Monday, February 10, 2014

Where to Eat in Central / North Central Phoenix

An Embarrassment of Riches

Updated 3-2016

Southern Rail
Located at The Newton (300 West Camelback) this is the newest restaurant venture by Justin Beckett (Beckett's Table). Built in the old BeefEater's, this restaurant cooks up a modern interpretation of Southern cooking and is truly a joy. I've tried the Sunday brunch (fried green tomato benedict, amazing bourbon caramel banana french toast and beignets, lunch offerings: roast beef po-boy), and dinners (had an amazing chantrelle covered ribeye last night and the Wednesday special is fried chicken). There is a open and lovely dining room, a great selection of AZ wines and lots of outdoor seating. Too crowded at The Yard or at the Postino's? Then head to the Southern Rail (at least until it too gets "found").  ($35/PP) Check it out here. 

Updated 9-2014

Tacos Atoyac 
Some good news for awesome taco fans. The Co-Owner's of Tacos Atoyac at 19th Avenue and Glendale have reopened this little treasure. It is just as great as ever. Clean, safe and a total bargain, don't let its gritty exterior scare you off. ($8-10/PP)

Mucho Macho Tacos
Similarly the other former co-owner of Atoyac (Dan Maldenado) has opened Mucho Macho Tacos at 7th Avenue and Missouri. It is wonderful and a total bargain.  ($8-10/PP)

Taco Guild
A former church, amazingly creative tacos (peking duck!) and terrific happy hours all spell a smash hit for The Taco Guild at Osborn and 7th St. Go for lunch or at off hours and this place is already stunningly crowded at dinnertime. ($14/PP)

Down at the corner of McDowell and 7th Avenue is Vovomeena. I can truly say my recent Portuguese inspired brunch there included the best pork chop (smoked and oh-so tender) I have ever consumed. Just go there! ($12/PP) 

La Piñata
Well its official La Piñata's decision to move into the old Mary Coyle ice cream shop was a good one. Ever since its opening it has been very crowded. Most of the much loved menu items came with them from the old locale.

Mary Coyle's
And while we're at it Mary Coyle's has reopened for ice cream only (no food) in a modest new shop on Seventh Street just south of Bethany Home. Some great high butterfat homemade goodness (and lots of sundae's to choose from). Glad to ahve them open again.     

Original Post.....
When Roadboy moved to Phoenix 20 years ago, the restaurant scene in downtown, midtown and uptown (north central) was something worse than grim. Sure there were the old favorites like Durants, Pizzaria Bianco, Lon's at the Hermosa and Coupe de Tarts. And over the years some really creative upstarts like Corbins, Such is Life! and Convivo appeared (now sadly just memories).

Despite a perfect restaurant demographic our neighborhood just went on year-in and year-out ignored as new restaurants all went to Scottsdale and followed every new subdivision going up in the burbs. 

We were so desperate we all cheered when an Applebee's and a Boston Market opened. 

Yeah, it really was that bad!

Other than our venerable (and always perfectly consistent) Phoenix City Grille, TexAz and Richardson's there was just nothing much to be treasured in Central / North Central. 

Then things got worse. 

We finally saw some new restaurants going up at 16th St.and Glendale. And just as they were finishing up our brand new Luci's Healthy Market a fire in the kitchen at Richardsons of New Mexico nearly destroyed it. About that same time the wonderful "My Florist" cafe and adjoining Willow Bakery closed. By 2008 the central Phoenix restaurant scene seemed to have hit rock bottom. 

Fast forward to 2014.

In the past five years the proliferation of wonderful new (mostly) one-of-a-kind or few-of-a-kind limited-edition restaurants in Central / North Central Phoenix has been nothing short of dazzling. AND judging by the long waits at all of these new restaurants, we were ready for them!

Here is a list of some of your best choices organized by neighborhood. I did not go as far as downtown as it is a class of its own with wonderful choices like Hanny's and the Arrogant Butcher etc. 

My list starts at Midtown and blooms from there.

