Five Casual Arizona Eateries I’m Going to Miss and You’re Going to Love

Even though I’ll be moving to one of the great foodie cities of the world, I’ve always considered the dining options in the Phoenix area to be vastly underrated.  Not only can you find great Mexican food and steakhouses in the Valley of the Sun, there are endless restaurants featuring just about every cuisine you can imagine – from French to Ethiopian to Native American fusion, Phoenix has something for everyone.  For those who don’t want to spend big bucks on the fancier restaurants in town, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite casual eateries in the Valley.  I am going to miss these options once I leave – if you live in the Phoenix area or plan to visit some time soon, be sure to check these eateries out if you are looking for a good bite to eat and don’t want to break the bank!

Rancho de Tia Rosa
Type of food: Baja Mexican
Why I love it:  Before we get to the food, let me tell you about the property.  Dennis Sirrine, owner of Tia Rosa, was a general contractor by trade.  He and his wife purchased the property Tia sits on, and designed and built the property himself.  I love the design for not only its authentic Mexican flair, but the restaurant is brilliantly broken out into smaller sections so that you always feel like you are in an intimate space.  My favorite location to eat, weather-permitting, is their back patio – with heat lamps and misters, comfortable booth seating and beautifully-kept gardens, it is a relaxing place to hang out and enjoy the company you are with.

Tia Rosa’s menu has your typical gringo foods for those who fear a little adventure, but their specialty is seafood.  The only time I venture away from their seafood section is to have their delicious chicken mole.  You’ll find that the majority of their food isn’t overly heavy, and in some cases, not all that fattening, if you are watching what you eat.  They have an abundant selection of salads, soups, and many of their dishes won’t leave you feeling too guilty.  This makes you feel a little better about chowing down on their chips and salsa or sipping one of the best house margaritas in town.
My Go-To Dish:  I love their seafood tacos.  I typically get a grilled shrimp taco, which comes with pineapple salsa, lettuce and cheese, and a grilled salmon taco, which comes with mango salsa, lettuce and cheese.  Both are on soft, thin tacos and have a nice combination of savory and sweet.  When you’re loading up on chips and margaritas, this is a main dish that won’t send you into a coma.
For More Info, visit: http://www.ranchodetiarosa.com/

Essence Bakery Cafe
The type of food: French and Greek-inspired breakfast and lunch fare
Why I Love it: Tucked away in a little strip mall just a couple of blocks away from ASU, this is my go-to place for the rare times I go out to lunch at work.  Owner Eugenia Theodosopoulos is of Greek heritage and was trained at École Lenôtre in Paris.  Her foods are never heavy, and a lot of care and attention has been put into every dish.  Take, for example, her croissants.  She brought in a famed pastry chef with the rare M.O.F. designation to consider the temperature, humidity, and other factors in Arizona and come up with the perfect croissant under these conditions.  Biting into a chocolate-filled croissant at Essence is a little taste of heaven.
My Go-To Dish: While I love everything I’ve had on the menu – the Croque Madame, Croque Monsieur, a chicken salad sandwich with lemon and basil, spanakopita, there is one thing Essence is famous for in the valley: macarons.  No, not those gross coconut blobs your Aunt Trudy forces on you every Christmas, these are French macarons – delicate, merinque-like cookies filled with icing or jams.   Eugenia makes many wonderful pastries every day, yet when I’m in there, I cannot resist buying macarons.  It’s like an addiction – any time you see a new flavor, you have to try it.  So far, I can’t decide if my favorite is her espresso, hazelnut, lime, meyer lemon or raspberry rose macarons.  Or her rum filled? Or the mint chocolate?  See, they all are delicious, there’s no way to choose just one.  For those of you who want to try these confections but won’t be in town any time soon? They Deliver!
For more info, visit: http://www.essencebakery.com/

Four Peaks Brewery
The type of food: Mirco-brews and barfare
Why I Love it: Over the years, some very good brewery-restaurants have popped up throughout Arizona – San Tan Brewery in Chandler, Oak Creek Brewery up in Sedona…but there is one that is the Godfather of Arizona Breweries, and that is Four Peaks.  Four Peaks is the place you go to when you want to meet up with friends after work, have a couple of beers, and grab a bite of comfort food. Their fare is pretty standard for a pub – tasty burgers, pizza, and appetizers with the occasional dish incorporating one of their beers, but they shine with their famous brews.  No Phoenix-area resident with a love of beer goes for long without Four Peaks’ Kiltlifter (a red Scottish ale) in their fridge.  In addition to that, they have a wide selection of regular brews, from IPAs to Peach ale, to Hefeweizen and Oatmeal Stout to quench your palate.  Their seasonal beers are also quite good, with their Pumpkin Porter being so in demand they can’t keep up with production around this time of year, and wait to offer it in growlers.
My Go-To Dish: When I’m at Four Peaks, I don’t want to go too fancy – I’m relaxing with friends, after all!  I’ll just order a mushroom-swiss burger, and get a Snakebite to drink along with it.  What is a Snakebite? An interesting combination of two of their beers – you’ll have to order it and find out!
For more info, visit: http://www.fourpeaks.com/

