Moving from San Francisco
Hi. Will likely be moving to Phoenix from San Francisco in the Fall for work and live in Scottsdale.
I know the food scene in San Francisco is pretty unique and its hard to have that anywhere else.
However, can people (esp ex SFers) give me some idea as to the organic foods/farmer's markets/locavore and restaurant environment in general? Also I really like Mexican food and grew up in Orange County and spent 9 years in San Diego. My impression is that the restaurant and food scene has been getting more diverse over time, is that true?
It's very true. Taking Mexican food first, I think the biggest changes have been 1) restaurants specializing in regional Mexican cuisine started opening several years ago; and 2) there's been a significant increase in quality particularly at the lower end. Places that put out inexpensive but very high quality food include America's Taco Shop, Rito's, Carolina's Etc. Search this site for Mexican and you'll find lots. Also, the Phoenix Ranch Markets are jewels. Great, large Hispanic markets with excellent selection of seafood and produce but lots and lots of dining options. At the higher end, Barrio Cafe is very good although it's hit or miss on this site. 16th Street in Phoenix has become a Mexican Restaurant Row. For taco trucks, it's La Frontera and Los Reyes de la Torta makes the single best sandwich in Phoenix, the Torta Cubana.
Phoenix has a pile of James Beard award winning chefs including two who have places across from each other in downtown Phoenix. Pizzeria Bianco has a well deserved national reputation.
The downtown Phoenix Farmer's Market on Saturday's is great and has grown dramatically. Market's in Scottsdale and elsewhere in Phoenix offer excellent produce selections though most of that comes from McClendon's Farms at the latter markets.
Even coffee and breakfast are getting in on the roll although later than other cities. Think Giant Coffee or The Drip and for breakfast Matt's Big Breakfast and Over Easy have both gained national attention.
I would start with this information and search this site for Farmer's Market's Etc. and you'll have more information than you can imagine. For me, I am particularly passionate about all of the small, hole in the wall Mexican places serving great food. I remember when I used to think good Mexican was a volcanically hot plate filled with cheesy enchiladas, tacos in pre-made shells, gloppy beans and tasteless rice. What was I thinking? Now we argue over whether the mole is better at Carolina's north or the original. And don't get me started about whether the original Lo Lo's Chicken and Waffles is better than the new "ritzy" Scottsdale branch. Seriously, it will be a very different scene than San Francisco but I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
623 E Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85004
Matt's Big Breakfast
801 N 1st Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004
4730 E Indian School Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85018
America's Taco Shop
2041 N 7th Street, Phoenix, AZ
While the food scene has greatly expanded and diversified here over the past 10 years, don't expect to find grocery stores like Rainbow, Bi-Rite, or Berkeley Bowl here. The best sources for organic and/or local produce are going to be Whole Foods, select farmer's markets (e.g., Downtown Phoenix Public Market and Scottsdale Farmer's Market, both on Saturday morning).
Unlike some Bay Area farmer's markets where organic-only is the rule, the markets here are more open. Some vendors offer organic, some offer conventional, some offer both. Some people sell only what they've grown themselves; some sell a mix of things they've grown and things purchased from other growers or through produce distributors. The mix of vendors can change considerably based on the season--some growers are more visible during the winter-spring peak, some show up when hot weather crops are in season, and some are around throughout the year.
As far as finding restaurant food you like, your best bet is probably to search board for a specific dish (e.g., carnitas) or cuisine (e.g., Japanese) or to post a specific query here. And of course, there's always good ol' fashioned 'hounding--relying on your own intuition and sense of adventure to discover a hidden gem.
Downtown Phoenix Public Market
721 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004
The replies thus far have been pretty much dead on. In terms of farmers markets downtown Phoenix and Old Town Scottsdale have the largest selection and best quality both run Saturday mornings with Downtown also doing a much subdued version on Wednesday nights. I have been doing my best to be a locavore for the last 3-4 years if you need recommendations for vendors I have tried most of the farms and ranches and definitely have my preferences.
In terms of restaurants FnB is one of the best things to happen to the valley in the 10+ years that I have lived here. They are almost exclusively local, sustainable and organic. Great comfort food cooked by a chef who can flat out cook, Pavle Milic the owner knows everyone who comes in there by name if you end up living in Scottsdale you will be a regular in there. Pizzeria Bianco is a great experience keep in mind that Chris Bianco the owner and chef was forced out of the kitchen earlier this year for health reasons. I haven't been back since he left the reports seem to be very much hit or miss on whether or not the magic is still there. Bianco is a huge local food guy here in Phoenix truly one of the guys who was doing it before it was popular. Matt of Matt's Big Breakfast was a bartender at Bianco and does great local breakfasts across the street from the Downtown Farmers Market. Pastabar, Parlor, and Gallo Blanco are all big supporters as well and are great casual spots. If you want something local and unique I don't think there is another restaurant in the US quite like Kai. Kai does Native American/Southwest cuisine the service and presentation are over the top truly a special occasion spot but worth the splurge. In terms of Mexican food I am with Phoenix99 16th street is great. I personally love Barrio Cafe and La Condesa does one of the best fish tacos I have ever had along with a killer house made salsa bar. Phoenix is definitely nowhere near San Fran yet but I think you will find some great hits to keep you happy.
