Kai (5594 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd., 602/385-5726, 6–9 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 5:30–10 p.m. Sat., $20–47), which means “seed” in the Pima language, taps into the Native American influence on Arizona culture and cuisine. The brainchild of Tucson  restaurateur Janos Wilder, the restaurant at the Wild Horse Pass Resort hits high marks with an innovative menu that consists of indigenous ingredients produced on the Gila River Indian Community’s land. The butter-braised lobster served with avocado mousse on frybread and veal ribeye rubbed with sandalwood, dry mole, and green-chile sand create an epic, uniquely Arizona experience. Give the eight-course tasting menu a try if you’re feeling adventurous, not to mention hungry. The AAA Five Diamond restaurant is rather formal—which in Arizona means no jeans or shorts. Also, Kai closes for four weeks in August.
There are scores of great places to grab good tacos and enchiladas in the Valley, but Carolina’s (1202 E. Mohave St., 602/252-1503, 7 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., $3–7) is among the very best, with fresh, made-from-scratch Mexican food. The less-than-stellar neighborhood and slightly dumpy building belie the care that is given to the homemade tortillas, guacamole, and salsa. To really experience Carolina Valenzuela’s original recipes, order one of the hearty combination platters, which include tamales, machaca, flautas, and tostadas.