The Valley’s best restaurant is Kai at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort in the Gila River Indian Community, according to the 2009 Zagat guide to top eateries nationwide.
But the food, if not the decor, at nearby Vietnamese eatery Cyclo in Chandler is almost as good for about a quarter of Kai’s typical dinner tab, according to Zagat restaurant raters.
Tim and Nina Zagat released their 30th annual guide today, listing the best places to dine in 45 major U.S. metro areas.
Twenty Valley eateries made the cut, the same number as included for Palm Beach, Fla., half as many as listed for New Orleans.
Given the local population, 20 is a good number, said Tim Zagat. “You wouldn’t expect to compare with New York,” he said.
More than 145,000 diners ate more than 25 million meals at 1,516 restaurants and scored each on food, decor and service. They also calculated the cost of an average dinner with drink and tip.
Zagat’s top five Valley picks for food include Kai, Scottsdale seafood restaurant See Saw, and Cave Creek’s Binkley’s — all earned a 28 out of 30 points for the food — with Kai tops for service and decor.
Two Phoenix eateries — the tiny but hugely popular Pizzeria Bianco, and Quiessence Restaurant & Wine Bar — earned 27 for food. The other 15 top Valley picks, which include Cyclo, earned between 20 and 26 points for food.
Cyclo, which earned a 26 for food, only a 13 for its decor, and has an average dinner check of $20, is one of the restaurants dubbed “better alternative than home,” or BATH, by Zagat.
“It’s one of the fastest-growing segments of restaurants in America,” he said. “These are places people go to eat, not dine.”
Zagat recently completed a survey that found a third of U.S. restaurant goers look for less expensive restaurants or dine out less often, 28 percent opt for cheaper alternatives on the menu — “They pick chicken over steak,” Zagat said — 20 percent skip appetizers, desert or alcohol to keep the total tab low, and 10 percent eat lunch instead of dinner at a restaurant. “The entire industry is affected by the economic downturn,” Zagat said. “We all still have stomachs, and we all need to eat. The question is how and where do we go to eat.”
The BATH restaurants provide a good meal with less time and money spent than if the diner shopped for, prepared and cooked a meal at home, he said.