Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe Feature

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Valley of the Sun Food

Arizona is still the state that people think of for cowboys, cactus, and "It's a dry heat," but many have thought of it as an endless possibility for creating another timeless icon: cuisine. As Old West staples get global updates, food is making lasting memories.

When the Valley's culinary innovators pull together their creations, they certainly practice safe cooking, but figuratively speaking, the gloves are off. Building on signature Sonoran Desert fruits and flavors, chefs began experimenting outside the Tex-Mex box. For example, Vincent Guerithault of Vincent on Camelback combined his background in haute French cuisine with his Southwestern foreground. Matt Carter of Scottsdale's Latin-inspired The Mission had a private aptitude for roasting meats and a desire to make it public. Chandler's Kai creators wanted a sustainable restaurant reflecting the culinary lore of the surrounding Native American reservations. All good food has a history and Arizona's leading chefs are pulling from it to make their own.

FRESH-AIR FARE

Sample creations from more than 50 restaurants at the Great Arizona Picnic during the Scottsdale Culinary Festival (www.scottsdalefest.org) in April.

Visit the Camelback Market Saturdays, October to May, for fine wines, fresh produce, grilled meats, crepes, panini, pizza, and pastry.

TAKE IT SLOW

Slow-roasted pork is a Southwestern specialty that few have mastered like Valley venues have. Barrio Cafe's citrus-marinated cochinita pibil is pork slow-roasted for 12 hours and served with spicy red pepper and sour orange seasoning. The melt-in-your-mouth red chile carne adovada at Dick's Hideaway (6008 N. 16th St., Central Phoenix 602/265-5886 www.richardsonsnm.com) takes days to prepare but is usually consumed in heaven-sent minutes, while the pork shoulder at The Mission makes for delicious tacos.

NATIVE SUN

Native American traditions also play a strong role in the local cuisine scene. Kai uses locally grown, customary tribal ingredients, including native seeds, agave sap, and saguaro-blossom syrup in its organic entrées. Places like Fry Bread House bank on the less healthful but totally tasty traditions of fry bread and Navajo tacos.

STEAK OUT

While many restaurateurs spent years trying to break the meat-and-potatoes mold, some recognized it as an enduring dining genre and sought to reinvent the concept. For a classic spin try Durant's, while many of the area's resorts bid adieu to former fine dining establishments to welcome modern spins on the American steak house. Bourbon Steak and BLT Steak offer pricey but exquisite à la carte menus featuring regional grass-fed and Kobe beef.

WINE AND DINE

Lighter, shared fare is popular among the jet set who want to see, be seen, drink, and eat a little—but not too much. Wine bars draw the happy-hour crowd and keep them through dinner with delicious tapas-style noshes. Try bruschetta at Postino Winecafe or a plate of international meat and cheeses at Cheuvront Restaurant & Wine Bar, where sharing and savoring reign supreme.

ROLLING IN DOUGH

Fresh-baked bread products have become a vital part of some of the most successful menus. It may be safe to say that La Grande Orange now owns the English muffin with their version, made on-site at LGO daily. And there are at least a bakers-dozen delicious reasons that area eateries (including LGO) clamor to serve the fresh baked and caked goods of Tammie Coe Cakes & MJ Bread (4410 N. 40th St., Central Phoenix 602/840-3644 www.tammiecoecakes.com).

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