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Phoenix Area favorites

I'm meeting friends in Phoenix in mid-September for a conference at the Hyatt. We're all food lovers and would like to experience some of the best the greater Phoenix area has to offer (we'll have a car and know how to use maps.)I've searched the boards, but these are my questions for local Chowhounds, if you'll please help us:

1)Your most favorite restaurant that's real Arizona (Mexican, American, or Native...)
2)Your most favorite place for a special night on the town
3)Your most favorite lunch spot with 15 minutes of downtown
4)Your most favorite place for atmosphere

Many thanks for your help!

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  1. 1) It doesn't get much more real Arizona than the Fry Bread House on 7th Ave just north of Indian School. Their frybread is perfect, the chilis are incredibly delicious. Also worth a note is Carolina's Mexican, which also fits category 3.

    2) Many resort restaurants fit the bill. Elements at the Sanctuary (NB: I work at Sanctuary's sister property, the Hotel Valley Ho, but elements really is good!), T. Cook's at the Royal Palms, Lon's at the Hermosa are all good choices. Coup des Tartes is excellent, Durant's is a well-preserved classic steakhouse that does great steaks (park in back and go in through the kitchen!), other people will mention more.

    3) Carolina's Mexican is close to downtown. If you get the urge for soul food, Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe is *the* gold standard for soul food in Arizona. Mrs. White has been cooking in the same location for decades now. Her grandson opened up his own restaurant not too far from Mrs. White's. It's called Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles. Both are amazingly good. Neither one looks like a classy joint (at Mrs. White's, the menu is written directly on the wall), but oh MAN the food is good. You'll wish that you could hire professional body rollers to get you out to your car.

    4) A lot of places with atmosphere are places that don't have good food. I think I'd go with Durant's, exactly like an old style steakhouse should be, dark inside with dark leather booths and great waitstaff. Pizzeria Bianco is also a great one for atmosphere, as it is in a historic old storefront. Be warned the wait at Bianco's can be ridiculously long (we're talking at least an hour and a half), so either get there before 4:30 (they open at 5), have a party of 6-10 so you can get a reservation, or settle in at the wine bar next door (in a charming old house lit mostly by candlelight at night). I have brought a deck of cards and played lots of Gin Rummy while waiting.

    1. It will still be warm in mid-September, so bring your sunscreen and short-sleeved shirts. Here are my answers:

      1. Los Sombreros (Mexican - Scottsdale) / Barrio Cafe (Mexican - Phoenix) / Indian Fry Bread House (Native American - Phoenix) / Durant's (American - Phoenix)

      2. T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Resort in Phoenix (Southwestern and Mediterranean Fusion)

      3. Phoenix Ranch Market (16th Street and Roosevelt in Phoenix) - Mexican

      4. Two places: Durant's (Phoenix) - Old World Club feeling to it. Red Velvet wallpaper, black leather booths, tuxedo-clad waiters. Coup de Tartes (Phoenix) - French bistro, intimate, in a little converted house.

      Have a great time in Phoenix.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Seth Chadwick

        Oh man, how could I have forgotten Phoenix Ranch Market? They're one of my favorites! Great food, festive atmosphere, and the prices are ridiculously low.

      2. What a fun way to categorize your chow wish list! Like others, I'm finding my choices are fitting into more than one category.

        1. Quintessential Arizona -- Los Sombreros or Roaring Fork. T Cook's can also fit here for the setting -- The Royal Palms has the true territorial elegance that feels more Arizonan than any other place, to me.

        2. Night on the town -- Sea Saw or Cowboy Ciao topped off by drinks at Kazimierz Wine Bar. They're all back to back on restaurant row, in the middle of the nightlife in Scottsdale. I also think they are the best food we have, outside of maybe Binkley's up in Cave Creek. You won't regret a meal at either place.

        3. Central lunch -- I'll echo Carolina's, emphatically, but Phoenix Ranch Market is another good experience.

        4. Atmosphere -- this one's hard, because all of the above are memorable spots. I'll repeat T Cook's, I'll add Sassi, Lon's at the Hermosa, I'll agree with Pizzeria Bianco -- but only if you're on the dime when the doors open, or don't mind an evening on the porch of the wine bar in the Craftsman bungalow next door -- and I'll throw in Tarbell's for the mention, the food and wine are great.

        edited to mention that Coup De Tartes, which Seth mentioned, is BYO, which makes for a fantastic bargain. Menu's online so you can scout your wine pairing(s) ahead of time.

        Enjoy your time here. Let us know if you need any more recommendations!

