle is hand-signed for quality control. Dedicated to a farm-to-bottle process, they source corn from the top farms and craft their spirits from one-of-a kind hand-crafted copper pot stills. All of Blue Clover’s small batch spirits are corn based and gluten free. Blue Clover is a great place to stop by and linger on the patio mulling over one of their many handcrafted cocktails. Ladies, may I recommend the Lucky Lady, a periwinkle blue concoction pictured above with Blue Clover Gin, Crème de Violette, lemon and simple syrup. Pick up a bottle of Blue Clover vodka or gin for your bar at home, or you can also purchase Blue Clover Vodka and Gin at Total Wine, Costco, and AJ’s.
7042 E Indian School Rd, Scottsdale, AZ www.bluecloverdistillery.com