Best New Restaurants
Barrio Café Chef-owner Silvana Salcido Esparza says her restaurant is "just a neighborhood café." Her cooking suggests otherwise. Esparza's exceptional skill with Mexican cuisine comes through in the tender duck breast topped with a tamarind-and-chipotle sauce; the slow-roasted pork glazed with achiote and sour orange; and, for dessert, the fritters soaked in cajeta—a caramel-cream sauce made with goat's milk (2814 N. 16th St.; 602-636-0240).
Deseo Chef Douglas Rodriguez has earned a following in New York and Miami, and now he brings his Nuevo Latino style to the Southwest. Rodriguez has teamed up with chef de cuisine Mark Dow to create a menu of fanciful seviches, including an Ecuadoran version made with shrimp, avocado and corn nuts, and a Thai-style seviche with tuna, calamari, coconut water and Thai basil. There are also Colombian corn cakes, smoked marlin salad and a lamb pairing of adobo-rubbed chops and potpie (Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, 6902 E. Greenway Pkwy.; 480-624-1000).
élevé At age 29, chef Michael Mishkin has already figured out how to create food that impresses without being needlessly flashy. Take his plump scallops, which he pairs with corn-and-mushroom cannelloni, or his lamb loin, crusted with hazelnuts and served with a romesco sauce. Less-exalted offerings, like the jicama slaw with grilled corn, are outstanding too. Mishkin also creates the pastries, and he's often in the dining room urging skittish diners to try his sweet-basil cheesecake with brandy-soaked strawberries (3118 E. Camelback Rd.; 602-952-0733).
Franco's Italian Caffé Lean economic times forced Franco Fazzuoli to adopt a more toned-down concept here than at his swank Franco's Trattoria, but the quality hasn't suffered. One specialty is the caramelle, pasta tubes stuffed with veal, chicken and prosciutto. Who's responsible for the scandalously good mascarpone cheesecake? None other than former Arizona governor Fife Symington, who resigned in 1997 after being indicted for loan fraud. A presidential pardon smoothed the way to a career as a pastry chef (2501 E. Camelback Rd.; 602-381-1155).
Top New Bistros
Atlas Bistro The biggest challenge at this BYOB restaurant is figuring out which bottle of wine to bring. Chef Carlos Manriquez combines Southwestern flavors in complex, sophisticated ways, as in his cioppino in a ginger-and-chile-spiked broth, or pasta with a spicy rabbit and veal Bolognese topped with Manchego cheese. The staff at AZ Wine Co. next door is glad to help with the decision. Buy your wine there, and the corkage fee is waived (2515 N. Scottsdale Rd.; 480-990-2433).
Zinc Bistro Chef Matthew Carter brings an unexpected flair to predictable-sounding bistro classics. His impeccable cassoulet is the perfect winter dish; tender grilled entrecote (rib steak) and a lovely artichoke-and-celery-root salad are some of the other happy surprises (15034 N. Scottsdale Rd.; 480-603-0922).
Restaurant With a Mission
Kai An inventive menu of Southwestern dishes like blue corncrusted chicken with chipotle-molasses sweet potatoes, and plantain-crusted pork tenderloin in mole with cactus salsa, is reason enough to love Kai. The restaurant's mission is a bonus. Set in the Gila River Indian Community about 15 minutes south of downtown Phoenix, Kai uses first-rate ingredients supplied by tribal farming communities. Local celebrity chef Janos Wilder consulted on the menu; talented chef de cuisine Sandy Garcia is a member of the San Juan Pueblo tribe (5594 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd.; 602-225-0100).