As one of the Valley-based writers on the Wander With Wonder team, I get the pleasure of attending local tasting events when Susan is on the road. (It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!) Here are three local restaurants that I’ve recently had the opportunity to visit – if you get a chance, I think you should stop by as well.

Cibo e Vino

Located at the Southwest corner of Scottsdale Road and Carefree Highway in the Terravita Marketplace Complex at 34522 N. Scottsdale Road, Ste. D1, Scottsdale. www.ciboevinoaz.com

I never had an Italian grandma cook me dishes from scratch, but if she did, I’m pretty sure they would taste like the delicious meals that executive chef and restaurant owner John Collura creates at this hometown gem. Known as “Chef John,” Collura remodeled and reopened Cibo e Vino this past spring; the venue went from 2,200 square feet to 4,500 square feet, seating 225 people inside and out. On the night my husband and I checked it out the restaurant was nearly at capacity, including the coveted patio seats.

Cibo e vino interior

Inside Cibo e Vino. Photo courtesy Cibo e Vino

“Chef John may have been a Brooklyn boy but his roots start back in Sicily where his great great grandmother came to the United States on a boat through Ellis Island in 1905. Nana Coni, as John called her, cooked for the entire family once a week until she was 95 years old and Chef John learned to cook with her every Sunday,” says a restaurant spokesperson about Collura’s background.

Italian home cooking is the best way to describe the food at Cibo e Vino. Featuring everything from appetizers to pizzas to pasta and meat and seafood entrees, there’s something for every palate. There is also an impressive wine list with delicious whites, reds and sparkling varieties. In addition, there are an abundance of spirits and mixers to complement them. I enjoyed the bruschetta (diced tomato, red onion, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil and garlic served with crostini) to start, the Caesar salad, and then the penne pesto (penne pasta tossed in a homemade pesto sauce, sun-dried tomato and pine nuts). My husband loved the fresh pizza and seafood options.

During our visit, Collura noted that Cibo e Vino was a neighborhood restaurant that had grown past his wildest expectations. With an inviting atmosphere – including the patio, which will be perfect for fall and winter in Arizona – I recommend that locals give this Italian eatery a try.

Hole-In-The-Wall and Rico's American Grill

Both located at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort, 7677 North 16th Street, Phoenix. http://www.squawpeakhilton.com/dining-en.html

A few months after the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort in Phoenix brought on Executive Chef Rebecca Tillman to head up the property’s dining operations they introduced her to the local media – and I was extremely impressed with both Tillman and the delicious food at Hole-In-The-Wall and Rico's American Grill, two of the restaurants now in her charge.

Chef Rebecca Tillman of Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

Chef Rebecca Tillman of Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort. Photo by Michelle Talsma Everson

“With an approach to food that is simple, back-to-basics and focused on local seasonal ingredients, Tillman will oversee culinary operations for the resort and its dining outlets, including Rico's American Grill and the historic BBQ smokehouse Hole-In-The-Wall,” explains a resort spokesperson. “In her new position as executive chef at the resort, Tillman has also become the only female executive chef at a Phoenix resort.”

During my visit I stopped by both eateries on the property. While both were walking distance apart, their atmospheres and dining experiences were completely unique. Even better, you don’t have to stay at the resort to frequent the restaurants.

At Rico’s American Grill, the focus is on casual dining and locally sourced cuisine. I was impressed with the expansive outdoor seating and unique menu items. I tried the Squaw Peak Chopped Salad and a Farm Burger while my husband had Grilled Salmon with Jalapeño Polenta. I also enjoyed a specialty margarita – of which there are both sweet and salty varieties. Overall, I didn’t know local, healthy food could taste so good!

Salad and Salmon at Ricos American Grill

Chopped Salad and Salmon with Jalapeño Polenta at Rico's American Grill. Photo by Michelle Talsma Everson

At Hole-In-The-Wall, the atmosphere was Old Western themed and family friendly. This iconic restaurant offers up classic smokehouse fare and offers a great view of the resort’s River Ranch. Serving breakfast through dinner, you’ll find everything from a breakfast buffet to baby-back ribs. There’s also a Saloon, happy hour specials, and more.

Cocktails at Hole-In-The-Wall

Cocktails served up Western Style at Hole-In-The-Wall. Photo by Michelle Talsma Everson

“For a true western meal, reserve our Backyard Feast for lunch or dinner, which features bottomless house salad, smoked chicken, ribs, kettle-smoked brisket, your choice of two side dishes and s'mores for dessert,” says a restaurant spokesperson. I personally loved the ambience and the history behind the restaurant most – it’s housed in an original 1940's era ranch house! I’ll definitely be back with my son.

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