Phoenix by Food: Other Tasty Eats

Not only did I eat delicious tasty tacos while I was in Phoenix, but I ate other really great food throughout the rest of the week also. Having traveled previously with me, my friend, Stacey, is now used to the fact that I take multiple pictures of my food and the restaurant around us. It’s standard procedure when our food arrives for me to whip out the camera for a few shots. She’ll even ask, “Can I eat it yet?” Bless her heart having to wait on my documenting my tasty eats for posterity. She is so patient with my hobby. 🙂  Somehow we always manage to find ourselves in places with abundant personality, which is a delight for us both. My two suggestions for you in picking places to eat when traveling are: 1. ask the locals where to go and 2. pick a “top” place to go. This has worked out well for us every time.

Our “top” place for Phoenix was Pizzeria Bianco. We decided to eat here because it was on a list of Top 101 Restaurants in America and my friend in Phoenix suggested we make it a priority also. Saturday night we arrived and set out in search of the pizzeria. It is not exactly difficult to find if you know what you are looking for, but they don’t have bright neon signs out front with a mamajama parking lot either. It’s quite the tiny establishment, really. When we walked up, there were people sitting around outside, and I assumed they were eating. Inside, the restaurant was packed, and the hostess said to us without blinking an eye that our wait would be about two hours. *cricket, cricket* Come again? Stacey said, “Even for outside?” Well, don’tcha know? Nobody outside was eating! Funny how you just see things when you don’t really look. So here’s the scoop at Pizzeria Bianco.

There are nine seats at the bar and about ten tables, give or take any that might be pushed together. When you arrive, they put your name on the list, give you a time estimate for when you will be seated, and promise to feed you even if your estimated time is after the restaurant officially closed. Next door to the restaurant is Bar Bianco where you can go for some vino or other beverages while you wait. There isn’t really any food offered at Bar Bianco, so don’t plan on snacking while you wait. But all those people I saw sitting around? They are hanging out with their drinks from Bar Bianco. There were lots of picnic tables, sets of two or three chairs, and nooks created for folks to sit and wait. At 9:45, 15 minutes prior to closing, they check on who is still waiting to be seated as confirmation of their list, and you keep waiting. It was quite lovely outside, and we had a lot to catch up on, so we didn’t mind. When we were seated, we ended up at the bar, which I liked because it gave us an eagle-eye view of the brick oven.

Y’all, this pizza was worth every bit of our wait. We ordered the Sonny Boy pizza (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, salami, and kalamata olives – only on half because Stacey is anti-olive) and the Rosa pizza (red onion, rosemary, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and AZ pistachios). Yes, friends, PISTACHIOS on my pizza.

Upon dissecting our pizza experience, we both agreed that we preferred the Rosa pizza because it was just so different from what we have ever had before. Don’t get me wrong, the salami and kalamata olives combination was quite delicious, but the unexpected flavor of the pistachios with the onions and rosemary was amazing. The crust on our pizza was my favorite: crazy thin and crispy. Because it is cooked in the wood-burning oven, parts of it were a little charred, but it just added to the flavor. It came straight from the oven to our table in about 30 seconds or less so the cheese was still bubbly and melty.
It’s possible my mouth is watering as I’m recalling all of this to share it with you. While I haven’t yet made my own version of this pistachio pizza, I probably will at some point. I don’t want to mar the memory, but one day I’ll give in to the longing, and when I do, I’ll be sure to share it with you!

Mid-week I ate some ridiculously delicious lettuce wraps at the hotel lounge restaurant, Icon, of all places. They were so beautiful when they arrived. The wrap had good flavor, and I should be so talented to cook tuna that well. They had good texture with wonton strips with the tuna inside the lettuce with the sauce. My one issue was that the menu did NOT mention a thing anywhere about a spicy condiment on the wraps. I had to get up close and personal to discover a dollop of what I believe to be Sriracha on top.  Boy howdy! I had to scrape that bit of heat off the remaining wraps in order to be able to eat them. Even smelling it made my mouth water and my throat tighten because it was so spicy-smelling. Overall, though, quite tasty.

