We’ve all got a favorite chain eatery that we frequent. It’s comfortable, it’s reliable. But let’s face it, it’s getting kind of boring.
We scoured the East Valley for fun, local alternatives to the big, bad chains. This Saturday night, shake things up, and give one of them a taste.
Alternative to the Olive Garden
Located in Fountain Hills, Nina L’Italiana Ristorante certainly isn’t as convenient as the Olive Garden. However, the family-owned-and- operated eatery — which overlooks the city’s famous fountain — is definitely worth the hike. In addition to serving the best garlic bread in town, Nina’s also offers such family-recipe delights as Chicken Imperiale, chicken breast stuffed with crabmeat and baby shrimp and topped with a mushroom sauce ($17.95). And to top it all off, with its candlelit tables and rich mahogany interior, Nina’s is also pretty darn romantic. 16872 Avenue of the Fountains, Fountain Hills, (480) 836-9800.
Runner-up: Naples Ristorante, 888 W. Warner Road, Chandler, (480) 963-9033.
Alternative to Fuddrucker’s
Next time you get a carnivorous craving and you’ve only got $10 in your pocket, head to one of the Valley’s most famed burger joints, Chuck Box. A longtime ASU favorite, this no-nonsense restaurant prepares your mesquite- grilled burger right before your eyes, ensuring the ultimate in freshness and taste. And whether you opt for a quarter-pound or half-pound burger, make sure you pair it with an order of the Chuck Box’s fried zucchini or onion rings. 202 E. University Drive, Tempe, (480) 968-4712; and 7215 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, (480) 998-2327.
Runner-up: Greasewood Flat, 27500 N. Alma School Road, Scottsdale, (480) 585-9430.
Alternative to Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill
On the surface, Keegan’s Grill & Taproom and Applebee’s have a lot in common. Both are neighborhood gathering places, and both feature similar fare — steak, sandwiches, soup, salad and the like. The similarities end there, though. Keegan’s cuisine is absolutely delightful, from the soup of the day (if you luck out, it’ll be chicken tortilla) to such specialties as halibut tacos ($7.50), horseradish potato- crusted filet mignon ($13.95) and the open-face veggie melt ($6.95). 4723 E. Ray Road, Ahwatukee Foothills, (480) 705-0505; and 1095 W. Queen Creek Road, Chandler, (480) 814-0003.
Runner-up: Teakwoods Tavern & Grill, 5965 W. Ray Road, Chandler, (480) 961-0945; and 8880 E. Via Linda, Scottsdale, (480) 614-5254.
Alternative to Chevys Fresh Mex Restaurant
We at Get Out just can’t stop singing the praises of this quaint east Mesa eatery. Decked in twinkle lights and featuring a spacious patio — perfect for spring dining — Rancho de Tia Rosa also boasts the best Mexican cuisine this side of the border. Specialties include grilled salmon enchiladas in an avocado sauce ($10.99) and pan-seared chicken with a chili-peach glaze over chipotle creamed potatoes ($8.99). Muy bien! 3129 E. McKellips Road, Mesa, (480) 659-8787.
Runner-up: Los Dos Molinos, 260 S. Alma School Road, Mesa, (480) 969-7475.
Alternative to Pizzeria Uno
Who bakes up the best pizza in town? No doubt it’s Nello’s. Whether you opt for a pie topped with spinach and broccoli, barbecue chicken or good ol’ sausage, onions and olives, rest assured that you’ll leave satisfied and with money still to burn. Also offering an array of delicious, crisp salads and a delightful pizza crust appetizer, Nello’s menu is reasonably priced; in fact, a couple can easily dine for less than a 20-spot. Nello’s has locations in Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe and Ahwatukee Foothills.
Runner-up: NYPD Pizza has locations in Chandler, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley.
Alternative to the Cheesecake Factory
If you’re looking to splurge, celebrate or surprise, skip the mega-popular Factory and opt instead to dine at one of Tempe’s finest eateries, House of Tricks. Housed in a 1920s cottage and featuring an outdoor bar and fireplace shaded by twinkle-lit trees, Trick’s ambience is just as charming as its French-inspired menu. Entrees — which run $15 to $25 — include grilled portobello mushroom with goat cheese and grilled angus sirloin with mashed potatoes and a mushroom sauce. 114 E. Seventh St., Tempe, (480) 968-1114.
Runner-up: Mary Elaine’s, 6000 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale, (480) 423-2530.
Alternative to Sweet Tomatoes
In addition to being home to a lot of history (the restaurant is located in a 1908 Mormon church), The Landmark Restaurant is also home to the East Valley’s most eclectic and extensive salad bar. Dubbed the Salad Room, Landmark’s 100-plus item spread features hot and cold fixings, from soup, bread and casseroles to fruits, veggies and killer chocolate chip cookies. Priced at $7.95 for lunch and $10.50 for dinner, the Landmark also offers salad toppers you won’t find at Sweet Tomatoes — like quail eggs. 809 W. Main St., Mesa, (480) 962-4652.
Runner-up: Wildflower Bread Co. has locations in Tempe, Scottsdale and Chandler.
Alternative to Paradise Bakery
Sure, the mall staple serves up pretty decent fare, from soups to sandwiches to salads. But at Sweet Cakes, you can get all that, plus the best homemade cookies and sweets in the East Valley. The cozy, country-themed eatery — which is only open weekdays — offers such tempting treats as lemon bars ($1.85), cinnamon bread ($1.75), frosted sugar cookies ($1.50) and snickerdoodles (95 cents). Oh, and the sandwiches — like the Turkey Delight topped with avocado, sprouts, mayo and cream cheese ($5.95) — aren’t too shabby, either. 21 W. Main St., Mesa, (480) 461-9529.
Runner-up: Dilly’s Deli, 414 W. University Drive, Tempe, (480) 929-0111; and 3330 S. Price Road, Tempe, (480) 491-1196.
Alternative to Starbucks
Frappuccinos are fine, but an iced mocha from cozy java spot Coffee Rush is even better. The coffeehouse, which is nestled along Andersen Springs community lake in Chandler, is truly the city’s hidden gem, serving the best espresso drinks in the Valley — and always with a smile. And while you slurp down that latte or cappuccino, you can surf the Net, as Coffee Rush offers free Internet access to all patrons. 1949 W. Ray Road, Chandler, (480) 855-9815.
Runner-up: Gold Bar, 3141 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe, (480) 839-3082.
Alternative to Black Angus
In addition to offering a cool, upscale ambience and the best cuts of beef this side of Texas, Drinkwater’s City Hall Steakhouse just also happens to be Scottsdale’s newest “it” eatery. Attracting celebrity clientele from D-Backs slugger Mark Grace to Britain’s Prince Andrew to rapper Lil’ Kim, the restaurant — named for owner Mark’s late father, Scottsdale mayor Herb Drinkwater — serves such entrees as lamb chop ($30.95), Alaskan halibut ($28.95) and bone-in fillet ($37.95). 6991 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale, (480) 941-4700.
Runner-up: Open Range Steakhouse, 6030 S. Kings Ranch Road, Gold Canyon, (480) 983-3020.