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Dec 2, 2008 07:49 PM

Question about Phoenix restaurants in resorts and hotels

I am curious as to why so many of the better restaurants in Phoenix are located in hotels or resorts?

No doubt there are fine stand alone restaurants, but to me at least there seems to be an inordinate amount of the better restaurants located within hotel or resort properties.

Can someone shed some light on this? Is this coincidence? Or the (unintended) result of city planning?

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  1. I'd expect that the principle reason is because resort groups tend to have a ton of money they can throw into the restaurant. Not only for design but also to pay chefs of notoriety/talent and purchasing power ( everything from F&B to flatware, china, overhead, etc. ).

    1. This goes back some time. Once, Phoenix was really just a small city with outlying resorts. Back then, the resorts developed several levels of restaurants for their guests. Phoenix had fewer, as the overall population was not that great and these resorts were actually "out of town." The resorts invested in chefs and the development of the restaurants, especially as they were definitely "destination" spots. This trend continued, as Phoenix grew and engulfed these resorts that were on the earlier outskirts.

      Finally, as Phoenix grew, some chefs began developing "stand-alones."

      To a degree, the resorts still have a hand in shaping the dining scene. Still, some of the chefs have left their employ and liked the area enough to stay and invest in places here. Others decided that they like Phoenix enough to come and open their individual places.

      Years ago, we were not fans of resort-dining. It took a few spots in Hawai`i and Phoenix to change our minds. While we have had some poor meals at other resorts, I see this trend developing elsewhere too. Las Vegas might be the single best example now. Going back some time, I would not bother to accompany my wife to her meetings there. Then some top chefs came, and the dining scene changed. Now, so long as I get to choose the restaurants, I love to go. Still have not dropped $0.25 in any machine or any table, other than the dining table.

      I'd love to hear some old-time Phoenix residents, who might remember how it was, and watched it become what it is, comment.


      1. In any city, the quality hotel / resorts have to have good amenities for their guests so providing good food outlets is standard. The economics of a hotel / resort restaurant vs. an independent restaurant is completely different -one must watch the bottom line and the other not so much. As far as Phoenix goes, my feeling (completely throwing out my affliation) past Kai is that the better Phoenix restaurants are independent chef driven spots.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Molto E

          At one time, this was true for many areas of the world. However, in the 1960's and '70's, many of the grand hotels in the US fell on hard times. There were major cutbacks in their restaurants (not unlike what we're seeing in/around Phoenix right now) were often scaled way back. Later in this time period, some of the larger chains began buying up the old dames and then the accountants went to work on trimming the expenses to bolster the bottom line. This phase seemed to last through much of the '80s. There was a resurgence in luxury and the accouterments that went with it. The Orient Express was saved and its route expanded. Luxury travel made a comeback. Steamships (not cruise ships) made a comeback and travelers were demanding more than the normal Marriott coffee shop. For about 15 years, I saw a return of the resort dining scene, that I had known up to the early ‘60s. Now, my reference is based on where I/we traveled. I’m sure that many places around the globe never changed. I just did not encounter many of them.

          In the ‘80s, I saw many great resort restaurants in Hawai`i close down, or loose their glamor. By the mid-90's only a handful existed any longer. Now, I can only cite 2 really fine-dining restaurants at any on O`ahu, La Mer (Halekulani) and Bali by the Sea (Hilton Hawaiian Village). Last trip indicated that Bali might well be history, as the fine-dining scene turns, once again. Oh, there is Michel’s at the Colony Surf, but it hasn’t been that great for some years. The Maile Room at the old Kahala Hilton is gone, and so far, nothing has replaced it.

          By the ‘90s, Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, and similar, were developing high-end dining locations in their various inns. Still, in Phoenix, many still existed, as they had earlier. The resorts here seemed to fly against the trends – until recently. I will not belabor the steakhouse trend, as I’ve pretty much laid my soul bare on that subject elsewhere.

          I will be interested to see what the next decade (or even half-decade) brings. I think we’ll see a lot of changes, and it will be the “gory days of the ‘60s & ‘70s, all over again. I hope that Phoenix will be insulated from it, but now that MBA’s run the entire corporate world, I do not hold out hopes.

          Personally, I plan to visit as many of these, as I can, while they are still with us. I am so very glad that I got back to the AZ Kitchen, Wigwam, when I did. While it wasn’t what I had encountered, when we first came to the Valley, I will now treasure that experience even more.

          I still have to get to Kai’s. Since they have a different economic influence, they may well survive, but we still need to get down there.

          Yeah, between Arizona and Hawai`i, we learned to NOT turn our noses up at “resort dining.” Someone looking back at this post in 2012 might wonder what the heck I was talking about, as every resort will have the equivalent of a Morton’s. Unless they use the “Wayback Machine,” they’ll think that I was smoking something from the ‘60s, when I typed this.

          Even though AZ’s history is short, compared to many places that I have lived, and very short compared to most of the places that I have visited, it is such an interesting history – especially its culinary history.