I was a little anxious about navigating Meatless Monday while being out of town because of the menu temptations. But at Hanny’s, there was the most delicious chopped salad that was meat- free. Look at all the tasty additions to that bed of lettuce!

Who needs meat with all this??

It was so filling and satisfying. Plus at Hanny’s, we discovered they have a special restroom area. We found a restaurant with funny restrooms last year in Philly too, if you recall. It cracks me up when restaurants have personality in the restroom area. Each of these doors leads to their own restroom for one. It’s actually a pretty cool concept, although we were initially a little confused and skeptical when we got upstairs.

Walking in, there are lots of mirrors too!

Breakfast before leaving town was the perfect way to end the week. We chose Matt’s Big Breakfast at the recommendation of some locals we talked to just the night before. It’s another tiny restaurant with a crazy wait situation. This place is about the same size as Pizzeria Bianco, and when you arrive, you write your name on the little yellow notepad outside the door and then wait nearby to be called inside. I’m not even sure how long we waited, to be honest, I think, somewhere in the neighborhood of an hour? Sometimes you don’t want to know. 🙂 It was very intriguing to me how the owner worked the system. She would come out and make sure the folks on the list were still out there, then she’d let you know your table was almost ready, and if she knew you or you were a regular, you had the option to pre-order your breakfast so you didn’t have to wait as long when you got inside. Now that’s expediency!

Stacey and I technically ordered the same thing by choosing The Hog and Chick. However, there were so many options to personalize our plates that we actually ended up with very different meals. She got ham and scrambled eggs with home fries, and I ordered breakfast sausage patties with fried eggs and hash browns. It was all unbelievably good. The sausage patties were almost certainly made in-house due to their free-form shape and unique seasoning blend. They were a little spicy and very flavorful! My hash browns were crispy on the outside edges which I love.

Stacey’s ham was a serious piece of ham – not a slice of spiral-cut, honey-baked ham. It had that good home-cooked, southern flavor (even though Arizona is not really the south at all).

We ate until we were stuffed! It was another place where we were glad we waited it out. As a Food Network fan, I was also excited to see that Guy Fieri had been by and eaten there as well. I hope his experience was as fantastic as ours.

Guy was there!

When you visit other cities, I encourage you to find the local flavors and explore what culinary gems the city has to offer rather than sticking with chains or restaurants that might be familiar to you. Maybe you have to wait a little while to be seated, but I suspect that means there is good food in exchange for your perseverance. At least, that was our experience. 🙂 Thanks for a great food experience, Phoenix. You treated us right!

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Phoenix by Food: Taco Tour

Y’all, tacos might as well be my love language. If something is wrong in my world, tacos can make it right again. I could eat tacos probably every day for a year and never get bored; there are so many delicious, different kinds!! I seriously love tacos. This should help you understand my joy when a long-time friend of mine said he would take me on a taco tour when I was in Phoenix for a conference this month. Hallelujah and pass the salsa! I was curious to find out if and how tacos would be different in Phoenix than in south-central TX, given the influences of different parts of Mexico and New Mexico. Investigation in the name of food and bringing you all gems of the taco scene in Phoenix? Well, don’t mind if I do!

The first place we went was actually on a PBS show called “Check, Please!” so we were excited to explore a restaurant that had been on television.
Courtesy of Erin, one of my Phoenix friends, here is the clip from Arizona’s “Check Please!” so you can see a little more about the restaurant if you wish. Las Glorias is primarily a seafood restaurant, and does look a little bit like a hole in the wall. In case you aren’t hip to this piece of information, let me tell you that being a hole in the wall usually bodes very well in the Mexican-food world. Get in there and get you some! Las Glorias takes their seafood atmosphere quite seriously with blue walls and ocean decor everywhere. We got to sit in front of the faux waterfall, which was lovely.
There weren’t many tacos on the menu, honestly. However, it was an extensive menu of many tasty-looking seafood options. My girlfriend, Stacey, and I decided to split the fish taco plate that came with rice, beans, and three tacos, and I got an additional ceviche tostada.

The food came out pretty quickly, and it all looked so good. My mixed seafood ceviche tostada was a crisp corn tortilla with a huge mound of mixed seafood with sliced avocado on top.

