Review: The Fry Bread House - Phoenix
Sometimes, you just have to throw the whole "I should start eating healthy" schtick out the window. I could afford to lose a few pounds. Okay, a lot of pounds. But I am a quality-of-life type of guy and the thought of going into a GNC store and discussing the virtues of mashed yeast and organic granola in yak's milk is just not appetizing to me. So, I search for some great places to help clog my arteries.
Friday's lunch was begging for a lazy luncheon. No muss, no fuss, but just some great food. It donned on me then that what I really needed to start the weekend early was a trip to The Fry Bread House in Phoenix. I had eaten at this restaurant way in the past when it was located near 7th Street and Indian School Road. Now, it had been relocated to new digs near 7th Avenue and Indian School Road.
I drove up 7th Avenue past Indian School Road and had to make a quick pull into the location which is almost hidden. The buidling that houses the restaurant is pulled back from the street to allow for parking, but the entrance to the parking is buffered by two structures, so if you aren't paying attention, you could sail right past it.
I found parking right away and headed for the entrance. A Native American woman was bagging up items from the gift shop table set outside featuring Native jewelry and trinkets.
I entered the small building and walked to the station to order my lunch. The restaurant will seat about 40 people. The place is decorated with Native art and posters featuring various happenings all across the reservations in Arizona and the Southwest. Native publications are in racks, along with community copies of the Arizona Republic.
I reviewed the menu and decided I wanted something simple, but filling. So, I chose the Fry Bread House special which included a large fried bread and a bowl of red chili. I also got a large Diet Coke. The menu has a substantial number of choices, and just about anyone could find something to like here. There were several vegetarian choices and some very mild choices as well. The menu was clearly a mix of Native, Mexican and New Mexican cooking styles.
As I paid for my meal, you could see the cooking staff in the back rushing into action to fill my order. It clearly is a team effort and lots of people running around and double checking orders. Above the ordering station is a small sign noting that the owners are proud members of the Tohono O'oodam tribe. I was given my soda and I sat down and started reading a section of the newspaper.
In about 5 minutes, my order was ready. On a tray came a big circle of fry bread about 10" across and a 12 ounce bowl of red chili stew. The first thing that hit my nose was the garlic scent. It was heavenly.
I first took a taste of the stew. Wow. Piping hot and filled with a good portion of shredded beef, the stew was spicy and flavorful. What I noticed right away were the chunks of garlic in the stew. Not one or two, but mixed throughout the stew. They had softened and had the bitterness pulled out during cooking, so all you got was a nice, fragrant garlic taste that was a perfect match for the meat and the chili sauce.
Next up was the fry bread itself. This was also quite hot and I had to wait a few more moments to let it cool down a bit. I was finally able to tear off a piece. The bread was crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. There was some residual oil on the outside, but not enough to make it all taste greasy. It was quite nice.
But when you have two good things like the stew and the bread, it is time to do some dunking, so I pulled off a chunk of bread, plunged it into the stew and devoured it. My arteries were screaming, but my tummy and taste buds were ecstatic. It was wonderful. Lunch was a success.
Ah, but I also had noticed that they have dessert fry breads as well, and since it was Friday and approaching the weekend, who am I to pass up dessert?
I wanted to stick with the basics, so I ordered a fry bread with honey and powdered sugar. Another 5 minutes passed and it was ready. The fry bread was as perfect as the first and was coated in clover honey and a good amount of powder sugar. Once again, I had to wait until it cooled. By then, the heat from the bread had softened the honey. By now, I had become a bread tearing expert and took off a piece of the glistening bread.
This is not for the faint of heart. Fried bread and pure sugar. It was wonderful. Hot and sweet and a nice aftertaste from the honey. Superb. Unhealthy food at its finest. Because of the size of the first bread and this one and the stew, I was unable to finish my dessert, but I was satiated beyond belief. The only down side was the sticky mess on my hands and on my face, along with all the powdered sugar that had managed to land on my shirt. I was reminded of my many trip to Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.
Thankfully, the staff had included several Wet-Naps for clean up. I scrubbed myself clean and finished the rest of my drink. I was lucky that work had been slow all day because I was going to be of no use the rest of the day. Food coma was already beginning to set in.
I said my goodbyes to the woman who took my order and headed out the door. I still had the taste of garlic and honey in my mouth. And odd combination to be sure, but a great reminder of a wonderful lunch.
I am positive I had a better lunch than anything available at GNC.
The Fry Bread House
4140 North 7th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85013
Notes: Closed Sunday / Vegetarian options available
I haven't sampled numerous fry breads, but I've had it in various locations, on and off of reservations, and this was by far the best I've ever had. The green chili is spicy with a goodly amount of beef (which you could actually taste). Plus, there was the perfect amount of chili to allow for a substantial meal, but not make it impossible to eat without utensils. Actually, it was easier sans fork. Even better, the bread was not at all greasy. It didn't even hit me till after lunch that my fingers were dry. The bread was crispy and chewy (what a paradox). Usually after a good cultural culinary experience I want to try out other versions to compare. I have no reason to. This was near perfect, and for five dollars to boot.
Seth -- thank you for bringing new life to the Southwest board with respect to Phoenix. You've opened some lively discussions about little places that aren't mentioned all the time, and I have added some new restaurants to my "need to try" list.
We went to the Fry Bread House a couple weeks ago on a Saturday. We found it to be much more pleasant inside than the exterior led us to belive, and the proprietors were friendly and helpful. We liked the New Mexico-style green chile, but found the fry bread to be a bit on the tough side. My husband ordered one with honey for dessert and he liked it (but thought it was also tough); for me, one bite of that set my teeth on edge, but I'm not a big fan of really sweet things.
At any rate, I would definitely recommend the Fry Bread House to out of town visitors for a chow experience that is unique to Arizona.
re: Sarah C
Thanks for adding your insights to my review. There may be an inconsistency problem with The Fry Bread House and it is good to let everyone get a mix of reviews. I am sorry your experience was not as pleasing as mine.
I can also see where the dessert bread could really put one on edge. It is very, very sweet.
Thanks again, Sarah.