7 Local Valley Restaurants That Opened During the Pandemic You Need to Check Out

By Lorraine Longhi

July 27, 2021

Need a place to eat this weekend? From brunch to Creole to pho, here are seven new, locally owned restaurants around the Valley that you may have missed during quarantine.

After a year of opting for to-go orders or patio dining during the pandemic, most restaurants have since returned to their normal dining operations.

And, with nearly half of Arizona’s residents vaccinated, more and more diners are feeling comfortable returning to in-person dining.

With that comes the discovery of several new restaurants in and around the Valley. While some on our list opened early on in the pandemic, others opened or changed ownership more recently. 

Here are seven new spots you should check out with your family as soon as possible. Your taste buds will thanks us later.

Aioli Burger/Modern Tortilla

Kyle Hollenbeck and Chef Tommy D’Ambrosio were two of the founding members behind the Aioli Burger and Modern Tortilla food trucks, just one of several food trucks that the partners operate throughout the Valley.

But Aioli Burger and Modern Tortilla both opened up brick-and-mortar locations inside Litchfield Park’s Fry’s Marketplace during the pandemic: Aioli Burger at the start of the pandemic, with Modern Tortilla following earlier this year.

7 Local Valley Restaurants That Opened During the Pandemic You Need to Check Out
The cold case of the Aioli Burger location inside the Fry’s Marketplace in Litchfield Park. (Courtesy of Aioli Burger)

Hollenbeck says the partners closed on a 14,000-square-foot commercial kitchen to grow their businesses on March 15 of last year—just two weeks before Gov. Doug Ducey issued a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

While grocery stores saw no shortage of customers during the pandemic, Hollenbeck said the process of opening a restaurant inside a Fry’s was akin to “reinventing the wheel.”

“People are there to shop for the week. They might not be thinking about lunch or dinner that evening,” he said.

But there are some benefits too. “We are inside of a grocery store where people are going to keep going,” he said. “People are going to be coming in. There’s always going to be new faces.”

Aioli Burger also opened another location in September of last year, near 7th Street and Bell Road, in the space formerly occupied by Caveman Burgers. The company also adapted and pivoted its business model amid the pandemic, including starting a meal prep company that delivers fully cooked meals to people’s homes, according to Hollenbeck.

Another major priority over the last year was to keep all of the restaurant’s employees working. “We always replaced every position,” Hollenbeck said. “We didn’t ever cut down our staff.”

Now, despite it being the hotter, slower season for restaurants, Hollenbeck says he’s grateful that his businesses and employees made it through the pandemic.

While the most popular item on the menu is the aioli burger with which the restaurant shares its name, Hollenbeck also recommends the Italiano, which comes with fresh mozzarella, tomato, fresh basil, and a balsamic reduction. He describes it as a “caprese salad on a burger.”

After Chef D’Ambrosio’s 2018 win on the Food Network’s Chopped for an episode called Tacos & Tequila, Hollenbeck says you can’t go wrong with the skirt steak or tinga chicken tacos with a side of elote, traditional Mexican street corn.

Details: www.aioliburger.com, moderntortilla.com, 13730 W. Camelback Road, Litchfield Park.

The Boozy

Located in north Phoenix’s upscale High Street district, The Boozy is a new breakfast outfit offering everything from classic brunch fare to regional twists like Sonoran chilaquiles.

The restaurant opened last July, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic. Manager Jerry Moreno says the restaurant faced all of the typical challenges of getting the word out about its opening, as people stopped eating out altogether.

7 Local Valley Restaurants That Opened During the Pandemic You Need to Check Out
The Boozy’s speciality FTF French toast is made with Brioche bread and topped with flambéed banana and french vanilla ice cream. (Courtesy of The Boozy)

Moreno estimates that 60% of the business on High Street comes from foot traffic from nearby companies and businesses, many of whom are still letting employees work remotely. Business changes every month, but Moreno expects a return to normal by September.

The restaurant’s signature dish is its FTF french toast, served with Brioche bread and french vanilla ice cream, but Moreno says the benedicts, with options ranging from pork belly salsa verde, lox and braised short rib, are the restaurant’s best sellers come the weekend.

Details: www.theboozyaz.com, 5450 E. High St., Phoenix.