        1. JK......I'm going to Elements on Monday night with hubby. I can't WAIT!

          1. 3)Your most favorite lunch spot with 15 minutes of downtown
            The original Crazy Jim's on 15th AVE just south of Indian School. Great salad's - love the house creamy greek dressing. House made fresh pita bread. Pizza good there (soggy if you take it to go IMO).

            Chili Pepper (Chinese) - have only eaten lunch here and have only eaten either the Lemon or House (General Tso style) chicken - but have enjoyed both. Nice bit of attitude from the staff. Even if there is a wait it won't be long - they encourage no diddling after you eat. Come, eat, go - let the folks who are waiting in. Central north of Osborn on the east side of the road - small pink building.

            Other categories are well defined.


            7 Replies
            1. re: Bazel


              Do you mean China Chili? I work near Central and Osborn and China Chili closed its location on Central because of work on the Light Rail project. (They are opening a new location on 3rd Street near Virginia in the future, so I have been told.)

              1. re: Seth Chadwick

                China Chili is remodeling a building at Third Street and Flower. And, yes, it's going to be pink.

                1. re: El Dupree

                  Any update on China Chili? It is great and I really hope they come back.

                  1. re: poet

                    Just drove by the new location this evening. They're still working on the building, and I was wrong -- it doesn't look pink any longer. No clue yet as to when it'll open. Anyone else know?

                    1. re: El Dupree

                      Yes, China Chili is soon to open on 3rd street! I've had their
                      menu sitting on my desk for the past 6 months, because they
                      had mentioned they were going to relocate. My boss just
                      confirmed that they will open on Friday, December 15th!

                      1. re: snowsk8er

                        Looks as if the original owners of China Chili have opened a new place : Mr. Chao's Asian Bistro....

                        Has anyone tried it?


                        1. re: ciaogal


                          It's in Ahwatukee:
                          4232 East Chandler Boulevard, Ahwatukee

                          Not very handy for me, sigh, but good for trips to Tucson...

                          Cheers -- Pete Tillman

            2. 1.) I'd opt for Richardson's (AZ/NM) and El Bravo (Mex). No argument on some of the other suggestions, but have not done them - sorry.
              2.) Vincent's on Camelback (~40th St/Camelback)
              3.) Sophie's Bistro(~24th/Osborne)
              4.) elements @ The Santuary (5700 E. McDonald Dr)

              Trying Vu (Scottsdale Hyatt Regency) tonight, so it might fit in, if most of the reports that I've heard are correct.


              1. You guys are great -- we really appreciate the suggestions, including the sunscreen. My friends and I are uniting from different states at a history conference, and we like to enjoy the local food scene and explore culinary roots rather than go to any chains. I appreciate the Fry Bread House tip -- one of the best meals I've ever had -- a perfect fit for the location -- was green chile stew with fry bread at Second Mesa in January. Thanks! And more suggestions are welcome.

                1. For downtown lunches, I like:

                  Chico's Tacos (7th St & McDowell) - it's in a strip mall and looks like a La Salsa-like chain store, but I enjoy it for a quick, Mexican food fix. It's clean and efficient, plus I prefer their salsa bar to other taco joints. Order at the counter, grab your drinks and chips and wait to be called while snacking on different salsas. For some reason they always have a bunch of aviation magazines, which I enjoy flipping through.

                  Pane Bianco (On Central, N. of Indian School) - I've yet to try the pizza at his other place, but Chris Biano's panini's are great. At PB, it's more of a to-go counter, though they do have picnic tables out front (though I imagine them to be hot right now). Simple menu, great ingredients - baked in a wood-fired oven. Bonus: If you like cool coffee houses, Lux adjoins.

                  Fate (4th St & Roosevelt) - I've only eaten there once and it was a while back, so I can't say it's still good. It seems the only time I'm near is during First Friday's art walk, where this tiny house-turned-restaurant is too packed (unless you have reservations). Othwerwise, it's a funky, unqiue dining experience from a one-man owner/chef who cooks every dish in a kitchen seemingly only large enough for one wok. Becuase of this, don;t go with a large group or half will be eating while the other wait their turn. Otherwise, I like it for the unique experince.

                  1. Fry Bread House is great. Order the green chile stew, but ask for some chile to add in. It's basically posole at that point, and the best in town..even if you have to add your own chile.


