Six years ago, in August 2005, I made the choice to move away from home and head to Arizona to attend college. I lived in the Phoenix area for six years before moving back east in April. Arizona was a second home to me for so long that being away has been a huge adjustment. I am no longer able to see some of my best friends or hang out at the same places. The beautiful west coast sun setting over the mountains is no longer in view. I can no longer just pick up and leave for a weekend trip to Vegas or Los Angeles whenever I feel like getting away and I especially can no longer eat at all of my favorite food spots that I enjoyed for the past six years. These are just a few things that I may never get used to. I have lived back home for a mere 6 months now and I already made a trip back to Arizona; the planning of a second trip is quickly underway.
In a young city like Phoenix, where everything is built for convenience, it is hard to find good places to eat. Mom and Pop shops are hard to come by. Corporate commercialism definitely takes a front seat to family owned and operated businesses. Every large intersection holds home to a Wendy’s, Subway, Carl’s Jr., In-n-Out, Sonic, you name it and it’s there. Being from New York, the immense variety of fast food in Arizona is one difference I noticed immediately upon moving. Needless to say, six years were necessary to weed out the mediocre and find the gems. Having friends that were from Arizona also helped and in taking their suggestions, I found some seriously great places to eat.
First, I must start with my absolute favorite place in Arizona. Pete’s Fish & Chips is by far the place I have taken the strongest liking towards. This is the type of place I would have never gone to if it weren’t for a close friend’s recommendation. They have seven locations across the valley. The location I was always familiar with was close to the Arizona State campus in a gritty, seedy little neighborhood. It always looked so sketchy, I never thought the food would be such a delight. Pete’s Fish & Chips or simply Pete’s, as locals have come to call it, is a family owned and operated business that has been serving fresh, fast, reasonably priced food since 1947. For over 60 years they are obviously doing something right. My first time eating there I kept it simple and ordered chicken fingers and fries because I was reluctant to order fish from the desert. I know, it is totally unlike me but I entered the world of Pete’s slowly and hesitantly. That day I tasted a bite of my buddy’s fried shrimp and it was all over from there. I don’t know what they do or how they do it, but this shrimp is literally addicting. I honestly could not even explain to you how good it is, it is just something you must try for yourself. The topper though is definitely Pete’s special sauce. I have a friend who once worked at Pete’s and he gave me the gist of their secret recipe, which by the way I feel honored to even sort of know. It is basically a mix of ketchup, tabasco, chili flake and a touch of vinegar. Pete’s sauce is ridiculously tasty and versatile. Forget Frank’s Red Hot, you would put this sh*t on everything. I have tasted several other items from Pete’s menu, although it is really difficult for me to sway from those delicious golden little shrimp. The chicken sandwich is made with all white meat chicken and it may be the best chicken sandwich I have ever had. It is simply a chicken breast coated in bread crumbs; none of that processed garbage so often found these days. Pete’s corn dog is by far the best corn dog I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. The outer dough is so soft and fluffy with a perfect dough to dog ratio. Basically, I am a Pete’s Fish & Chips aficionado. I find myself having legitimate dreams of eating at Pete’s and waking up only to feel disappointment and utter sadness. I look forward to my next trip to Arizona because Pete’s is always my first stop directly from the airport.
Photos taken from petesfishandchips.com
My next greatest love is for a place I know simply as Oasis. Well actually, until recently, I just referred to it as the Mexican ice cream place, but then I learned it is called Oasis. It is a Mexican ice cream and snack shop. They specialize in raspados, shaved ice with flavored syrup; basically, a glorified snow cone. They have a counter with an assortment of fruits in their own syrup and you can create your own snow cone. There is also an option to make a raspado with ice cream. I always order a shaved ice with a scoop of vanilla topped with mango and pineapple. The shaved ice adds a great textural component while the ice cream gives it a smooth and creamy viscosity. I think the best part of it may be that they serve it with a straw as well as a spoon so you can drink up all the yummy goodness at the bottom of the cup.
