First, let me get one thing straight. I am not a food aficionado. I have never lived to eat and my eating tastes are narrow. That is why on my recent trip to Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona, I was shocked to see myself turn into a foodie in the course of the five days I was there. I looked fervently eager to each meal and felt the urge to devour everything that was put in front of me. The food in Phoenix/Mesa is fresh, innovative and mouth-watering. And I’m from New York, where I’ve always declared the food is the best in the world! Go figure.
We started our culinary journey at the Angel Trumpet Ale House with a flute of beer. Six medium sized glasses of their specialty brews. They feature an interesting menu full of specialty beer and comfort food that includes flatbreads, fish tacos, pizza, grilled cheese and something my eyes took note of on the menu called the Nutter (peanut butter, bananas, raspberry-chipotle jam plus homemade marshmallow fluff and peppered bacon). This restaurant would be either good as a family spot or a date night. Prices are very reasonable, check out their menu here. (810 North 2nd Street, 85004; 602-252-2630)
Verdict: Delicious food for anyone, families, couples, business lunches.
We had the most gorgeous meal at Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails (2 East Jefferson Street, tel: 602-258-0231) in the Palomar Hotel. They term it a “gastro lounge” because they infuse handmade cocktails with cleverly made food. The food is memorable: the chefs blend rubs, marinades and infusions with locally grown organic ingredients. From our starters consisting of macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, olives and spicy nuts to my main dish of Monkfish Schnitzel to the scrumptious donuts dipped in chocolate to a pumpkinesque milkshake, my mouth was salivating. (2 E. Jefferson Street)
Verdict: A great date night or a girl’s night out. Don’t skip dessert!
High tea at the Ritz Carlton in Phoenix is an experience right out of England. Traditional tea, scones, tea sandwiches, accompanied by live piano and lovely service in the most divine setting. Afternoon Tea is offered at 12pm or 3pm Wednesday through Saturday in the lobby lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Phoenix. The cost is $38 per person.
Verdict: Perfect for mother/daughter, girl’s luncheon or a unique family experience. Be sure to get serenaded by the “tea guy”.
Dinner at North Fattoria Italiana is truly inspired cuisine and is great for anyone, including kids and families. Fattoria means farm in Italian – a place where food is handcrafted and sold. It conjures up visions of a rustic farmhouse, offering locals hand-made offerings – anything from wine to olive oil. Created by Chef Chris Curtiss, pizza and pasta dough is made from scratch. The food is mouth-watering. We ordered the chef’s board to start with meats, cheese, crispy chickpeas, spiced nuts, pickled sweet peppers and castelvetrano olives, which I happily washed down with a shandy. For dinner, we shared the simple salad, a salad with Gorgonzola, pine nuts and dried fruit and we shared a few pizzas. Toppings include eggplant, roasted mushrooms, balsamic onions, fingerling potatoes, farm egg and other fresh ingredients. The menu also features homemade comfort food like Scottish salmon, braised chicken, pork chops and grilled c.a.b. hanger steak. If that isn’t enough, the dessert was irresistible. The budino is a buttery, burnt sugar tang with salt that melts in your mouth and the mini-doughnuts dipped in warm chocolate. Oh, my. The prices are reasonable and the quality of the good could not be greater. (4925 North 40th Street, 602-324-5600.
Verdict: Great family spot, date night or otherwise. Be sure to order the chef’s board and try their pizza, which is reminiscent of the real thing in Northern Italy.
Happy hour at TQLA in Mesa was a lesson in the fine art of drinking tequila. Offering 80 varieties of tequila on tap, “hyper-cooled” to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, we leaned on the restaurant’s “Master Mixologists” to create special cocktail for us. We drank margaritas and other delicious concoctions using the best tequila, munched on their delicious food including their signature dishes crawfish and spinach enchiladas, table-side guacamole and pumpkin seed crusted salmon. When in Rome, rome, and eat as the locals do. TQLA certainly provided me with the ultimate Mexican/Southwestern artisanal cuisine during my visit to Arizona. (1840 S. Val Vista Dr., Mesa, 480-813-8752)
Verdict: Another place ideal for families with options for everyone and a genuine SW experience.
Lunch at Joe’s Farm Grill was another experience, unique to Phoenix. The food comes directly from the farm on which the restaurant lies, with much of the produce harvested the same day they cook it. They make their own pickles, marinades and sell their fruit, vegetables, and herbs from The Farm at Agritopia as part of a local co-op and use other local farmers striving to do their part in keeping the menu entirely local. The Grill is a modern burger stand. You order food inside and eat on a utopian style patio. Featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri – here they do common food done uncommonly well. From hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, fresh salads with fish, ribs, ahi tuna, to grilled cheese butter & banana split, everything is yummy and priced right. The sweet potato fries and fried zucchini pieces are out of this world and the food is impeccable. The lines are indicative of the popularity of this establishment. (3000 East Ray Road, Gilbert, 480-563-4745)
Verdict: Family-friendly, reasonably priced food just miles from Mesa. After lunch, take a walk around Agritopia’s 12 acres of permanent urban farming.
If you’re looking to eat like a native, check out Postino East located in Gilbert’s historic downtown is a new contemporary space that features an indoor-outdoor bar, wrap-around patio with heaters. After renovating the Historic Arcadia Post Office Building, Postino’s partners built a foundation with unique, approachable wines; simple, delicious food prepared with local ingredients; and a warm, edgy culture that brings everyone together. They call the waiters “misfits” and it has a very down-to-earth ambience. We shared a light dinner with lovely wine, an eclectic selection of bruschetta (our toppings included brie, apples & fig spread; ricotta topped with dates & pistachios and white bean topped with tomato), a Mediterranean salad, artichoke dip and hummus. They offer Paninis, salads and soups; and a warm, friendly culture that I could go back to again and again. (302 N. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert, 480-632-6363)
Verdict: Delicious food combined with a warm atmosphere make for a great date night or girl’s night out.
For dessert, we headed to Liberty Market, a sister restaurant of Joe’s Farm & Grill. The building has been in existence since the early 1930′s serving Gilbert as a grocery store and is now an award winning, Zagat rated restaurant serving a diverse and refined menu featuring wood fired pizza, sandwiches, salads, burgers, pasta, gourmet style entrees, house-made desserts and a premium espresso bar and diverse beer+wine list. I had the Salt River bar, which I have to say is addictive and salivating worthy. Three layers of buttery crackers, peanut butter chips, and brown sugar caramel, topped with a thick, fudgy layer of melted chocolate, sprinkled with sea salt. I think I died and went to heaven.
(230 North Gilbert Road, Gilbert, 480-892- 1900)
Verdict: Order the Salt River bar, a coffee and stroll the sweet, which takes you back in time to an era long gone by.
Disclosure: I went on a press trip to Phoenix and Mesa and was provided with complimentary meals to facilitate articles for the publications that I write for. This information will be posted here and elsewhere. All opinions are my own. Though I am not a food critic, eating was one of my favorite activities in Arizona on this trip and every opinion is my own.