Da’Bayou Creole Kitchen

Da’Bayou Creole Kitchen sits in the heart of downtown Gilbert, in the space formerly occupied by The Brass Tap, flanked by Joe’s Real BBQ and Dierks Bentley Whiskey Row.

Jason Rowe, who owns the restaurant with his family, says he began re-evaluating the craft beer market after OHSO Brewery and Culinary Dropout opened down the street.

With The Brass Tap closed for two months at the start of the pandemic, Rowe saw a chance to pivot and rebrand. After noticing a dearth of options for Creole food in Arizona, he brought on Chef Ali Biller, a longtime friend with family ties to Louisiana and Southern cuisine, to open Da’Bayou last July.

“If it wasn’t a pandemic, 13 other places would have opened around us,” Rowe said. “We took the gamble and the risk.”

“It was very New Orleans of us to do so,” Biller said.

7 Local Valley Restaurants That Opened During the Pandemic You Need to Check Out
The shrimp and grits is just one of several classic Creole dishes on the menu at Da’Bayou Creole Kitchen in downtown Gilbert. (Image courtesy of Ali Biller)

Today, local New Orleans- and voodoo-themed art adorns the walls of Da’Bayou, and diners with reservations will find mardi gras beads decorating their table when they arrive. Painted in large letters on a wall facing you as you walk into the restaurant are the words “Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler”: “Let the good times roll.”

But on top of good times, Da’Bayou also ran into roadblocks last year, beyond the staffing and occupancy limits that all Arizona restaurants had to contend with. Rowe said it took the restaurant approximately six months to get its neon green sign from the town of Gilbert installed outside the restaurant, a necessary addition needed to stand out and fit in among the plethora of dining options downtown.

“That’s what this street is, it’s all about brightness,” Rowe said. “When you drive down here at 9 o’clock, you want to see things lit up.”

Today, more new clients are coming in, and the restaurant will be starting up its lunch service on Monday, June 21. 

For Biller, many of the recipes are family recipes, or recipes influenced by her family, and from five years working at the Beverly Hills location of Ruth Chris’s Steakhouse, originally founded in New Orleans. “It’s corny or cheesy or whatever, but there’s love in this. There’s passion,” Biller said. “The recipes, I really did put my heart into it.”

All ingredients are made from scratch in the restaurant, including the over 50 ingredients that go into the remoulade sauce. Biller says the restaurant’s best-sellers are its jambalaya, shrimp and grits, and crawfish etouffee. 

“The food is the real deal. We put our heart and soul into it,” Biller said. “We’re a small business on a big-box street.”

Details: www.dabayoucreolekitchen.com, 313 N. Gilbert Road, Suite 100, Gilbert.

Daruma by Rie

A newcomer to Mesa’s Asian Business District is Daruma by Rie, the latest venture from chef Rie Cho, who has 30 years of experience with Japanese cuisine.

The sushi and ramen restaurant was initially slated to open in the spring of 2020, but manager Chris Kim says the pandemic delayed the opening until August.

But with close proximity to the nearby Mesa Community College and Arizona State University, and the built-in clientele from the surrounding Asian-owned businesses, the restaurant is seeing a more diverse group of diners in recent months, according to Kim.

7 Local Valley Restaurants That Opened During the Pandemic You Need to Check Out
Drama by Rie is one of the latest sushi and ramen restaurants to join the Asian Business District in Mesa. (Image courtesy of Darume by Rie)

Daruma billed itself as a sushi restaurant upon opening, but Kim says their most popular dish is the ramen, with the shop selling between 80-90 bowls a day. Most of the ingredients are made from scratch in-house, and the stock is steeped for 12 hours and combined with tonkotsu and miso broth options.

Details: www.darumabyrie.com, 1116 S Dobson Road, Suite 113, Mesa.


Chef Anthony Barr is living his lifelong dream of finally owning his own restaurant with Gabriella’s in north Scottsdale.

After the pandemic hit, Barr, who owned two catering companies with his wife in San Francisco, decided it was the time to make a life change. That’s when they visited Scottsdale and “absolutely fell in love” with the city, he says.

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Opening in August at the tail end of the first wave of the pandemic in Arizona, the restaurant could only operate at 50% capacity. “We’re starting over from scratch in Scottsdale, Arizona,” he said.