Welcome to the valley,
2814 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85006
5594 W. Wildhorse Pass Blvd, Chandler, AZ 85226
705 N 1st Street 110, Phoenix, AZ 85004
Gallo Blanco Cafe
401 W Clarendon Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85013
The Parlor Pizzeria
1916 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016
7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
La Condesa Gourmet Taco Shop
1919 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85006
As a guy who grew up in San Francisco/Marin and moved here 4 years ago my advice would be DON'T DO IT, if you can help it. The food scene here pales in comparison to the Bay Area. Having said that, I would agree that Bianco is excellent. For seafood I would recommend Mastro's Ocean Club in Scottsdale. Their steakhouse Mastro's Steakhouse or City Hall is excellent as well. For Italian, I recommend Oregano's. Oregano's by far is one of my favorite restaurants in the Valley. I have to be honest that as far as Mexican food is concerned I have been very dissapointed, especially when it comes to finding Burritos the way they make them in NorCal. You'll be lucky if you get more than pico de gallo and guac in your burrito.
Mastro's Ocean Club
15045 N Kierland Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85254
Boasting about the supremacy of San Francisco while praising Oregano's?! I don't dislike Oregano's but rarely go there due to the issues mentioned by Seth. Regardless, would anyone really consider it the best Italian in town? It's Italian-American comfort food -- a good place to hang out and bring the kids (if they can stand the wait) -- but hardly the best Italian in the Phoenix Metro Area. Are you among those who vote to make Oregano's best everything in the AZ Central reader's poll?
And don't get me started about the mission burrito -- too much stuff inside for my taste.
I never said Oregano's is the best Italian restaurant in town. It definitely does not compare to some places in North Beach. I would agree with you that it is Italian American comfort food, but for what it is, its pretty damn good. I don't go there often for the same issues (small, long wait) but when I go, I go with friends or family and have a great time.
As for the mission style burrito- I guess it's a matter of preference. I grew up on it in SF so to me it's the best. I love all of the flavors in it. Meat, guac and pico wrapped in a stiff flour tortilla (AZ STYLE) is not a burrito.... Burritos aside, there are some good Mexican places in town. My favorite is Popo's on the west side.
BTW- I don't vote in those reader's polls. Those things are rigged by the restaurants in them :)
Please. Oregano's? That's ridiculous. You are correct, you will not find burritos here like they make them in San Francisco. That's been addressed on this board before. Those are not authentic and you will not find them in Mexico. Those of us that are interested in Mexican cuisine generally don't enjoy the "Mission-style" burritos as they have so many ingredients you don't get the clean, pure flavors of Mexico. I have to say that I believe you are totally off base on the Mexicanfood comments.
While I'm not a fan of the Mission-style burrito, I'm not convinced that the AZ style (which I strongly prefer) is any more "authentic" with respect to Mexican cuisine. To me that kind of comparison is more or less analogous to saying that a NY/NJ-style pizza topped with fresh tomatoes and basil is more authentically Italian/Neapolitan than one topped with fennel sausage.
After reading your profile, I'm willing to bet you don't spend much time west of Tatum or south of Camelback if you can help it. Ocean Club is good, but the prices are strictly business-class expense account dining.
The food scene here is actually quite decent. The thing is, unlike San Francisco, it's all spread out. The metro Phoenix area is over 9,000 square miles, and growing more by the day. Instead of Chinatown, we have Dobson Road through Mesa and Chandler, which is dotted with all manner of Asian restaurants starting with several nations' worth of delicious at Mekong Plaza and Asian Cafe Express on the north end of the strip on Main, heading all the way down to the terrific Vietnamese of Cyclo and the unforgettable Mexican/Chinese/Caribbean combination plates of Chino Bandido Takee-Outee on the south end at Chandler Boulevard. In between, you'll find Japanese, Chinese, Korean, the best dim sum in town, a gigantic Asian grocery store, and all kinds of other things. You just have to travel a 7.5 mile strip of what at first glance looks like ordinary suburbia to find all those treasures. Likewise, there's a world-class pocket of Vietnamese dives all within a few miles of 19th Ave and Camelback. Just south of that intersection is Da Vang, one of the best pho joints you can find.
You don't find Mission style burros here because that's not our regional style. It's like growing up in Chicago, moving to New York, and then complaining that you can't find a good deep dish pie anywhere in the city. From an outsider's standpoint, our Sonoran burro is no better nor worse than a Mission style burro; it's only different. We all wonder why you San Franciscans cram your burros full of rice when we just use more carne asada. And we have the decency to use tortillas made with lard, the way they should be. If you think burros are all there is to Mexican food, head down to the barrio and have lunch at any number of places. Carolina's is tops (and their Oaxaca special served enchilada style is one of the finest things to cross my lips), but the food court at the Phoenix Ranch Market grocery store is fantastic. Get yourself a big agua fresca, have some tacos al pastor, maybe a sope or tamal as well, and enjoy the riot of color and the banda music blaring over the sound system. Likewise, try out some New Mexico food; Phoenix and Tucson are about the only places to find it outside of the Land of Enchantment itself. I frequent Carlsbad Tavern the most, but it's more of New Mexico pub grub than anything else. Los Dos Molinos is the most popular choice, thanks largely to their Kick-Ass Margaritas, which kick ass both for deliciousness and efficacy. You really have to like it hot to appreciate LDM; I once accidentally got a mild dish and was somewhat disappointed. While they have multiple locations, the only one I go to is their first Phoenix location on Central south of Baseline. The carne adovada is killer. You'll likely enjoy Richardson's the most, a bit more haute approach to New Mexican but very tasty. I've been known to go just for the soul-warming posole.
