When I moved to Phoenix 25 years ago, the city was not known for its dining scene.
Back then, innovative dining was mostly confined to Western-themed steakhouses—and the innovation itself often had little or nothing to do with the food. One such steakhouse rendered a family dining experience I’ll never forget. Tucked in the far reaches of the city, out in the open desert (to give it an air of authenticity, I suppose), was a steakhouse where I vividly recall watching the hostess snip off my father’s necktie with a pair of scissors.
I’m not sure neckties were actually a fashion faux pas in the Wild West, but in restaurants themed after the Wild West, they apparently were.
While prickly-pear jam and fried rattlesnake (both of which can be quite delicious) can still be had in Phoenix, the cowboy joints that serve them have given way to sophisticated modern eateries run by chefs determined to season the city with bold, new flavors. Nowhere else is this culinary metamorphosis more apparent than the stretch between downtown and uptown Phoenix. This Central Corridor is dotted with diverse and innovative eateries that trade in everything from farm-to-table care to elevated international cuisine.
The city’s restaurant renaissance is rooted in downtown Phoenix. Case in point: Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails at the Hotel Palomar at CityScape. This gastro lounge exudes the same modernly hip vibe as its hotel home, but with a more down-home feel. Here it’s all about comforting seasonal fare created by executive chef Sean Currid, paired with cocktails created by celebrated mixologist Stephanie Teslar.
Also making its mark on downtown’s food scene is Short Leash Hot Dogs, the food truck-cum-hot dog eatery. Buoyed by the Short Leash food truck’s dedicated following, owners Brad and Kat Moore took the plunge last year and opened a brick-and-mortar location, cleverly christened “Sit…Stay”. Now hot dog lovers can “sit and stay” for hot dogs such as the Bear—made with peanut butter, smoked gouda, bacon, barbecue sauce and Cracker Jacks (yes, Cracker Jacks).
Head uptown and you’ll find inked-up young chefs who aren’t afraid to buck convention. Don’t let the tattoos fool you; these guys mean business.
At the Clever Koi, co-owners Jared Porter, Joe Absolor, Joshua James and Nick Campisano serve dishes that unapologetically push the boundaries of traditional Asian cuisine. There’s the slurp-worthy ramen bowls filled to the brim with savory goodness; decidedly unconventional dumplings; satisfying, hearty rice bowls; and those steamed buns? Two words: Pillowy goodness.
Don’t leave without a cocktail or two (or three if you’re feeling adventurous). From the Sloe Burn to the Rum & Rye Old Fashion, you’re sure to cure whatever ails you.
Uptown is also home to Upward Projects, an innovative restaurant group whose mission is to inject the Phoenix dining scene not only with great restaurants, but ones that are housed in adaptively reused buildings. Think savings and loan turned gourmet-pizza spot. Or mid-century strip mall turned open-air restaurant and ice cream parlor. Federal Pizza, The Windsor and Churn are examples of how restaurateurs are elevating not only the dining scene but the city’s urban profile.
Chalk it up to Phoenix’s improved mobility (thank you, light rail), bringing the city’s old buildings back to their former glory, or the migration of new residents who now call downtown home. Whatever the reason, Phoenix is booming and has the culinary chops to prove it.
About the author: Michelle Jacoby
Michelle Jacoby is the founder and editor-in-chief of Bite, an online magazine about eating, drinking and wandering in Arizona. Before entering the world of food-centric publishing she spent 13 years as a writer and editor at The Arizona Republic. She attended Arizona State University and has lived in the Phoenix area for 25 years.
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