Next stop, breakfast in the Southwest. Over the years, I have come to adore the flavors of Mexican chorizo. Mexican chorizo with eggs, potatoes and beans is not only my favorite meal for breakfast, it is something I love to eat at any time of the day. Serve it with a fresh flour tortilla and I am in heaven. Serve it to me after a night of drinking and I am in a food coma. Most places serve this with scrambled eggs, but when I make it for myself at home, I prefer my eggs sunny side up. The richness of the runny yolk pairs perfectly with the spicy, meaty chorizo. This meal is so hearty and inexpensive to make that it is now a staple in my kitchen. The place that was recommended to me for huevos con chorizo is called Los Dos Amigos, located on 27th Ave., just south of McDowell. It is owned and operated by an adorable woman and her husband. The woman takes all the food orders, cooks the food and then brings it out to your table. The food was fresh, fast, delicious and made with love.
It is so Arizona of them to have bars on the doors…as if someone can’t
just shoot through the windows.
I know the food in the photograph does not look very
beautiful, but it does taste beautiful.
Driving near downtown Phoenix, I always saw this shady little building called Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe but it never looked like it was open. One day I happened to be watching a Food Network show where chefs take you to their favorite places to eat and there it was, the questionable little cafe on the side of the road. Mrs. White’s has been an Arizona landmark since 1964 but in this case the people are wrong, very wrong. Upon arriving, I decided to take a seat at the counter instead of a table. It took what seemed like forever for my order to be taken and when I finally did order, they did not have the macaroni and cheese I wanted as a side. In the world of fried chicken, it is a sin to not have macaroni and cheese available as an accompaniment at all times. I had to settle for the rice with gravy and green beans as my sides. Ok so that was my second disappointment, first waiting to place my order and second, no macaroni and cheese. So now my order is placed, but wait….no flour?! Yes, the kitchen ran out of flour. This just amazes me because I am at a place that is known for their fried chicken so how on earth do they run out of flour? I had to wait until someone ran to the store and returned with the flour until I was served my meal. When my food was presented before me I dove right in. I was so hungry after waiting a year and a day for my plate. The rice and gravy was disgusting. It had no flavor and it was cold. The green beans were actually fairly decent, but also not hot. The cornbread they served, after I had to ask for it several times, tasted stale and old. The chicken was comparable to chicken you would find at KFC. My fried chicken blows Mrs. White’s out of the water, but then again, I do make a mean fried chicken. This place is a mess. Completely disorganized and lacking. The service was horrible. The staff was walking around talking, laughing, yelling, acting like there were no customers there at all. When it came time to pay, the manager just punched some random numbers into a calculator and that was my total, not the pricing the menu listed. The coolest thing about this place is the picture on display of the late rapper Tupac Shakur eating there. I would never go back to Mrs. White’s Golden Rule, and that is a bold statement.
There they are again, those infamous barred windows.
Last, but not least, pizza! Arizona is definitely not known for pizza, but when a New Yorker moves to Phoenix and sets up shop, good things happen. Pizzeria Bianco was opened by Chris Bianco in 1994 and has earned rave reviews ever since. This is a tiny establishment in downtown Phoenix so there is usually always a wait, a long wait. I have only had the pleasure of eating at Pizzeria Bianco twice. The first time I ate there, I waited 4 hours to be seated. Luckily, there is a little joint next door that collaborates with Bianco and offers small plates and wine to occupy you during your wait. On my second visit, I must have been very lucky because I only waited ten minutes before being seated at the bar. Pizzeria Bianco is a one-of-a-kind place in Phoenix. Everything is so fresh. The herbs used on the menu are grown in the backyard of the restaurant and all other ingredients come from local farms. Even the mozzarella is handmade. The pizza is cooked in a brick oven and Chris Bianco or his brother are always there making the pizza themselves to ensure great quality every time. The menu is small and simple, but nothing short of delicious. I hear they filter their water to get the same crust that makes New York pizza so famous and it works because their crust is perfection; just the right amount of char, crunch and chew. I ordered an appetizer of warm Italian fontina cheese wrapped in proscuitto di parma. It was served on a bed of the best arugula I have ever tasted in my life. The arugula was so tender and fresh. I ordered the margherita pizza and my favorite, the Biancoverde, a mix of fresh mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano and ricotta topped with fresh arugula. There are no secrets when it comes to Pizzeria Bianco. Everything is so straightforward and fresh. It just may be the best pizza I have ever had.
There is good food everywhere, sometimes you just need the patience to find it.
It took me a long time to find these places. There are more spots I have come to adore in Arizona
like my favorite Mexican spot, my favorite Chinese and my favorite Italian deli.
Those will be featured after my next trip to Arizona
which will be soon, but never soon enough.
♥ ♥ ♥
X R I S T I N A M A R I E
The Refined Palate