MY EARLY 20s contained two massive heartbreaks. The one worth recounting here was the closing of my short-lived, brick-and-mortar vintage shop in downtown Phoenix. I didn’t know, as I handed over my keys to the building’s landlord and made my way to my first barista shift at Lux Central, that what I perceived as a failure was actually the beginning of a soul-filling career in hospitality.
I had ambivalently moved in and out of restaurant work over the years to pay the bills, but it was at Lux Central that my perspective shifted. I fell head over heels in love with the madness of it all: the intense hours, the community of regulars, the ever-changing menu, the intricacies of keeping the business stocked and running, and the staff that became my chosen family. I even thrived off the stress and anxiety that is synonymous with hospitality work. I was totally and completely hooked — to the point that, on my limited days off, I devoured the city, literally. At the time, the city’s food scene was impressive, yet limited. As I ate it all up, plate by plate, my broken heart slowly healed.
Returning to Phoenix this year was absolutely mind-blowing. In a time when so many cities have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, this one is blossoming. During my trip I revisited the best of those early dining spots, as well as industry favorites I keep hearing about, and put together this culinary guide to keep in your back pocket for your next visit to the Valley of the Sun.
Coffee, Breakfast & Pastries
First PlaceImaginative, decadent coffee
Matt’s Big BreakfastNostalgic eggs and peppered bacon
The DinersaurPastries and lunch on the go
Ollie Vaughn’sHidden gem brunch and lunch
Lunch & Dinner
ValentineAn intimate, adventurous meal, day or night
Lom WongUnbelievable Thai dishes and natural wine
Pane BiancoIconic focaccia and sandwiches
Cocina 10 at Crescent BallroomCasual Mexican food plus tunes
BellySoutheast Asian plates with a twist
BacanoraExclusive wood-fired Sonoran cuisine
Hailey Andresen Writer
Hailey Andresen is the guides editor at Departures. A New York–based writer and editor, she founded the digital lifestyle publication Household Mag and has spent more than a decade in the hospitality industry.