Seafood goodness

It was sitting in a pool of tomato/seafood water which made me think my tostada would get soggy; however, it did not. Perhaps it didn’t have time because I ate it so quickly, or maybe it was just that crispy. Either way, it stayed crispy all the way to the end. The seafood was fresh and the mix was quite the variety. When I shared a chip-full with Stacey, I noticed some fish, shrimp, and octopus on there. Well done, Las Glorias. At the same time, the fish taco was unlike any fish taco I have ever eaten. I assume that most of you pictured a battered piece of fish with some coleslaw on top when I said we ordered fish tacos. Well, friends, please take a gander at the inside of our fish tacos.

Our three fish taco plate

The inside of our fish taco

Yep. Isn’t that something different? I was certainly surprised when they came out. The tacos were still good and had quite a pleasant fish flavor, but the vegetable flavor was also fairly strong for my taste, at least for a fish taco. There is something about having an expectation that just isn’t quite met, you know? I appreciate that my fish taco horizon has been expanded, but ultimately I think I still prefer the traditional battered fish with coleslaw. I might experiment with making my own tacos in their style sometime to see if it grows on me. I’ll keep y’all posted.

The second place we went to, that we ended up visiting a second time, was most amazing. Friends, Gallo Blanco Cafe & Bar has a happy hour that includes tacos. A taco happy hour!?!? I was meant to eat at this place! Gallo Blanco is a cute restaurant attached to the most delightful retro hotel just a touch off the beaten path. Along with drink specials, their tacos along with a few other appetizers have a discounted price from 3 – 6 every day. Yes, dear friends, EVERY DAY. Well, there is one exception. This fabulous deal takes place all day long on Tuesday. It’s probably best that I don’t live in Phoenix, or I might never eat anywhere else. When we went on Sunday, I got a cochinita (pork) taco and a carne asada (beef) taco.

My two tacos plus Stacey's

Their tacos are known as “street tacos” so they are smaller than you might typically see. Everyone else in my group got the shrimp tacos and could not stop ooohh-ing and aaahh-ing over their tacos. Mine were very tasty, but I must admit, I was a little curious what all the fuss was about. Stacey also ordered the elote callejero or grilled corn with cotija cheese. Thankfully, she was kind enough to share three or four bites with me. “Mmm-mmm, good” is all there is to say about that!

Ridiculously good corn

It wasn’t even two hours after my Phoenix friends dropped us off at our hotel that I got a text that said, “Do you have dinner plans tomorrow night? We want to go back to Gallo Blanco.” Hilarious! I had just made dinner plans, however, so we made plans to go Wednesday night after our official business was over. Upon our return to Gallo Blanco, I surely did order some shrimp tacos and my own elote, stat!

We ordered so many tacos that night.

Oh my word, that corn came out so warm from the grill that the cotija cheese was melty-soft on the corn, with a touch of paprika and a little smoky flavor. Thank goodness, we all had our own ears this time around because nobody was in the mood for sharing. It was crazy good. And those shrimp tacos?? My tacos on Sunday were good, y’all, but these shrimp tacos were out of this world. They tasted like a summer afternoon out by the pool with the grill fired up on the porch. Smoky, fresh, flavorful, just a little spicy with a touch of guacamole to cool it all down.

Shrimp taco from the inside

Speaking of their guacamole, we also tried some because it was on happy-hour special. If you have been following my blog for a while, you may remember my adventures with goldamole in Philadelphia last year. This one was priced as guacamole should be, friends. 🙂 It was not quite your run of the mill average guacamole, either. It was a citrus guacamole with pieces of what I believe were either tangerines or clementines (based on size) mixed in, and covered in cotija cheese. Gallo Blanco sure does love the cotija cheese!
I quite enjoyed the guacamole. To wash everything down, I enjoyed one of their happy hour beverages, the El Julio. You can check out the menu to see what is in an El Julio, but let me tell you it tastes sort of like a Lime Julius might taste. Do you all remember the drink Orange Julius? Well, this is what I think the lime version would taste like. It was frothy and a little creamy tasting without any cream in it, and limey without being sour. Muy delicioso!