You can click on the restaurant title to go to the restaurant's website for the address and hours. Pricing is a loose suggestion for entree and non-alcoholic beverages.

Central Avenue Below Camelback

Neo Asian + Martini Bar. This restaurant defies getting dropped in any simple little category. You will either love it or hate it. The menu here starts with a huge selection of Asian tapas (truffle edamame and Asian 5-Spice quail), then moves on into soups salads and entrees all focused on the sauce selected. I found the food to be pretty wonderful. But to enjoy the food you have to endure the Zsa Zsa interior and relentless techno music (think "W" hotel). But then again Roadboy is an old git. ($30/PP)  

Arizona's amazing rustic sandwich house. I can't believe it is now almost 10 years old. A creation by wunderkind Chris Bianco. So Good! They feature just a few offerings each day.  Many feature his homemade mozzarella. This place is casual. There is limited indoor seating plus huge wooden "meet new friends" tables out front. Pane Bianco is right next door to LUX and it is just as easy to miss. Don't ($12/PP)

There are so few perfect independent coffee houses in any city. Places where people linger for hours over great coffee, pastry and weekend brunch. This is a place where barrista's pull the foam on every rich handcrafted latte. In Phoenix we are blessed with Copper Star, Urban Beans, Royal, Jobot, Grinder's and Giant Coffee. But Lux is the place I keep returning to. Open till midnight through the week and (thoughtfully) till 2:00 AM on Friday and Saturday.

A perennial favorite that does everything great. Here you find Lamb on the menu along with burgers, wonderful sandwiches and apricot and pomegranate salmon. Open late and serving brunch on weekends. ($25 / PP). Note its new location south near Margaret Hance Park.

Located right next door to Phoenix's powerbroker home for steaks Durants is funky and totally casual Switch. Switch has a nice outdoor patio and serves up everything from onion rings and amazing sandwiches to lobster and seafood crepes. Open late and serving brunch on weekends.

I've still not been to try Clever Koi on Central, but it is very ncie to look at.  
Gadzooks Enchiladas and the Taco Guild on 7th Street at Osborn are both really great

Also, don't forget to support the old stand-by's (the always wonderful Barrio Cafe, Coronado Cafe etc.)  

Uptown (Central at Cameback)

This is a perfect inside out restaurant. Wendell Burnette created an entirely new space from this 1955 office building.  Many exterior walls simply disappear turning the cafe into the perfect place to be on any warm Arizona evening. The chef uses fresh local ingredients and focuses on rustic breads and pizzas from the wood fired oven.  ($25/PP)

Carole Meyer has perfected making toasted sandwiches where all of the delicious fillings are sealed inside a little bread home. And her kale salad is so delicious! This unpretentious little restaurant serves up sandwiches by the number. And they are guaranteed to please everyone. ($10/PP). Note her new location in Uptown Plaza next to The Flower Child.   

Just up Central from Cameback is the epicenter of Upward Projects amazing cluster of wildly successful new restaurants. They first "tested the water" by opening a second outlet of Arcadia's fabulously successful Postino wine cafe. Our Uptown Postino was created from the old Katz Deli and it features indoor / outdoor seating, great food and, of course, great wine. Very reasonable fare with bruschetta, cheese boards and paninis. (Allow $25/PP)

The second restaurant was the family pleaser Windsor. This restaurant is named after the adjoining history rich Windsor Square neighborhood. It was re-purposed from an old shopping strip into the Windsor cafe and its companion Churn ice cream. Comfort food all the way here. With Buttermilk Fried Chicken on Monday and Tuesday and a full menu of burgers, sandwiches ribs and salmon all week long. Next door at Churn enjoy home made style ice cream and nostalgia candy.  ($30/PP)

The third home run in the Upward Projects playbook is Federal Pizza. This is the trifecta of cool. It is housed in a genuine Al Beadle Building (A building I am very familiar with in that about 15 years ago my partners and I tried to buy it hoping to renovate it into our current architectural offices. It all worked out, and, In retrospect, I am glad that Upward got it! ($20/PP)

Just when we thought they were done, Upward delivered the second Joyride Taco House. I'll post a review soon (as of yet I have not tried it).

