If 2015 was a year spent exploring international flavors (see last year’s Top 10), 2016 was a return home to familiar American dishes, both classic and contemporary.
Somewhat surprisingly, the hot spot turned out to be Chandler, home to six of this year’s Top 10. Before I get to this year’s list, though, a caveat.
I debated what to do with a pair of new Chandler restaurants – IncogNitos and 55 Chicago – that signed on as MXSW sponsors. It’s fairly obvious (and understandably suspicious to readers) to say they’re among my favorite new restaurants.
On the other hand, it didn’t seem very fair to completely ignore these restaurants simply because they choose to support local food and drink coverage.
I ultimately decided to leave both off the list to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, but am calling attention to them in this intro instead. Both are great places – definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.
That said, here are my Top 10 favorites – non-MXSW sponsors – that opened in 2016 (in alphabetical order):
You still can count the number of wood-fired ovens in the East Valley on two hands, but the list is growing. This under-publicized Chandler gem, which also offers sandwiches, pastas, and salads, shows why we need more. (Pictured: Mary Margherita pizza.) Menu | Map
This ambitious small-plates joint helped spark a late-night craft cocktail culture in downtown Chandler. Before the year was over, it was joined by Modern Margarita, 55 Chicago, and VB Lounge, among others. (Pictured: Crusted ahi tuna with wasabi-scented potato.) Menu | Map
This Ahwatukee eatery from the former executive chef of Thirsty Lion features Greek faves like avgolemono (egg-lemon soup), keftedes (fried meatballs), souvlaki (skewered meats, pictured above in a pita), moussaka (aka “Greek lasagna”), and baklava. Menu | Map
Looking for someplace new to watch a ball game, sample some craft beers, or just hang out on a patio? This south Chandler restaurant and bar’s menu ranges from the upscale (chianti-braised short ribs) to the quirky (meatloaf TV dinner, both shown above). Menu | Map
This is the fourth bar and grill I remember in this stylishly renovated west Chandler strip-mall space, and by far the best. The menu is standard pub grub but excellently executed. There’s live music almost every night. (Pictured: Sliders and fries.) Menu | Map
Chef Gio Osso’s concept, one of the few originals at downtown Gilbert’s fast-growing Heritage Marketplace, appeals both as a fine-dining destination and an every-day neighborhood hangout. (Pictured: Nonna’s beef and pork meatballs with focaccia.) Menu | Map
One of the hottest concepts in the Valley last year was ramen, with no less than a half-dozen notable newcomers. Topping the list was this Chandler spot, which rebranded itself after a successful decade-plus run as Taiko Japanese. (Pictured: House black ramen.) Menu | Map
Giant skewers of grilled meats and produce? Check. Exotic desserts and cocktails? Check. This Brazilian steakhouse is a nice replacement for the dearly departed TQLA at Mesa’s Dana Park. (Pictured: Skewers of picanha sirloin and glazed pineapple.) Menu | Map
This hip cousin to longtime Ahwatukee Italian fave Va Bene brings reinvented American classics, such as a cast-iron cheeseburger and pork belly lollipops, and craft cocktails to downtown Chandler. (Pictured: Fried chicken and smoked apple sauce.) Menu | Map
If you think you have no reason to go to downtown Mesa, you obviously haven’t been to this sandwich shop extraordinaire, which uses Proof breads and makes its own sauces, pickles, and chips. (Pictured: Crispy chicken sandwich.) Menu | Map
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