While my Phoenix Taco Tour ended up only being two places, I deem it a success! We ate at a place that has been on television and found a taco happy hour good enough to visit twice in four days. If I’m ever back in Phoenix, and I hope to be some day, I’m totally going back to Gallo Blanco. Please trust me on this one. If you find yourself in Phoenix between 3 and 6 on any given day, you should make haste to 401 W. Clarendon. I promise you won’t be sorry. Order a shrimp taco, elote callejero, and an El Julio and be a happy camper. After that, feel free to order whatever else you like because you just can’t go wrong. Up next are all the other tasty eats I had during the rest of my trip. Stay tuned and happy eating!

Happy Taco Eaters!

Philly by Food, Part 2

My apologies for making you wait, dear readers, to hear all about the other wonderful food encounters I had while I was in Philadelphia. If reading about the deliciousness of the Starr restaurant empire didn’t make you want to hop on a plane or jump in the car and head over to the city of Brotherly Love, then perhaps there will be something here that will push you over the ledge. Or reading about scrapple may be enough to put you off the local diners for good. Try to keep an open mind, though; you just never know. But let’s not start with scrapple. I’m excited to tell you about Reading Terminal Market.

Ladies and Gents, Reading Terminal Market is enough to make me want to move to Philadelphia and work in, if not live near, Center City. Just so you don’t look like the full-blown tourist that I did, it is pronounced “Redding” and not “Reading” (like you would a book). We weren’t corrected until we asked, so clearly they get that mistake often.  I’m sure it identifies you as a tourist more clearly than a neon arrow pointing at your head might so I’m glad to help you out. Reading Terminal Market is pretty much my foodie dreams come true in one building. It is a HUMONGOUS structure devoted entirely to food in various formats. It is laid out in blocks with street signs hanging from the ceiling to help you navigate your way. There are the wee farmer’s markets and the more typical grocery store-type areas of produce and pre-packaged granolas and mixes of that sort. There is an entire Amish section of meats, cheeses, pastries, pickled foods, and bread. There are butchers, fish counters, cheese counters, olive counters, pasta counters, and even a couple of trinket shops. There are a couple of general seating areas, and most of the restaurants have counter seating.

There are restaurants galore: Mediterranean, Cajun, Middle Eastern, Mexican, gyros, coffee, bakeries, crepes, a diner, pretzels, and more. We ate the most amazing pretzel dogs from Miller’s Twist, y’all. Seriously, my mouth just watered a bit thinking about them. The pretzel was soft and chewy, the dog was hot and juicy, and there was melted cheese inside that brought the whole thing together. Mmm…mmm…good! Lunch one day came from Olympic Gyro which was super fast and quite delicious. The fries were a french fry lover’s (as I am!) dream: crispy-crunchy, salty, not overly greasy, but just a bit. They were the good rectangular kind that frequent high school cafeterias or mall food courts. Don’t judge – if they are cooked right, they are quite tasty. The gyro was also really quality. I love a good tzatziki sauce which they had, and they didn’t put too many onions on there, which I don’t love. I give it 2 forks up! Metropolitan Bakery had these cute, little single-serving rolls that I appreciated so I didn’t have to buy a mamajama loaf of bread. I particularly enjoyed the rosemary olive oil roll. Now you try to say that 3 times fast. It’s tricky to get out even once! I may give those a go in my own kitchen. Seriously, friends, it made my heart both happy and sad just to walk the aisles of this place. There was so much food everywhere and so much of the kinds of food I love. Yet, I couldn’t buy it because I was going back to a hotel. Where on earth was I going to put a hunk of salmon, pray tell?? The Market is amazing, and you should be sure to go and go more than once when you visit Philly. Please forgive my lack of photos. I was too “in the moment” to take pictures every time I was in there.