Just a few blocks west on 7th Ave at Missouri is arguably the best sushi restaurant in Phoenix. Despite its quality (they tell you where their fish is sourced) this restaurant is totally unpretentious. It is also BYOB yet charges $0 corkage fee! Got to love that. Expect a wait. ($30/PP)

7Th Street from Missouri to Glendale
This little corner has just blossomed with great restaurants. There are the old standby's Pizza Heaven, Ticoz Restobar and the venerable Scott's Deli. And then there are the amazing newcomers at The Yard.

The Yard is built in an old neighborhood car repair shop. The garage featured a huge covered outdoor staging area for the class rides that used to be repaired there. Later it was the Dealership for Ducati Motorcycles. Now that canopy provides share for all sorts of outdoor games. Ping pong, shuffle board etc. Totally family friendly. It also houses two great restaurants: Culinary Dropout, Barrio Urbano and Little Cleo's. Culinary Dropout offers modern takes on all sorts of comfort food. Little Cleo's offers New Orleans inspired seafood. PoBoys anyone? The most recent addition to The Yard is Barrio Urbano (the newest restaurant by Sylvana Salcido Esparza whose award laden Barrio Cafe has always offered creative, serious and gutsy Mexican cuisine. The Yard is part of Sam Fox's chain of restaurants that include North, Sauce, Olive and Ivy, Gallo Blanco Tacos, True Food, and, most recently "The Henry". You can't go wrong at any restaurant that is part of this chain. 

This place is easy to miss residing in an anonymous little strip mall just north of the auto parts store at Bethany Home Rd. on 7th Street. But for those that take the time to find it, a unique brunch, lunch or dinner awaits. You'll know it too as soon as the first whiff of rich aromatic wood smoke hits your nostrils as soon as you enter. Then you look at the menu and see local vegetables showcased. There is a Paella Mexicana the amazing Inca Salad with dried cranberries, quinoa, pepitas and yulu seeds. The Naco Torta is filled with grilled rib eye, two fried eggs and aji aoli. Oh, so perfect for a Sunday brunch. 

Hardly new, this is a consistently excellent, locally owned, Italian restaurant. After 20 plus years it still serves flawless service and perfect dinners every night. 

Sierra Bonita Cafe
I believe this restaurant was originally created by the folks from Phoenix City Grille (note the family lineage includes that wonderful buttermilk pie on the desert menu). With new owners  it is just as good as ever. Don't let its apparent tiny size fool you, there is a lot of great food and drink waiting for you shoehorned on an impossibly small site just south of Glendale Avenue. Just pull in, let the valet take care of your car, then sit down to some green chile posole, fish tacos or chocolate and espresso rubbed pork tenderloin. Nice patio seating too.

16th St and Bethany Home
This corner sat almost totally devoid of life for almost a decade after the Bashas store closed. Then a thief murdered the beloved proprietor of the legacy Schmidt Jewelry store. Meanwhile the TexAZ Cafe kept selling its chicken fried steaks and Phoenix City Grille just kept being wonderful.

Finally a Starbucks moved in and quickly became one of the top grossing units in AZ. People woke up. This gave the confidence in 2008 for Luci's Healthy Market (which within weeks of opening was destroyed in the Richardson's fire). Luckily Luci's rebuilt. Then came The Vig. And on and on it went.

By 2014 something of a miracle has transformed this corner. So much so that the businesses on all 4 corners are complaining about the lack of parking. Of course in my mind the best possible problem to have in this market is a full house and an overcrowded parking lot!

What happens when you renovate a landmark mid-century bank,convert its drive-thru banking lane into a bocce ball court and add a great bar and grille? ($25/PP)

Luci's Healthy Marketplace and Cafe
75% healthy food market. 25% cafe and coffee bar. Here you'll enjoy great food an extensive gluten-free menu all presented in a totally unpretentious atmosphere. 

