When temperatures begin to hold steady above 100 degrees and the air remains warm and gauzy long after the sun sets, we know that summer has officially arrived in the Valley.
While some dread our warmest season, there’s absolutely no need to.
Let’s welcome the heat waves with a raspado in one hand and a horchata cold brew in the other. It’s ice cream and pool sitting and dining in over-air-conditioned restaurant weather! It’s also a great time to get out and explore the great north, where higher elevation means cooler temperatures.
So, get your dining bucket lists out and start checking, because the best part of every season really comes down to what we eat. This is your ultimate guide to summer dining in metro Phoenix and beyond.
— Felicia Campbell, Food, dining and nightlife editor of The Arizona Republic
Desert dwellers know that the quickest way to cool down is with an ice-filled beverage or frozen treat. It’s also the most delicious.
The ultimate iced treat: Loaded with fresh fruit and stacked with peanuts and spicy tamarind candies, the Mexican snow cone, or raspado, has always been made with whimsy and creativity with seemingly endless options to customize your order with ice creams, fruit-flavored syrups, candies and over- the-top snacks like tortilla chip tostilocos covered in pickled fruit Chamoy sauce. The staggering amount of choices can be thrilling, but also overwhelming. Here’s our guide to some of the Valley’s best shaved ice shops and the delicious treats you should order at each one.
A taste of the Islands: Desmond Martin and his crew operate Happy Honu Shave Ice, where you’ll find one of the most iconic Hawaiian beach snacks: shave ice. The food trailer boasts more than 30 flavors, including lychee, dreamsicle, guava and pineapple habañero. Here’s how this Glendale shop makes the treat just like they do in the Islands.
The best boba in town: What really sets Aloha Tea apart from most other boba shops in metro Phoenix is that they make several of the toppings, including the chewy and lightly sweet fresh boba pearls from scratch. The house specialty is Aloha milk tea, which has a nearly perfect black-tea-to-milk ratio, is made with non-dairy milk and is nearly impossible to water down. It’s one of several must-try drinks at the shop, according to our boba expert.
I scream, you scream: Nothing beats the heat quite like an ice cream cone. In cities around the Valley, ice cream innovators churn out unique flavors in the form of Thai ice cream rolls, vegan cones and ice cream concoctions that range from classic to completely customized with wild flavors like honey lavender and Fat Elvis, made with peanut butter, honey-glazed banana and, of course, bacon at these must-try ice cream shops around metro Phoenix.
Is there anything cooler than sipping cocktails poolside? Our favorite watering holes are simply fabulous places to spend an afternoon indulging in great cocktails, snacks and games until the sun goes down.
Splish-Splash: Here in the Valley, we have a great selection of waterside spots where you can snag a stellar cocktail and take a dip. There are tropical-themed resort bars, rooftop pool bars and even classic midcentury pool bars where you can sip and swim. These are six of our favorite cocktail bars for lounging poolside with drink in hand.
Step back in time: You might not expect to find a top bartender pouring drinks in a bungalow set on tree-lined residential downtown side street, and that’s exactly what makes Garden Bar so special. Grab a creative, refreshing tipple, like the Kilroy Was Here — Irish Whiskey, sherry, black tea, lemon and mint shaken and served over a single block of ice stamped with the name of the family who called the space home in the 1940s. Then head to one of the many small living rooms throughout the historic house turned bar.
Get inside and play: You can spend an entire afternoon playing arcade games and sipping inventive cocktails at the newest arcade bar in the West Valley. Grab a Freakshow Old Fashioned, made with bourbon, elderflower liqueur, peach puree and lemon juice with an orange twist and cherry garnish. Then play a tournament of Skee-Ball or try your hand at virtual motorcycle racing at Carousel Arcade Bar in the Westgate Entertainment District.
Strike out: Châm Pang Lanes is one of the most playful new additions to downtown Phoenix. The blinged-out spot shares a roof with an agave-fueled cocktail bar called Ghost Donkey. While waiting for a lane, sip mezcal, but once you start to bowl, there’s really only one right way to order at the champagne-themed bowling alley.
Make the rounds: Phoenix was named one of the best cocktail cities in the country and these temples of tipples prove it. From an underground bar with a presidential theme to rooftop bars with plenty of misters, the summer is a great time to make your way to the best new bars and breweries around town.
A great meal can be transported and some of the buzziest new spots around town do just that, whether to a tropical palm tree fantasy land or to a family barbecue in Sonora. Eating at as many as possible is an admirable summer project.