While people are still wary and feeling the financial impacts of the pandemic, Barr says he’s seeing more and more people come out to his restaurant for the first time.

Today, they operate Gabriella’s, which offers contemporary American cuisine, something he says was needed in the north Scottsdale neighborhood off of Shea Boulevard and Via Linda.

And at Gabriella’s, he says there’s a little bit of everything for everyone, with a menu created from all the foods that Barr personally loves to cook. “You’re getting that love. You’re not getting someone who’s just putting a piece of bread and a sandwich together,” he said. “These are my favorite things to cook.”

7 Local Valley Restaurants That Opened During the Pandemic You Need to Check Out

Barr says one of the restaurant’s signatures is the scallops with cheesy polenta and roasted corn, a modern interpretation of the classic shrimp and grits. But be sure to check out another best-seller: Gabriella’s short ribs, soaked in red wine and Dr. Pepper.

“People who can come out, please support small businesses,” Barr said. “I believe we are the backbone of society, of our country.”

Details: www.gabriellasscottsdale.com, 10155 E. Via Linda Road, #H134, Scottsdale.


After learning about the impact of food on overall health and well-being and going vegan, Maria Lebron soon noticed a lack of flavorful, plant-based options that didn’t include soy products.

“I wanted to not just create a new concept, but one that I could eat at that was jam packed with flavor,” Maria said.

Lebron approached her husband, Kevin, who has worked as a chef for over 20 years, about creating a vegan Mexican restaurant concept, and Pachamama was born. The couple has operated their business at pop-ups and farmer’s markets downtown for the last couple of years.

The Lebrons had been working toward opening their own restaurant, but Kevin credits the pandemic with giving them a push to officially sign a lease for their current space. The couple took the early months of the pandemic to get the restaurant ready while continuing to do farmer’s markets and food deliveries.

In September, they officially opened up their brick-and-mortar location on the corner of 19th Avenue and Indian School Road. The small shop, tucked into a small row of businesses along 19th Avenue, embodies the idea of “family-owned and operated.”

7 Local Valley Restaurants That Opened During the Pandemic You Need to Check Out
The J’asada tacos, made with hibiscus asada and avocado crema, at Pachamama, a vegan Mexican restaurant that opened in Phoenix during the pandemic. (Image via Lorraine Longhi)

Art from Maria’s brother hangs in frames on walls painted by Kevin and his father. The couple are currently the only ones working the counter and cooking food, but family members will occasionally tap in to help out.

“We did it without any investors. We did it with our money, a dollar and a dream,” Kevin said. “We really just believed in our product.”

Pachamama’s menu includes vegan twists on classics like carne asada tacos, here called J’asada tacos, and made with hibiscus asada and avocado crema.

“People will walk in sometimes like ‘Oh, I’m not vegan,’” Maria said. “That’s okay. It’s just really good food that happens to be vegan.”

Details: pachamamaphx.com, 4115 N. 19th Ave., Phoenix.

Pho Laveen

Pho Laveen, off of Southern and 35th Avenue in south Phoenix, opened early on in the pandemic, but recently changed ownership in April. Ha Tran and his family purchased the restaurant after the previous owner ran into issues keeping the store afloat during the pandemic.

Tran worked at a restaurant in Surprise before buying the restaurant, citing the up-and-coming area of south Phoenix and the opportunity for more pho restaurants in the area.

Although there are lingering problems with being short-staffed, Tran says that these days the restaurant’s patio is full, despite the warm weather and slower season.

“We were projecting not doing well the first six months or so, but surprisingly we’re doing pretty good,” he said. “We did pretty well for our first two months.”

7 Local Valley Restaurants That Opened During the Pandemic You Need to Check Out
Pho isn’t the only thing on the menu at Pho Laveen in south Phoenix. (Image courtesy of Ha Tran)

Despite the restaurant’s name, Tran says some of its bestsellers include the wings, which are tossed in authentic Vietnamese sauces like lemongrass and sweet fish sauce; stir-fried noodles; and fried rice.

But if you are coming to Pho Laveen for the dish in its name, Tran says the pho’s bone broth is cooked for 12 hours, making it a flavorful, savory, and authentic recipe.

Details: www.pholaveenaz.com, 3424 W. Southern Ave. Suite 180, Phoenix.


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