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Greater Phoenix Dining: Where To Eat?

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I'm staying with friends in Scottsdale AZ for a week. I want to take them out as a thank-you. What is the finest dining experience in Phoenix/Scottsdale, money no object, food the absolute priority and quality of service a close second ?

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I had a very good meal at Christopher's Fermier Brasserie in Scottsdale.   I am still not completely sold on going to a fine restaurant located in a shopping mall, but that aside the food, wine list and service were excellent.

This is not related to your question, but I love Harlow's Cafe in Tempe for breakfast.  

My friends who live in Scottsdale swear by Rancho Pinot Grill and Restaurant Hapa as their favorite for a speal night out.

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Cuisine and service at Mary Elaine's in the Phoenician was more than just very good on my one and only visit there about a year ago.  We had a lunch and a brunch there and I would describe it as an extremely stylish, polished and impeccable experience.  Regardless of where you dine for dinner, I would recommend having brunch out on the patio, in the shade under the trellis and trees.  Quite charming.  

However, since then they've lost their stellar pastry chef Richard Ruskell, who has recently opened up his own patisserie in the area called Pastry Maxine--immediately garnering a slew of local "Best Of" awards and alot of wholesale clients, including the very same Phoenician.

Check out the details here:

http://www.azcentral.com/rep/best2001/articles/0916bestpastrychocolate16.html

http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/issues/2001-09-20/bestethnic3.html


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Well, we picked Christopher's Fermier (they'd been to the Phoenician). So thanks, TexanBob, it was excellent.

I just love that when you order a glass of wine they bring the bottle to the table and pour it. The choice of wines was fabulous, and the wines we chose excellent.

I had Fermier's own smoked salmon with a green salad fo an appetizer. Salmon was first-class, excellent texture and a fine wood-smoke.

I then had roast duck with a honey/cranberry glaze with pumpkin, mashed potato and broccoli. All extremely good, with the duck particularly tender and crisp-skinned.

Finished with ice-cream - pleasant if not great and really good coffee.

Overall, the atmosphere was French-brasserie-style, very relaxed booth arrangement, high ceilings and elegant decor, apart from the VERY dim lighting. It was almost impossible to read the menus. But the service was really good (the waiter even brought us, unasked, some extra candles to help our reading!).

The check was under 赨 for three people.  

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I will be travelling to Tucson for business in 2 weeks, but will be flying into Phoenix. I want to grab some good Southwestern food for lunch before I make the trek to Tucson (for dinner at Janos). Something representative of the region that I can't get in New Jersey :biggrin: . Does anyone have any recs for a good place I can hit in Phoenix before I head out to Tucson? Doesn't have to be fancy or expensive. Thanks!

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One good restaurant that's close to the airport is Carlsbad Tavern. It's on Hayden at Osborn, which is south of Indian School Road. (From the airport, follow the signs for the 202 East. Take the 202 to the Hayden/McClintock exit. Left (north) from the exit, then about 4 miles to the restaurant. It's next door to a great little store called House of Rice, which has Chinese ingredients and cooking supplies and cooking classes -- though I'm sure it'd pale in comparison to what you see in Chinatown.

Anyhow: Carlsbad Tavern looks like a fish restaurant (which is what it was before), and it serves very good, spicy New Mexican food. You can stay as simple as a burro or order a major entree. It's inexpensive; two of us usually get out of there for under $30, assuming you're drinking iced tea rather than booze.

Another major destination is Los Dos Molinos, which I believe is mentioned in the Zagat Guides. Very inexpensive, VERY spicy -- not for wimps. It's in a weird neighborhood, on Central at South Mountain, which is sort-of but not-quite on your way down to Tucson. But the food is awesome and the atmosphere "representative."

If you want something more casual and less demanding, I'd recommend Manuel's. On Indian School at 28th Street. (Take the airport exit that puts you on 24th Street going north. Indian School is 4 or 5 miles north. Turn right on Indian School, left at the light at 28th Street and then right into the shopping center parking lot.) It's where I took my NY-area boss when he came to town and wanted Mexican food: excellent, _excellent_ chimichangas, and good at everything else. My idea of a neighborhood restaurant. Probably $25 for two, maybe less if you hit a lunch special.

--Esther

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Pete:

Pizzeria Bianco, hands down, if you can make it for an early dinner--it doesn't have lunch hours. This tiny, bustling pizzeria is an Alice Waters haunt, and is where Phoenician tycoons (like Jerry Colangelo) cavort. At its price point, it is the best food deal in the country, with maybe the exception of Bouley's old $35 lunch prix fixe. I would also add Nobuo Fukuda's new restaurant, Sea Saw, as a must-visit. (This too only has dinner hours.)