Gelato Dolce Vita
The type of food: Gelato, coffee, cannoli and now Italian deli fare at their East Mesa location
Why I Love it: If you consider gelato to be that junk you get at the gelato spot, you’re in for a pleasant surprise – Italian husband and American wife-team Walter and Marti bring these authentic Italian treats to you daily, and I guarantee if you close your eyes as you let that hazelnut gelato melt in your mouth or sip on that cup of cappuccino, you just might  believe you’re in Florence.  They rotate out flavors often, but every gelato made is of the highest quality and use fresh ingredients.  I especially love the fresh, natural flavor of their fruit flavors.  I also appreciate when they roll out something a little weird, like their chile chocolate gelato, or a gorgonzola gelato.
My Go-To Dish: As much as we love their gelato, I crave their cannoli, cappuccino, and drinking chocolate.  If you are a chocolate lover and never had authentic drinking chocolate before, on a cold night, give them a visit, and if it’s available, be sure to give it a try.
For more info, visit: http://www.gelatodolcevita.com/

Flancer’s
The type of food: fancy pizza, sandwiches and pasta
Why I Love it: When you live in east Mesa, there aren’t many dining options outside of the Applebees and Olive Gardens of the world.  Thanks to Tia Rosa, Flancers, and Red, White & Brew, we at last have a few good alternatives.
Flancer’s is a nice small spot with a couple of televisions on ESPN and psychedelic concert posters adorning the walls.  The service is always friendly and the food is unique and delicious.  While their pasta is a bit of a weak point on the menu, their pizza and sandwiches are one-of-a-kind, using ingredients like prickly pear juice or green chiles to jazz up a simple dish.  They offer a lot of options for sides, allowing you to incorporate healthier options, if you so choose.
My Go-To Dish: As much as I love their pizzas and calzones, sandwiches are where it’s at.  My personal favorite is their Perfect Prickly Pear Chicken sandwich with green chile mayonnaise and a side of their crispy sweet potato fries.  When I’m not in the mood for regular bread, I’ll get it on a whole wheat tortilla.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my husband’s favorite on the menu, their We Must Meat, I Ain’t Lion sandwich, consisting of filet mignon, caramelized onions, gorgonzola and chipotle mayo.  It is a great combination of flavors and is sure to fill you up.
For more info, visit: http://www.flancers.com

Honorable Mention:
Red White and Brew – located in East Mesa, this is a great place to take the family (i.e., a large group of picky eaters).  In fact, it’s become our go-to place when we take out my in-laws and 10 year-old nephew.  From pizza to burgers to great fish entrees (their pecan salmon is my favorite), there is something for everyone here.  Don’t let the name fool you – while they have a respectable selection of wines and beer, the emphasis here is the food.  Web site: http://www.rwbaz.com/
Cornish Pasty Co. – I prefer the Gilbert location to the scary, claustrophobic flagship Tempe hole-in-the wall (which is a nightmare for lunch on a workday, quite frankly).  Bring your appetite, the calzone-like pasties are enormous and filled with potatoes, stuffing, meat, gravy, and just about everything you can think of.  You’ll love every last bite, but they are sure to send you into a food coma.  Be sure to check out their beer selection while you’re there, especially if you’re a fan of British imports.  Web site: http://www.cornishpastyco.com/
Dilly’s Deli – One of my favorite lunch spots in town.  Their bread for sandwiches is thick and perfectly toasted, they give you a ton of meat and toppings, and best of all, their bread bowl soups are out of this world.  I’ve heard all the soups are delicious, but after all this time I still haven’t been willing to move beyond their potato soup.  Web site: http://dillysdeli.com/

Arizona Restaurant Week Spring 2012 – My Recommendations

Arizona Restaurant Week Spring 2012 is almost upon us! As you know from my previous post on the matter, I am a huge fan of restaurant week.  Spring doesn’t have the same level of participation as the fall restaurant week, but there are still many excellent options to choose from.

If you are new to Restaurant Week, I’ll give you the 411: for one extended week in the spring and one extended week in the fall, some of Arizona’s best restaurants put together three-course price fixed menus ranging from $20-$40 per person, depending on the restaurant.  This is a way for them to show off their chefs’ mad skills and staff’s great service, and it is a great way for you to enjoy some of the finest restaurants in the Valley without breaking the bank!