                    1. Only one more to add...I think....maybe...okay, two. First, right downtown..Bistro 101, 101 N. 1st Ave., just north of Adams. Terrific lunch spot, great bakery case. Also, for terrific pizza and a genuinely delightful little bar )could not swear it's beyond wine and beer, tho'), Cibo, 603 N. 5th Ave., just north of Fillmore. I'll second Los Sombreros and Roaring Fork, also Cowboy Ciao...and add Lon's at the Hermosa for consideration, especially for brunch. oooh - almost forgot...Vincent's at 39th and Camelback also has a dandy brunch...and on Saturdays, has an outdoor farmers' market (of sorts) outside, as well.

                      1. I haven't been in Phoenix for too long, but here are my places from my little time here

                        1. Roaring Fork or Los Sombreros. The Fork is unique, but I don't think has atmosphere, but it is really solid. Ask for the jerky if you are in the restaurant, and they might be able to sneak you some from the bar.
                        2. Binkley's in Cave Creek, great place, a bit far and not for everyone, but I think it tops any other place that I've been to around here.
                        3. I've got nothing, as I'm rarely around downtown, but I'd say Ted's Hot Dogs, although that probably isn't within 15 minutes, but is in Tempe and good if you're around.
                        4. Depends on what kind of atmosphere, Elements has a great view, maybe the old J-bar in Scottsdale for trendy.

                        1. Where on 3rd street is the new location going to be? Looks like I will be in the downtown area again come January and I will need this in my lunch rotation.


                          1. hi,

                            its my first post - can i play :D

                            1)real az? gotta go with kai...super delish
                            2)special nite - rancho pinot or quiessence...both feature fresh regional food and are top notch
                            3)downtown lunch spot - im a sucker for da vangs or matt's big breakfast, since i can't ever get in on the weekend ;) darn downtown hipsters..oh wait, thats me ;) j/k
                            4)best atomosphere - hrmmm...dunno, but we always seem to end up outside at cibo - love seeing the buildings, the restoration of everthing, the lights, being outside, dig the crepes :)

                            there you are!! hope to get to know more ppl!!!

                            1. 1)Your most favorite restaurant that's real Arizona (Mexican, American, or Native...)

                              For me, El Chorro Lodge feels the most "real Arizona."

                              2)Your most favorite place for a special night on the town

                              Probably Donovan's. There is nothing innovative about the cuisine, but the quality of the meat and the service is top notch.

                              3)Your most favorite lunch spot with 15 minutes of downtown

                              Definitely Pane Bianco, followed by a visit to Lux Coffee Bar.

                              4)Your most favorite place for atmosphere

                              I love House of Tricks for dining al fresco.

                              1. Once a year we spend a week in Scottsdale, so I saved this post to get some ideas...I'm surprised, tho, that no one has included The Sanctuary or Tarbells as favs. We really like those two places (altho Sanctuary is in Scottsdale, so maybe that doesn't count).

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: nancyhudson

                                  Elements at the Sanctuary is actually in Paradise Valley, but it's all one metro area, so exact city boundaries aren't terribly important. I've been twice to Elements and have enjoyed it both times. I'll need a few more successful visits before I can declare it a favorite, however. Tarbell's has been one of my favorites for over a decade, so I am also surprised at the relatively low degree of "buzz" it generates on this board.

                                2. Agree with Silverbear, Tarbell's has been consistently great in many ways for many years. For a really nice dinner date or even when I can't afford the cost or calories and I am just out with a girlfriend for a small bite and cocktails, Tarbell's delivers quality and consistency. Plus the proximity to a lot of places is nice (next door to Sportsman's for one thing!)

                                  Love Mark too! Can't wait to see him on Iron Chef! :)

                                  1. If you are looking for excellent Italian, try La Stalla in Chandler's old town square. Nice atmosphere, the food is great, perfect attentive service and live music on the weekends.

                                    1. 1) good place you can walk to from your hotel - La Tolteca on 11th Street and Van Buren. Homemade tortillas and a panaderia. Cool place, and definitely a Phoenix favorite.

                                      2) Lon's at the Hermosa Inn - 35 room botique hotel set in a beautiful adobe oasis setting. Originally the western home of Lon Magarge, the artist credited for the artwork on the stetson hat. Lots of history, and phenomonal food.

                                      3) La Grande Orange - Uber trendy urban market that makes by far the best BLT in Phoenix.

                                      4) Cibo or Circa1900. Both in +-1900 homes remodeled beautifully, and close to your hotel.

                                      I live 4 blocks from the Hyatt so I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have while you're there. Also, Tammy, the daytime concierge at the Hyatt is very knowedable. Definitely check with her as well.