3313 N Hayden Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
15414 N 19th Ave Ste K, Phoenix, AZ 85023
Asian Cafe Express
1911 W Main St, Mesa, AZ 85201
You can get Richardson's menu at Rokerij. The new Richardson's is under construction next door to Rokerij. I always go to Dick's Hideaway, mostly for breakfast.
For the burritos you want, maybe Chipotle or Qdoba?
6008 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85016
6335 N. 16th St., Phoenix, AZ 85016
3110 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85012
Surprise! That explains it. I've always believed the number of Chicago style hot dog and pizza places was due to the number of Chicagoans that visit or retire here.
Just to add a couple of more great Mexican places to what has already been mentioned: Rito's (no sign but you'll know you're there by the crowd), Pepe's Taco Villa and America's Taco Shop. ATS claims the best carne asada in Phoenix and I think they're right. They also do Al Pastor the traditional way. The carne asada tacos are the way to go in my opinion and they are completely authentic. My favorite Mexican right now is Los Reyes de la Torta and I believe the Torta Cubano is the single best sandwich is all of Phoenix. Try half the places listed and then let us know what you think of our Mexican food.
Pepe's Taco Villa
2108 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85015
America's Taco Shop
2041 N 7th Street, Phoenix, AZ
Welcome to the Valley of the Sun.
Phoenix has a very dynamic dining scene and you should definitely try some of our stellar restaurants like Kai, Noca, FnB, Binkley's, and others that have been mentioned here.
For Mexican, it really depends on what you are looking for. We have everything from carts in parking lots (Try Nogales Hot Dogs at 20th Street and Indian School Road in the evenings) to high-end places like La Hacienda. If you are looking for Mexican comfort food, try Pedro's in Glendale or La Pinata on 19th Avenue in Phoenix which both serve Sonoran style Mexican food (think blue plate specials). If you want something hip and fun, Gallo Blanco is great. I love El Nopalito for something very authentic, but there have been some reports of quality decline. And, sorry, you won't find Mission-style burritos here. That isn't our thing and I am rather pleased at that as I don't like the jam-packed burritos. Simplicity is key.
Italian is the same. It all depends on what you want. While the food at Oregano's is decent, I hate their business model of opening tiny spaces and expecting people to wait outside when it is 114 F (no, misters don't cut it). So, I refrain. If you want something in the red sauce venue, Red Devil on McDowell is an old stand by. Something more luxurious would be Marcellino's in Scottsdale.
One thing that Phoenix does have that you [probably would have a very tough time finding in SF is Native American cuisine. As I said above, Kai is excellent. It is a high-end Native American restaurant and is fantastic. Save your pennies and go. There is absolutely nothing like it in SF (or California for that matter). If that is too steep in cost, grab your Lipitor and head over to the Indian Fry Bread House on North 7th Avenue in Phoenix. Big, artery-clogging wheels of fried dough covered with red or green chile or, for dessert, honey and powdered sugar. A nice treat.
There are plenty of other great places to dine in the Valley. Just remember to look well past the neon signs of the national chains and look in the small strip malls for potential mom & pop places that will feed you better and cheaper than the national or expansive local chains.
There is a lot of excellent food to discover here in Phoenix.
6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331
2831 N 24th St, Phoenix, AZ 85008
7575 E Princess Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85255
Fry Bread House
4140 N 7th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85013
Nogales Hot Dogs
1945 E Indian School Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016
3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016
Gallo Blanco Cafe
401 W Clarendon Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85013
7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
7114 E Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
I lived on SF for over 5 years. I understand what you are dealing with as far as a move goes. But, I will tell you now, get over it. Forget about eating crazy good chinese food and forget about the Mission style burritos taqueria, because it really doesn't exist here. Oh, how I long for Tacqueria Cancun, etc.
Instead, you will find an above average area for food and foodies. Let me tell you- this is truly not a bad town for food. There are some really great local restaurants that the board has reviewed discussed, etc. And, we do have some really good sonoran and new mexican food. As for high end, you will find plenty of great steakhouses and special occasion spots. In addition, the vietnamese and thai food here is good, not crazy good, but pretty darn good. There are excellent burger and pizza joints. Italian cannot hold up against SF - but there are, again, some solid spots.
Sushi is actually pretty good here and it is pricier, in general, but you can find places to get your sushi fix.
Finally, do what most of us do, hit the happy hours more, eat in more (I cook 6 days a week) and for god sakes, take trips back to SF and SD!