If you're looking for food with a distinct AZ flavor, try Lenard Rubin's Medizona, a Mediterranean-Southwestern hybrid. John Mariani couldn't praise this quirkily-outfitted boutique enough, and I couldn't agree more. Appetizers are by far better than mains, but this problem should go without saying at most small places. A lot of people prefer Cowboy Ciao, even if I was never too fond of it.

Phoenix's best cheap taqueria is Taqueria at Rancho de Tia Rosa. The quality of Mexican and Southwestern food in Phoenix is surprisingly disappointing (re: lacking). I prefer Tuscon and Austin.

Btw, I was never very impressed with Janos, despite many of its accolades. Arizona majorly disappoints at the high-end, even in Scottsdale, where money shouldn't be a problem.

Cowboy Ciao

7133 E. Stetson Drive, Scottsdale

(480) 946-3111

Medizona

7217 E. Fourth Ave., Scottsdale

(480) 947-9500.

Pizzeria Bianco

623 E. Adams St., Phoenix

(602) 258-8300

Sea Saw

7133 E. Stetson Drive

(480) 481-9463

Taqueria at Rancho de Tia Rosa

3129 E. McKellips Road, Mesa

(480) 659-8790

Much peace,

Ian Lowe

ballast/regime


"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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Thanks Ian. I've heard about Pizzeria Bianco (and the hour + waits..), but if they only serve dinner, I can't make it. Even though I'm no longer going, thanks for the tip on Janos. That would have been out of my own pocket, and it didn't sound cheap.

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if you want a distinctly Phoenix experience... there's Bill Johnson's Big Apple BBQ. The sign says, "Hongry? LET'S EAT!" and it does the cowboy thing, complete to sawdust on the floor and pistol-packing waitresses. The downside is that I've never been all that thrilled about their lunch menu. They're a great breakfast spot (assuming that you think that biscuits and sausage gravy, done right, is heaven on earth -- and theirs is the best I've found anyplace) but the lunches are merely okay. But it's RIGHT next to the airport, on Washington, possibly closer to it than your rental car pickup spot. This is definitely more of a spot for locals on lunch break than a place where you'll see other tourists or Jerry Colangelo.

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I think a restaurant with a similar name but that's better is San Carlos Bay Restaurant.

San Carlos Bay Seafood Restaurant

1901 East McDowell

602-340-0892

IML

ballast/regime


"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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I have a colleague who will be in Phoenix this week and wants the full show: Captains, frette linens, tasting menus, great wine list.

Any thoughts?

Thanks

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I generally can't afford the high-end places. I've had wonderful meals at Roxsand, Roaring Fork, and The Farm (I'm not sure the latter is still going, except for the lunch take-out), but I'm no authority on the subject.

However, your friend may be interested in the recent review of Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician. If he wants to take a local out to dinner, I'd be happy to come along. :biggrin:

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Phoenix is definitely not representin', I say. I haven't lived there for nearly two years, and I would think there would be plenty of egulleteers filling in the gap (at least in the high-end), but I guess not.

IML

ballast/regime


"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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I'm in the same poor boy boat or I'd recommend as much as I could.

Phoenix is just not a good place find food. Seafood's crappy and overpriced, and few vegetarian spots. Even when I did eat meat it was pretty sparse for good stuff. It's mall land. TGI Friday central. etc. There are a few good hole in the wall nuggets though.

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Altar-ego:

Which of the following have you dined at?

Restaurant Oceana, Restaurant Hapa (before James and Stacy McDevitt sold it), Elements, Pizzeria Bianco, Sea Saw, Mosaic, Michael's at the Citadel, Medizona, Rancho Pinot, Nonni's Kitchen, Sixth Avenue Bistro, and/or Gregory's World Bistro.

I mention these because I believe several of these restaurants go against your claims.

E.g., "Phoenix is just not a good place find food." Simply not true. Four of the restaurants I listed -- Hapa, Medizona, Pizzeria Bianco, and Sea Saw -- serve as good of food as any major city in the U.S. (besides NYC) at a similar price point. Chris Bianco is probably Phoenix' culinary savior, and a national treasure in my mind. Why else would Alice Waters regularly fly out to dine there? All of this aside, Pizzeria Bianco is probably the best food for the money in the United States, excepting Bouley's old $35 lunch prix fixe. I prefer Nobuo Fukuda's food at Sea Saw to the big Nobu himself, and Sea Saw is much cheaper. Hapa is (was, as it was bought out) one of my favorite restaurants in the country, and would recommend it to anyone as a very consistently good place to dine (I've had nearly forty meals there).