You could drive by The Garage every day and easily miss this little gem. Take the time to find it. They have a menu that I just love. I mean Deviled Eggs finished with truffle oil and apple cider bacon! Then you move on to flatbreads, burgers, and entrees that include steaks and chops. It is open late and offers weekend brunches with $5  ($25/PP).

Tucked between Luci's healthy food market and Koller Hardware is Dick's Hideaway.  Here the owner's chile policy is your order it, you own it. They are serious about New Mexico Cuisine. And that means the food can go nuclear. It also means it can be wonderful. ($25/PP)

This corner also features one of the Z Tejas chain and a rather awful noisy and awful sports bar that I'll leave nameless in hopes that it disappears.

Venture up 16th street just a few blocks and you'll find the new home of Richardsons of New Mexico and The Rokerij. 

All new again but with all the character of the original and the same great food. And, thanks to Phoenix's firm anti-smoking law, I can now actually enjoy it (the owner was always defiant declaring his old restaurant to be 100% smoking). ($30/PP)

This is what happens when the Richardson team renovates a basement into a fine dining room and kicks its cuisine up a notch. It is excellent. This one works for special occasions. ($45/PP)  

19th Ave. and Bethany Home
19th Avenue from Bethany Home North to Dunlap houses my favorite taco shop (Tacos Atoyac), my favorite Chinese restaurant, my favorite Vietnamese restaurant and one by one they were bought out for light rail construction or just simply didn't make it. But there is one exception that just keeps on trucking

The Original Wineburger
This is the best burger joint in Phoenix. Forget the rest. The Original Wineburger has been serving up joy using 100% Angus beef since 1965. Brave the light rail construction. Go hungry and add a basket of their beer batter fries and maybe a lemon shandy on tap. I had to crack up, the windows still have an ad for Hamm's Beer. I don't think I've seen a Hamm's beer in the west since its San Francisco brewery closed in the 70's.....

North Mountain
For some reason the North Mountain sunnyslope area rarely gets the recognition it deserves. It has three restaurants you should know about.

Corbins bar and grille has it all. This community spirited restaurant offers a great menu, the freshest ingredients, a full bar, an owner who's constantly checking on everything, weekend specials, sunday brunch and a wonderful patio.  This is the restaurant you'll want to return to time and time again. ($25/PP)  
Update 5-2014
Corbin's closed suddenly. Sad to lose one of  Sunnyslope's "Points of Pride". The good news is that Corbin's is being reworked into a new restaurant concept form the folks who owne/run The Vig. Stay Tuned

So hard to find and so worth finding. Quite simply the perfect restaurant for that quiet special lunch or dinner. This restaurant housed in an old fire station was formerly the wonderful Bombero's wine bar. With the new owners it has a superb wood fired oven but lost the espresso machine ;-( This restaurant is frequently empty at lunch and jammed for happy hour. When the weather permits its fantastic outdoor courtyard is hard to beat. Amazing breakfast flatbreads for brunch ($20/PP)

For two decades this has been my families favorite neighborhood Mexican cafe. Simple and unpretentious. This family owned restaurant has a great menu with Navajo tacos, green chile and cheese tamales and wonderful hot sopapilla's for desert. When you enter just seat yourself. But beware it gets crowded on friday nights and (again being family centered) it closes early 8 PM during the week and 9 PM on Friday and Saturday. They also close on Sundays and some national holidays. If you are just changing planes here El Bravo operates an outlet in Sky Harbor (recognized by CNN as one of the "Top 20 Best Eats" at America's busiest airports!) ($12/PP)

A locally owned Greek restaurant in an old Pizza Hut serving wonderful, healthy, Mediterranean fare with love and OPA for five decades!  

Camelback East
This area is slowly filling with chain restaurants. But one independent cafe stands out.....

Cherryblossom is always a perfect eclectic slamdance. They offer bakery goods plus Japanese and Italian cuisine. Yakisoba with your Bolognese? It all seems to work just fine and taste great. It is a bargain and comes with long waits on Friday and Saturday nights. ($25/PP) 

Come enjoy Phoenix. And come hungry!

Roadboy's Travels © 2016