          1. re: Bill Hunt

            I hope that Phoenix will be insulated from it, but now that MBA’s run the entire corporate world, I do not hold out hopes.

            Oh! So true!

        2. Personally, I don't think that hotel restaurants are better - they just know how to get the buzz and their high prices make you think the food is better.

          3 Replies
          1. re: DriverPhil


            To a degree, I agree with you (say that 3 times quickly). Even today, some resorts take their fine-dining locations seriously, even though they may not be profit centers. Yes, this thinking is "old school," and it isn't The Wharton School of Business.

            As for the buzz, it IS a problem. Such a large segment of society is more interested in who they are likely to see, than what they are likely to eat. Most of us, on CH just scratch our heads, as it IS all about the food. Still, so much of the press is about _____ Steakhouse with some absentee noted chef, or a place like the Pink Taco. Yes, "buzz" is about a great PR campaign and not about food. Chowhounds get it. Most of the rest do not.


            PS I know that I have been bashing "steakhouses" as of late. I must admit that we dined at the "Argyle Steakhouse" at Aviara Four Seasons, CA, and the meal was excellent. i am not opposed to "steakhouses" per se - just the prolifration of so very many, where good, to great, restaurants once stood. Note: The Argyle Steakhouse is closing down and might be re-done as something else. Personally, I think that the steakhouse craze in AZ is too late. I think that the majority will fail and will likely be replaced by '60s-style coffee shops. Just another cycle.

            1. re: Bill Hunt


              Nine times out of ten we have been underwhelmed by supposed top notch hotel restaurants. The most recent occasion was Wright's at the Biltmore (I'm a FLW fan). The room was fine, the food was fine - but nothing out of the ordinary.

              I do think however that the odds may be better in PHX of having an acceptable meal than the hotel dining rooms in Hawaii.

              Here in Tucson there are several hotel dining rooms that get favorable mention: Loew's Ventana, Westward Look's Gold Room, Arizona Inn, and Hacienda Del Sol. When we've been there they certainly were fine - but nothing special.

              1. re: DriverPhil

                Have not done the Gold Room, but we're dining at the Ventana Room tomorrow night. I've also had marvelous food at Janos' at the La Paloma. The others would be new to me, as well.

                Now, for Wright's, we had a lovely meal, just a few months ago. Everything was done correctly. The only complaint that my wife and I could have had, was that the smoked filet, from years ago, was not on the menu. However, this was before the Hilton took over, and many changes have been made, since. How will it be next time? I have no clue. However, I did see the Hilton crew ruin a very good restaurant at the Pointe Tapatio Lookout Mountain, Different Ponte in Time.

                Now, as for "special," both the Ventana Room and Janos' have risen to the call, and produced truly "special" meals and dining experiences.

                Will the Ventana Room rise to the call? Only tomorrow will tell. I do know that they have a new sommelier, and I hope to put her through her paces. I have been advised that she really knows "her stuff." Time will tell.

                Right now, I do agree that there are probably more fine-dining options in PHX, than in HI, regarding the resorts. If I factor in Lon's and T Cooks, I think that the count will favor AZ.

                I still stick with my earlier observations on how the fine-dining restaurants developed in the PHX Area. Pretty much the same for Tucson. These were destination resorts. At one time, they were considered well outside the downtown area. They saw the market and justified the cost of having a top-chef at the helm.

                It will remain to be seen how the dining scenes in both cities (and much of the world) changes with the times.

                Sorry that Wright's did not do better by you. We had experinced some mediocre times there, in the past. I was very pleased by the last experience, but that may well have changed. Again, time will tell.

                I'll report on the Ventana Room, even though we are hosting 6 guests. I just hope that they come through for us, and the guests. My plan is to do the "chef's tasting menu," along with the "sommelier's pairings." We'll see.

                I only wish that we had time to do Janos' on this trip down. Unlike most "destination resort" patrons, we never seem to have adequate time to do them correctly. For us, it's arrive, dine, meetings, event dining, then, if we're lucky a round of gold, and head back to PHX. In all of our trips to Tucson, we have never had more than a few hours of down time. Way back when, people were able to do things differently. A "destination resort" was just that. Gosh, I wish we could fit that in...

                Reports to come,


          2. This whole thread makes me yearn for 1984 when L'Orangerie at The Arizona Biltomore what the de facto standard for fine continental dining in this town. I was 12 years old at the time, and thought I was the most sophisticated kid on the block (we lived at Biltmore Estates) for having eaten my first quail's egg. The food, service and prices at L'Orangerie were unparalleled. It went downhill in 1987 and dining in Phoenix was never the same without it.

            I attribute much of my chow-ness to my parent's insistence that we learn how to eat at restaurants (good and bad ones)....L'Orangerie was resort dining - or just dining - at its finest.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ejs1492

              Holy cow! I used to live not far from the Arizona Biltmore and more importantly to the locals - the L'Orangerie. Every special occasion from engagements to divorce was celebrated there. The best - the highest of dining. Gone but not forgotten.