"Seafood's crappy and overpriced."

Again, not true. Oceana is spectacular, and probably the best restaurant in town. Ditto to Sea Saw. They're not overpriced by any means, since their price point matches every inland restaurant that serves good seafood in the country with which I'm familiar. Ever been to San Carlos Bay Restaurant? That's very reasonably priced, as is Sushi on Shea.

"[A]nd few vegetarian spots."

Again, this is nonsense, as my brother's vegan and it's not hard to find great veggie meals in the Valley of the Sun. Pizzeria Bianco, for starters, is a great place to dine that's really inexpensive. His produce quality is better than pretty much every high-end restaurant in New York, with some exceptions. In terms of the high end of Phoenix, nearly all of the restaurants will gladly offer really good vegetarian or vegan meals if you call ahead. Some even offer existing dishes on their menus that are really good. E.g., Elements, Mosaic, Rancho Pinot, Nonni's, Sixth Avenue Bistro, etc. If you're looking for cheaper restaurants, there are dozens of Chinese, Korean, Indian, Mexican, Japanese, Italian, Thai, and Vietnamese that easily accomodate vegetarians and vegans. Have you ever been to Supreme Master Ching Hai Vegetarian House?

And "[e]ven when I did eat meat it was pretty sparse for good stuff."

Meat infinitely delimits your options. I could begin listing more restaurants at every price point if you want. The food's there if you're willing to look.

There are many other restaurants that I haven't even listed, as there's so many. Yes, Phoenix is a cultural wasteland where businesses are more likely to be of the corporate, cookie-cutter persuasion than the locally-owned, but what city in the U.S. isn't like this? Every one I've lived in or visited, which accounts for every major one, minus Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco.

If you haven't been to a lot of these restaurants, go!

Also, Phoenix' produce quality (at the farmer's markets and many upscale gourmet shops) is one of the best in the country because of the long growing season, so you could just conceivably take matters into your own hands.

Godspeed,

IML

b/r


Edited by ballast_regime (log)

"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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The key to my comments was the poor boy statement. Flagstaff is way better on the cheap for veggies like myself.

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Altar-ego:

I worked three jobs when I lived in Phoenix so I could go out to high-end restaurants (both in town and out-of-town). If you haven't been to Pizzeria Bianco, go. A meal will cost you less than $20, and the pizza is to-die-for.

Btw, I know what it's like to be poor. I'm a student.

Much peace,

IML

b/r


"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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Is Tarbell's still good? I read good things about the place a few years ago.


=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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Ballast-regime: I think I must be in the overwhelming minority of people not impressed with Pizzeria Bianco. Of course, I only went once, and probably need a return trip to form a fair opinion. But I recall a long wait for pizza that was pretty good, but not "all that." We ordered two pizzas that had fairly strong flavors -- one had carmelized onions and mushrooms, I think -- and I hardly ate any, it was so heavy and cloying.

Again, I think I need another trip to see what I'm apparently missing. But frankly, I'd rather go to Classic Italian Pizza in Tempe. It's closer, and I've always liked the food there. (Although it's recently under new ownership and I don't know if the quality is the same.)

Mark: Personally, I like Tarbell's. I've only been there twice in the past couple of years, but both times, I really enjoyed my food and wine.

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mrs.inkling:

Chris Bianco's produce quality is second-to-none in Phoenix, and puts even Mary Elaine's to shame (and even many New York Times three-star restaurants). No other pizza joint can remotely compete. His anti-pasti are quite astounding despite their simplicity. I've eaten there 50 or 60 times, and I don't think I would ever describe his pizza as "heavy" or "cloying." His cremini mushrooms are outstanding, and remain the best I've ever had, period. Desserts are average, and waits can be long. Just go early and enjoy!

Much peace,

IML

b/r


"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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Ballast-regime: Sounds like perhaps my husband and I need to give Pizzeria Bianco's another try. We might have hit it on an off night.

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mrs.inkling:

There's no accounting for taste, so I'm not sure you'll enjoy it. If you do go, be sure to order the platter of roast vegetables as an anti-pasto.

Much peace,

IML

b/r


"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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On my last trip to Phoenix I tried Hapa. It fits your criteria, but I am a little reluctant to recommend it. It just wasn't as good as I wanted it to be (for the price and reputation).

Bruce

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