The Mercury's dunking wonder, Olympic gold medalist and LGBTQ+ trailblazer shares her favorite Phoenix spots for dining and adventure.
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If you’re ever in line at Little Miss BBQ and find your view of the brisket pictures blocked by someone in front of you who’s 6-foot-9, there's a good chance that it might be the unmistakable Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner ahead of you.
This city's food scene, as well as its close proximity to Sonoran Desert adventure, are Griner’s favorite aspects of Phoenix, and spending a day around town with the basketball star would, no doubt, be filled with some of the best local flavors and an adrenaline rush or two.
When family or friends come to visit and she wants to impress them, the native of Houston, Texas, starts the day with saucy short ribs.
“First, we’re gonna get some barbecue. We’re gonna go to Little Miss BBQ, which is probably the best barbecue in the Valley,” Griner says. “They sell out probably by like one o'clock, so I get there super early. I would get there at like 7:30 [a.m.] and get my little ticket so I could wait in line.”
Griner might not mind waiting in line at Little Miss BBQ, but when it comes to her basketball career, she's usually in front. The former Baylor University star is the only NCAA player to score 2,000 points and block 500 shots. After being drafted by the Phoenix Mercury as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 WNBA draft, she helped lead the team in 2014 to a league-best 29-5 record and its third championship.
Throughout her pro career in Phoenix, Griner’s a seven-time WNBA All-Star, a three-time Olympic gold medal winner with the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team — she's also has slammed down more than two dozen dunks. Despite her long list of accolades and records, Griner describes herself as “just a big kid” and stays grounded by being out in the Sonoran Desert.
“If I’m going to do some sightseeing with friends, I have a Jeep, and I love going off-road here,” Griner says. “I’ll take them to the Salt River and or I’ll go to Four Peaks. Four Peaks and Bulldog Canyon are probably my two favorite places for off-roading.” (For visitors who are sans Jeep, check out these guided tours or the best hikes in Phoenix.)
And then there’s dinner. “Probably later in the evening, we’d go to Hot N Juicy Crawfish,” Griner says. “I really love the crab there – the king crab is really, really good. Their catfish is good, too.”
“Oh, and I love NAMI,” Griner adds. “It’s a vegan place, next to Green [New American Vegetarian]. I’m not vegan, but I really like vegan desserts. If you [like] to splurge, be a little healthy with it. You have to go to NAMI on Seventh Street, close to downtown.” (Check out more vegan and vegetarian dining options in Phoenix.)
And what is she having? “Chocolate. I’ll order a whole chocolate cake or I’ll get the chocolate cupcakes,” she says. “I stopped this morning and got the team some cupcakes.”
As for late evening activities, Griner usually keeps things low-key and indulges her inner big kid by playing games at Oasis Café in Scottsdale. “It’s a really good hookah lounge. They’ve got good food and they’ve got games," she says. “I like a place that has games. I love playing games: card games, dominoes, Connect Four, Uno – the classic games.”
Charlie’s Phoenix, one of the oldest and largest gay bars, located in the Melrose District, is her go-to for drag shows. And more food. “They have really good tacos outside in the parking lot,” she says with a laugh.
Known for many measurements (size 17 men’s shoe, 6-foot-9 height, 7-foot-4 wingspan), Griner’s heart is as big as her stature and her basketball records. She gives back to the Phoenix community through such work as her annual “BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive” in partnership with Phoenix Rescue Mission, which collects more than 500 pairs of shoes to distribute to unsheltered people throughout the city.
In June 2020, she teamed up with Facebook Gaming to livestream games on her page to raise donations for the organization Hunger: Not Impossible (now Bento), which provided resources for nutritious meals for people during the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Griner has also been a champion of the LGBTQ+ community. She came out as a lesbian in 2013 during an interview with Sports Illustrated and talked about being bullied as a child for being different. When the one•n•ten center for LGBTQ+ youth was badly damaged in a 2017 fire, she donated $5,000 to the center and started an online campaign to raise additional funds. (The center, which has since relocated, is home to one of the city's two rainbow crosswalks.)
Additionally, she served as grand marshal for the 2014 Phoenix Pride Parade, one of Phoenix's many spring festivals that she says she enjoyed attending. “[T]he Pride Parade has always been dear to my heart,” she says. (The festival and parade have since moved to November, but Rainbows Festival will continue as the LGBTQ+ community's spring celebration).
As for the fall and winter months, Griner routinely leaves town to play basketball in Russia for the UMMC Ekaterinburg women’s basketball team, with which she’s won four EuroLeague Championships. “I’m overseas when it’s the best weather in Arizona. I always miss it,” Griner says.
But as much as she loves the food in Phoenix, Griner says the best thing about playing for the Mercury is how close everyone on the team is. Yes, that includes the GOAT Diana Taurasi, who has called Phoenix home since the Mercury selected her first overall in the 2004 WNBA draft.
“We all hang out, do different things together. That’s one of the biggest things, just how the organization takes care of us,” she says. “They treat us like family and they treat our family members really well. Here, it’s very family-oriented. Like right now, [Mercury point guard] Skylar [Diggins-Smith]’s son is on the court with his iPad. It’s just cute to be able to see that after you practice. It’s amazing.”
The Phoenix Mercury's family values extend into the atmosphere of its games at Footprint Center each season, too. The 2022 regular season schedule, which runs from May to August, promises to be an exciting one. And the fans, known locally as the X-Factor, are hoping to see Griner and teammates back in the WNBA Finals once again for a shot at the team's fourth championship title.
Header photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images. Courtesy of Phoenix Mercury.