Of course, not all restaurants are created equal; if you’ve been to a few restaurant weeks, you’ll find a few places present rather uninspired menus.  And of course, not everyone is a four-diamond restaurant – sometimes, you encounter service that can be a little disappointing for what you are paying.  But fear not! I looked over the list of participants and menus for next week’s ARW, and have compiled a list of five places where I don’t think you’ll go wrong.  I’ve been to all of these restaurants, and where noted, I’ll give you my personal recommendations.  If you try any of them, please come back and comment – I really want to hear what you think!

1. Different Pointe of View ($40 per person)
Notes: if you can only go to one place in the valley next week, go here.  This is a fabulous place to go on a date – their terrace has an incredible view of the valley at sunset, and you feel like you’re in a little desert getaway above the city.  I’ve actually seen wildlife hanging out near the terrace while eating my dinner.  The service is impeccable, and their sommelier may be the best in the Valley.  On to the menu [my notes are in brackets]:

First Course
- Choice Of -
Lobster Bisque [You want this one.]
Avocado & Shrimp Salad
Crispy Seared Pork Bellies

Second Course
- Choice Of -
Filet Mignon
Pan Seared Halibut
Diver Scallops
Chef’s Daily Risotto feature  [My recommendation - they make a great risotto here]

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Any dessert off our menu [this is a really cool thing for them to offer - most places offer a fairly simple, arguably boring dessert course for ARW, and they have a great pastry chef here.]

2. noca ($30 per person)
Noca is one of those places Open Table would say is “Fit for Foodies.” The location is in a strip mall, and the interior is more “bustling chic” (is that even a thing?) than romantic, but man oh man, is their food good.  If you are given the option of doing a wine pairing with your meals, I recommend it – the last time I did pairing recommendations here, they were spot on with every dish. I really liked their menu options for ARW, because: 1) You’re getting three great courses for $30, 2) The menu selections are unique and 3) They give you a bunch of extra deals if you want to add to your 3-course meal.

First Course
- Choice Of -
Gazpacho
Rock Shrimp, Avocado, Olive Oil
Spring Salad
Fava Bean Hummus, Pita Croutons, Cherry Tomatoes, Feta, Honey Tarragon Dressing
“Bacon & Egg”
Benton’s Bacon, Farm Egg, Stitt’s Grits, Red Pepper Sauce
Supplemental First Courses for the Table:
Burrata $14
Spring Vegetable Succotash, Grilled Scallion Pesto
Lou’s Balls $12
Pork & Beef Meatballs, Crispy Rice Cake, Creole Tomato Sauce

Second Course
- Choice Of -
Buckwheat Pappardelle
Four Peaks Oatmeal Stout Braised Beef Shortribs, Fontina Crema, Breadcrumbs [Shoutout to using a local brew to braise the beef!]
Anson Mills Rice Grit Risotto
English Peas, Mascarpone, Spring Onions, Grapefruit, Tarragon [This is what I’d get - it sounds kind of like something a mad scientist chef would come up with]
Atlantic Hake
Corn & Okra Macque Choux, Carrot Top Pesto [I recently had hake for the first time at Red, White and Brew of all places, and really loved the flavor of it]
Braised Berkshire Pork
Butterbean Casserole, Trinity, Natural Jus
Supplemental Entree:
Bone – In Ribeye ($18 supplement) $38
Vidalia Onion Fondue, Baby Carrots, Red Wine Jus
Sides for the Table ( $7 )
Creamed Calabrian Corn
Asparagus – Truffle Hollandaise
Mac & Cheese Fondue [I have no idea what this is, but I’m on it.]

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Flavors of Sacher
Milk & Dark Chocolate, Raspberry, Apricot
Strawberry
Sesame Shortbread, Mascarpone Sorbet, Farmer Mint

Additional Offering
3 Course Menu $30
4 Course Menu: add pasta or risotto as 2nd Course – $40
On Sunday May 20th, Monday May 21st, & Sunday May 27, when ordering the 4 Course Menu option, a glass of champagne will be included with the meal. [Consider this bullet point when making a reservation, my friends.]

3. Eddie’s House $30
This is one of the friendliest restaurants in Old Town – just outside of the main drag, you walk into Eddie’s House, and everything feels cozy even though it is really loud and happening.  The food is great, but I do have two “warnings” about Eddie’s – one of the times I went, my super-friendly server was really, really confused with drink orders and was a little slow in bringing us our cocktails.  That said, they have a fantastic cocktail menu – I’m a fan of their champagne cocktails.  My other reservation is in regards to their desserts, and this is just a personal preference of mine: although unique, none of their desserts seemed to really fit their definition.  For example, their pot de creme was not a pot de creme at all.  The selections below seem to be a bit more mainstream, so for ARW, this may be fine.

