Phoenix, Arizona brings the heat in more ways than one. Check out these close to Michelin Star restaurants in Phoenix that are making waves in the culinary world. The Michelin Guide doesn't cover Arizona in its star rating or Bib Gourmand reviews. However, there are other culinary awards that set these restaurants apart from the masses. James Beard, for instance, is an award named after the television personality, author, and culinary expert who contributed a lot to the world of gastronomy. The award features several categories. These include the regional tiers of “best chef” and “outstanding chef.” There's also “best new restaurant,” and other notable titles. There are two rounds of judging with over 600 judges who have either previously won, who write about food, or who are chefs themselves. In 2023, three Phoenix restaurants made it to the semifinals for James Beard Awards (via Eater).
That's all to say that while Michelin may be one of the most famous culinary awards, it's not the only one that can honor a restaurant for its dedication to good food. Especially in the case of James Beard, even making it to the semifinals is a big deal. James Beard not only looks at the quality of the food being served. It also awards based on the values of the restaurant and the inclusivity and environment of the kitchen. The world of food can be cutthroat. Many chefs work so hard just to keep their doors open to serve the kind of cuisine they want to share with the world. These close-to Michelin Star restaurants in Phoenix deserve a proper readthrough because they have truly made a name for themselves in the community and the food scene at large. Keep reading to learn more.
2814 N 16th St #1205, Phoenix, AZ 85006
Barrio Café is home to Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza. Esparza made it to the semifinals for the 2023 James Beard “outstanding chef” category. With a background in Central California, Esparza grew up as a baker's daughter. She eventually went to culinary school and joined forces with her business partner Wendy Gruber. They opened Barrio Cafe in 2002. Since then, Chef Esparza has aimed to elevate the traditional recipes of Mexican cuisine with nuevo American techniques. Her cochinita pibil and other classic dishes are recognized as some of the best Mexican food within the Phoenix city limits.
The menu features a wide range of sopas and organic fresh salads. There are also traditional enchiladas, with cooked vegetables in house-made mole sauce. The cochinita pibil dish features 12-hour-smoked anchiote spice and sour orange pork. This is served with pickled red onion and Yucátan pico de Gallo. Sample all kinds of flavorful starters, entrees, and main dishes, before trying their postres section. How does grilled trés leches cake sound? There's also flan, churros with candied pecans, and chocolate cake.
1301 Grand Ave #1, Phoenix, AZ 85007
Bacanora restaurant specializes in Sonoran fare out of a wood-fired grill. The restaurant is led by Chefs Rene Andrade and Roberto Centeno, who were both semifinalists for the regional “best chef” category in the 2023 James Beard Awards (via New Phoenix Times). They were ranked by Esquire Magazine among the 40 Best New Restaurants in 2021 and strive to keep their menu ingredients local and sustainable. Start off with some classic élote, served with crema (spicy, and lime) and crumbly cotija cheese. Mains feature carne asada, and pollo asado in burritos, caramelos, and with lots of homemade salsas. Add a side of fresh tortillas, tostadas, and frijoles con queso. Bacanora is absolutely up there in the close to Michelin Star restaurants in Phoenix, and well worth a visit to try some of those homemade salsas!
1325 Grand Ave Suite #1, Phoenix, AZ 85007
Testal is run by Chef Fernando Hernández who was another semifinalist for the regional “best chef” category in the 2023 James Beard Awards. Inspired by the traditional cuisine of Chihuahua, Mexico, this restaurant aims to educate and share the tastes, art, and techniques that make their food so good. The ingredients are sourced locally and bought at the highest quality. They offer burritos, bowls, and tacos, all of which have vegan offerings. Enjoy their chiccarón pork rinds with tomatillos, and serrano chiles, or pork and shredded beef with spices, cheese, and chile de arbols. There are “impossible” versions of all the meats, with vegan cheeses, and vegan tortillas as well. There's something for everyone at Testal.
218 E Portland St, Phoenix, AZ 85004
Lom Wong‘s in Phoenix offers a comprehensive taste of the cuisine across Thailand. Chefs Yokata and Alex Martin collaborate to connect the community with this style of food, bringing both their backgrounds into the food they carefully make. Both Chefs were semifinalists for the 2023 James Beard Awards in the regional “best chef” category.
Background On The Chefs
Yotaka hails from Thailand, where she learned to cook around her family, before traveling and deciding to be a full-time chef. Her travels informed her use of flavor, spice, and technique, all things she brings to the kitchen of Lom Wong. Alex was a traveler and a student in Cultural and Regional studies before moving to Thailand. While there he worked in sustainable agriculture and fishing, as well as projects relating to micro-hydro energy. He learned to cook while visiting different communities and brings that connective love into the kitchen at Lom Wong.
The menu features dishes from several different provinces of Thailand. The Baan Sanmaket portion features fried bamboo with a crushed peanut dipping sauce. Try the banana blossom salad, and green mango salad with shrimp in coconut cream. There's also Northern Thai sausage, with green chili dip. And an array of meat dishes including pork rinds, or minced hog, beef shank, and stir-fried crab in a mix of delicious and vivid flavorings.
The Baan Tahm Phratat section includes fried chicken, stir-fried bok choy, and eggplant curry in coconut milk. There are both egg and vermicelli noodles dishes. As for the Lom Wong specials, enjoy a langoustine lobster crudo with fish sauce, or a sea bass curry. There are also stir-fried rice noodles in tom yum sauce. A fun menu Item I option to let the expert chefs build you a meal. All special dietary considerations and preferences are taken into account. With the breadth of this menu, it's no wonder that Lom Wong's Thai eatery is on this list of close to a Michelin Star restaurant in Phoenix.
Vincent On Camelback
3930 E Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85018
Vincent On Camelback is a French-inspired Phoenix classic. Its chef, Vincent Guerithault, won the James Beard Award for regional “best chef” in 1993 (via Visit Phoenix). He was a semifinalist in multiple categories between 2000-2013, including “outstanding restaurant,” “outstanding chef,” and “outstanding service.” Chef Guerithault is also the recipient of the Chevalier de L'Ordre du Merite Agricole in booth 1994, and 2018, an award presented by the French Republic for people committed to sustainable agriculture in French cooking. Vincent On Camelback was ranked the 24th Best Restaurant in the World in 2003 by the Restaurant Magazine of London. It was inducted into the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame in 1992 and holds the spot for the “Best Arizona Restaurant” since 2009.
If that list of accolades doesn't cinch it, let's take a look at the dinner menu, which changes daily. For starters pick between their duck tamales, smoked salmon quesadilla, seared scallops, or Anaheim chiles studded with wild mushrooms, lobster, and goat cheese. They have numerous soups and seasonal salads including lobster bisque and radicchio salad with endives. Mains feature a rack of lamb with bell pepper jelly, beef tenderloin, seared fish, and duck confit, among others. Chef Guerithault elegantly combines Southwestern ingredients with classically French recipes to form something beautiful. Vincent On Camelback is absolutely one of the closest to Michelin Star restaurants in Phoenix.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com.