Of course I ate cheese steak when I was in Philly. How could I not? Puh-lease! We went to Jim’s Steaks, which is where my friend Bailey felt was the best place to take us. He’s a Philly native so I trust his judgment. Plus when we got there, there was quite the lengthy line out the door and around the corner. That’s a good sign, y’all. People don’t wait in a long line for bad food. When we got inside, there was a little bit of culture shock, I’m not going to lie. I think I just wasn’t mentally prepared for it. There was a long snake line (like you might see at a theme park ride) and at the front, you tell the man at the large grill what you want. But it’s in special code. It goes something like this, “one with provolone, onions and peppers.” You do not tell the man you want a cheese steak because that is all they are serving up behind the glass so you will look silly telling him that. You can change out the cheese or the fillings, but it’s always “one with….” There is a huge, gigantic, enormous pile of beef just cooking away next to an equally large pile of onions, and the chef just scrapes up what he needs from the edge. As he scrapes up, another cook adds to the back of the pile. It was a very fascinating arrangement. I wanted to take a picture, but it was clearly not the time or place for that. I got mine with provolone which was good, but I do wish I’d gotten it with “whiz.” I’m honestly not really a Cheese Whiz fan, but that seems to be the standard, local way to get the sandwich, so when I go back, I will try it that way. It’s good to know the big pile of meat isn’t really seasoned. For some, that’s a plus. For others, it just means additional toppings. It’s your sandwich; you are the boss of it so you get to choose. Do make sure you get a cheese steak though when you go. I’ll judge you if you don’t. And that’s really something to be afraid of, you know. Not. 😉

And last, but definitely not least, we visited South Street Diner. This place can cook some crispy bacon! Can I get an amen, Stacey? Seriously, y’all. I’m a crispy bacon eater so I specified, and boy, howdy, did they deliver. I feel very strongly about this as a positive recommendation. It wasn’t burned which sometimes restaurants think is an acceptable substitute for crispy. Burned and crispy are sooo not the same thing whatsoever. There was much happiness when the crispy bacon arrived.

Check out the crispy bacon!

With the crispy bacon also came…<cue drum roll>…scrapple. Ahh, yes. Let’s talk scrapple, my friends. I’d seen it on several menus, and it was all over this diner menu. I asked Bailey, my Philly native friend, what it is, and he begins to extol the deliciousness of scrapple and how it’s a Philly delicacy and he will be ordering some so that we can all share and partake. Yes, but what is it? Well. Hold on to your plates and forks. Before we get to the nitty-gritty, you should know that the waitress is prohibited from accurately explaining scrapple because then nobody will want to order it. She told us it was a “fried pork product.” Bailey, the truth teller and keeper of no secrets, broke it right on down for us that scrapple is the result of all the formerly unwanted parts of the pig, “from the snout to the tail,” that are cooked and eventually fried.

Well. Okay. Dig in. It looked sort of like sausage. It tasted sort of like sausage with similar seasoning and a similar texture. Yet, there was something fundamentally different. Mostly I tasted pork and sage which isn’t so bad. I admit, I ate more than one bite. It was strangely curious to me. Intellectually, I am sort of grossed out, to be honest. Yet, my mouth wasn’t grossed out by eating it, leaving me conflicted.

Scrapple Bites

I can promise you that a recipe for scrapple will never, ever, ever appear on this blog except by way of a brave guest blogger. I looked up a recipe, and it’s too much for me. I did learn from the recipe that a primary difference between scrapple and sausage is the inclusion of cornmeal. I’m pretty sure if I was with a native Philadelphian in Philly again and it was ordered, I’d probably eat a couple of bites. Here is a whole lot of info on scrapple if you feel like you need way more details than I’ve given you. But, gentle eater, click at your own risk. Once you know, you can’t unknow, trust me.

I ate a few other restaurants that were all really good, and there are still others that I want to try the next time I go. Smokin’ Betty’s was very delicious. Mugshots Coffeeshop had very good food and was quite thematic for being across the street from a prison. Dunkin’ Donuts has QUITE the presence up there, and I had breakfast there many mornings. We don’t have them down here, really, and I’m mostly a Shipley’s gal so DD was an out-of-the-box experience for me. The coffee was good so I feel like it met my expectations there. You may want to skip the sugar or ask them to go lightly on it; they aren’t shy with it. They also have a lot of flavors which I always appreciate. I had no idea when I went that Philadelphia would be such a culinary delight so I was surprised in an enjoyable way. It was happy eating all week long, scrapple included!

Scrapple Eaters!