First Course
- Choice Of -
Ahi Tuna Tartar Nacho, Arizona Corn & Cilantro
Mediterranean Quesadilla, Grilled Steak, Charred Peppers & Onions, Harissa Sour Cream
Mini Sonoran Chicken Cobb Salad, Corn, Bacon, Garlic Confite, Fried Egg, Avocado

Second Course
- Choice Of -
What’s With the Braised Beef Short Rib? [I think their beef dishes are their best offerings - this is probably very good]
Pan Seared Corvina Bass, Black Bean Pineapple Risotto, topped with Fire Roasted Tomatillo Shrimp
“Down Home Dinner” Grilled Honey-Spiced Drumsticks, with a skillet of Prosciutto Mac ‘n” Cheese [I recommend this - their Prosciutto Mac n Cheese is pretty awesome]

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Tres Leche Cake with Peach Carmel Glaze
Peanut Butter Cheesecake, Oreo Crust
Warm Peach Cobbler a la Mode

4. The Greene House ($40 per person)
It’s been a while since I’ve been up to The Greene House, but their food is great.  Located in Kierland Commons, it’s a loud and happening place, but again, the food is excellent, and the cocktails are pretty amazing. I really liked the look of their ARW menu – lots of options, and it’s unlike most of the other selections I saw on other menus:

First Course
- Choice Of -
Chicken Tortilla Soup- Avocado, Pico de Gallo, Queso Blanco
Arugula Salad- Pickled Peppers, Olives, Local Tomatoes & Manchego
CheeseHerb Hummus- Grilled Flatbread, Tomato, Onion & Feta
The Greene House Salad- Green Vegetables, Arugula, Green Goddess Dressing, Pistachios, Parmesan
Tempura Calamari- Seasonal Vegetables, Red Chili Shoyu

Second Course
- Choice Of -
Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin- Horseradish Potato, Mushrooms & Asparagus
Crispy Half Chicken- Creamed Corn, Green Beans & Tomato Jam
Sea Scallops- Caramelized Cauliflower, Snap Peas & Bacon [This is my recommendation: I am very particular about sea scallops.  Every time I’ve ordered them here, they are excellent - they have that buttery melt-in-your mouth flavor and texture that few places can get right]
Atlantic Salmon- Beets, Fingerling Potatoes, Horseradish Vinaigrette & Sherry Jus
Filet of Beef- Stir Fry Vegetables, Togarashi Spiced Fingerlings, Miso Butter

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Spike’s Chocolate Bars of Sin
Pineapple Rum Cake Vanilla Bean Gelato [Yes, please]
Ever Changing Sorbet
Warm Cinnamon & Sugar Donut Vanilla Bean Custard

5. Cowboy Ciao ($30 per person)
Great service, great menu, an extensive wine list thanks to their sister restaurant/wine bar Kazimierz, which is located just around the corner.  I chose this one because the dishes sounded really exciting, and the menu is only $30 per person.  You can’t beat that for what you are getting.

First Course
- Choice Of -
Daily Bowl
Testosterone Salad
Grilled Black Tiger Shrimp
Stetson Chopped Salad

Second Course
- Choice Of -
Duck Confit Enchiladas
Exotic Mushroom Pan Fry [even though I would choose the enchiladas, if this is your first time at Cowboy Ciao and you can live without meat in your main dish, I highly recommend this staple dish of theirs]
Grilled Scallops & Squash
Wild Boar Meatballs

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Cowboy Ciao Original 1997 Bread Pudding
NV Martinez tawny port or ’02 Meroi picolit, Friuli, Italy [love that they offer a port as a dessert option...]

I have a couple of honorable mentions:  the following restaurants are not included on my list because you need to experience them in a non price-fixed setting:

Roka Akor, Binkley’s, Tapas Papa Frita, Ocean Prime

I absolutely love these four restaurants, but for three of them, you need to experience their full menu and presentation.  In the case of Ocean Prime, it’s not their presentation that leaves them off the main list, it’s that you must try things on the menu they don’t offer on their ARW menu – crab legs from the raw bar, their NY Strip and their Sea Bass are some of the best-prepared dishes I’ve had in the valley.

There are two restaurants I love but didn’t include because they don’t have a menu posted on the ARW site.  I am pretty certain whatever they offer is going to be great, and will likely in the $40 range.  Similar to the above restaurants, it’s worth it to splurge and check them out on a non-ARW week.  They both have Chef’s Tasting menus that are the bees knees:

Cork
Quiessence

Are there any restaurants you are looking forward to? Have you tried any restaurants you’d like to report on?  Please comment below!

Arizona Restaurant Week runs from May 19th through May 27th.  Please visit the official web site at http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/ for a full listing of participating restaurants, menus and information on reservations.

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net