Score a reservation at the hottest restaurant in town: Bacanora was named one of the best restaurants in the country by Esquire, it’s a finalist for best new restaurant in the James Beard Awards and it was awarded a solid five stars from dining critic Andi Berlin. Though you might want to forgo the sidewalk seating for one of the tables in the tiny dining room, it’s worth making a reservation as far in advance as you need to in order to try the innovative Sonoran cuisine coming off the massive mesquite grill. Paired with a shot of the namesake Bacanora, a meal there will make you sweat in a good way.
Keep it light: Sometimes all you want in the dead of summer is a salad. A new eco-conscious fine dining restaurant in Scottsdale is dishing up gourmet versions of diet-friendly dishes from charred cabbage steaks to raw vegan lasagna, which is actually way more delicious than it sounds. Here’s what to order at the trendy, health-conscious restaurant.
Have a brunch party under the palms: Palma is downtown Phoenix’s answer to a day club with an Instagram-friendly, tropical aesthetic, playful cocktails and a party time energy that starts nice and early on the weekends. Here’s what to expect at the new brunch destination.
Score a free kid’s meal: For those with kids, the biggest challenge of the summer is trying to not only keep the family cool, but also keep the kids happy. Thankfully, there are tons of fun summer activities for children around the Valley and while restaurants don’t have familial bliss on the menu, these metro Phoenix spots can at least offer your kid a free meal.
Be the first: Metro Phoenix welcomes dozens of new restaurants each month and the summer is a great time to start checking the bevvy of new lobster roll shops, ramen noodle houses and birria outposts.
Dine like a food critic: Have you been to Andi Berlin’s favorite new restaurants of the last year? If not, it’s time to grab a smashburger and make a reservation to try the most innovative tasting menu in Arizona.
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If you can’t beat the heat, then get out of town and head to one of the many amazing areas around Arizona where mountain elevation means cooler weather. A destination-worthy meal is the cherry on top.
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Try this award-winning Valley chef’s buzzy new restaurant in Flagstaff: Chef Rochelle Daniel is a 2022 James Beard semifinalist and one of the biggest up-and-coming names in Phoenix dining. She recently left the top spot at Matt Carter’s Fat Ox to open Atria in downtown Flagstaff. Grilled meats and seafood are the highlight of her New American cuisine that puts an emphasis on Arizona flavors like blue corn and mesquite. The restaurant also serves a bone marrow dish that’s so delicious, our dining critic called it “one of the seven natural wonders of the food world.”
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Find the secret chai oasis in Sedona: Tucked away in a second-story shop on Sedona’s main drag, you’ll find a tea shop run by a Pakistani activist and her husband. The menu began with just two items: traditional tea made with boiled milk, and sulaimani chai, an aromatic water-based tea from Balochistan that’s brewed with cardamom, cinnamon, clove, star anise and a pinch of black tea. And while the drinks are reason enough to visit, the elaborate decorations and beautiful outdoor terrace will make you want to linger at the traditional chai cafe.
Order the pasta in this haunted hillside town: Taking the winding drive up to the hillside hamlet of Jerome is an essential Arizona road trip. But until recently, the best thing to eat when you got there was a haunted burger. Hungry travelers can now opt for a more elegant option at The Clinkscale where our dining critic enjoyed perfect plates of pasta.
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Taste wine, beer and vegan cheese in the Verde Valley: Winemakers aren’t the only ones shaking things up in the state’s newest growing region. About 100 miles north of Phoenix and 60 miles south of Flagstaff, Verde Valley artisan food producers, like vegan cheesemaker Virgin Cheese, and craft brewers, like Belfry, have set up shop in the historic downtown areas of former mining towns, like Cottonwood and Clarkdale . Whether looking for a day trip or a weekend away, the burgeoning food and beverage scene are reason enough to make the drive.
Let burritos be your guide on the ultimate Arizona foodie road trip: Arizona is a wonderland of burritos with styles from California, New Mexico and Texas, as well as Chihuahua, Baja and, most importantly, Sonora. Our dining critic painstakingly put together a list of 25 extraordinary burritos, some made with homemade Navajo tortillas on tribal lands outside Flagstaff, others filled with smoky carne asada and wrapped in crispy shells of seared bacon down in Tucson. She assures you that each one is worth the drive and poses a challenge in the form of a question: “if you’ve never driven five hours for a burrito, have you really lived?” Eating your way through her ella’s ultimate Arizona burrito bucket list is a summer-worthy adventure.