Gulp and Go

Fast service, cheap prices, casual ambiance and terrific eats

Here's how I feel about fast food: if I wanted to eat something prepared more for speed than taste, I'd eat my own lousy cooking.

I admit it, when I'm home and excessively lazy, I can justify a meal of microwave popcorn (one buttery kernel for me, two for the dog, one for me . . .). There've been times when I've been so unmotivated and busy that dinner has meant a chunk of deli turkey wrapped in lettuce like a burrito, gulped as I drove way over the speed limit down the freeway.

Yes, there are times when I crave a deep-fried chicken sandwich from Burger King so badly my head tingles. I've gone to In-N-Out Burger a lot more than I'd like to admit. And I've been known to drive through KFC just so I can suck back a cup of gravy. Sick, but true.

Stir fry on the fly: Flat Wok is fast, cheap and tasty.
Erik Guzowski
Stir fry on the fly: Flat Wok is fast, cheap and tasty.

Location Info

Map

Flat Wok

6501 E. Greenway Parkway
Scottsdale, AZ 85254-2065

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: North Scottsdale

Maxie's World Grill

4026 E. Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018

Category: Restaurant >

Region: East Phoenix

Details

Flat Wok, 6501 East Greenway Parkway, Scottsdale, 480-948-5544. Hours: Lunch, daily, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 4 to 9 p.m.; 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Lunch (one trip) $6.95
Dinner (all you can eat) $8.95

Maxie’s World Grill, 4026 East Indian School, 602-912-0303. Hours: Lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Cheeseburger $4.75
Fire burrito $5.25
Cuban panini $6.25
Flank steak pita $4.95

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Despite what snooty foodies may say, I'm not alone, either. Even our best chefs admit a hankering for the no-frills stuff. It's been written that Stacey McDevitt of Restaurant Hapa loves McDonald's French fries. Natascha Ovando of Coup Des Tartes get the joneses for Filiberto's. Mary Elaine's chef James Boyce has a favorite quick bite of canned tuna fish and kidney beans.

So it's not a nose-in-the-air attitude that turns me off about most fast-food choices. It's just that so much of it is so awful. Greasy burgers, limp tacos, stale sandwiches and watery rice bowls just don't cut it.

Which is why I'm so thrilled to have found two new haunts offering fast service, cheap prices, casual ambiance and terrific eats. There's no tipping required, another bonus on days when I hate the world and can't imagine rewarding anyone for any kind of behavior. The fact that my cranky self won't be thrown out for showing up in ratty shorts and a tee shirt makes things even better.

Flat Wok sits in a strip mall at 64th Street and Greenway. Its concept is familiar thanks to the popularity of Mongolian barbecue joints across the Valley. You know the drill. Weave through a buffet laden with raw meats, vegetables, noodles and sauces. Load your bowl as high as you can, and create a dish so confused that in any other restaurant, you'd send it back. Hand the bowl to a wok master, ogle as he flash-sears your ingredients and scrapes them back into your vessel. Go stuff your piggy self. Be in and out in less than half an hour. Wonder what all the fuss is about.

At Flat Wok, omit the last step. Because the fuss here is in the fine food. Apparently the owners haven't realized that with fast food, buffets in particular, they can cut corners. Many other stir-fry concepts in town send out shaved, low-quality, previously frozen meats. They sneak in veggies that are a mix of crisp and limp, bright and brown. They figure the sugary sweet or salty sauces will mask the faults.

Not so Flat Wok, brought to us by the owners of Scottsdale's popular Goldie's Sports Cafe and Zipps Burgers. For $9 or less (including soft drinks), fresh fare looks good even in the raw. Long, pristine rows of chopped boneless, skinless chicken breast, turkey breast, pork and beef beckon. Trays glitter with a bounty of slippery Asian noodles, green peppers, onions, broccoli, carrots, and deep-fried tofu. Sauces gild the lily, with tureens of garlic, sesame, teriyaki, sweet-and-sour, peanut blends and such. Some tacky types go for meat-only bowls, pressing mounds down to get as much inventory as possible. Uncool, but allowed.

The woks, three patio table-size rounds, are flat. Ingredients are flung to sizzling doneness with a base of water instead of oil. Cook time? Barely a minute.

I'm a better chef here than at home. My selection is fabulous, tossing rice and flour noodles with chicken, beef, pork, snow peas, sprouts, water chestnuts, mushrooms, a splash of teriyaki and a jigger of sesame sauce. How proud I am.

If I hadn't gotten my recipe right, or decided to be an outright oinker, I could have gone back through the line as many times as I wanted (dinner only; at lunch, it's one trip unless diners pay $1 extra). Bowls are big; I'll betcha most of you can't eat more than one. Especially since included in the mix are unlimited cups of nutty brown rice, absolutely lovely crispy fried won tons with mustard sauce, fresh-roasted peanuts and sweet pineapple chunks.

Though the practice is discouraged by management, I legally could change lanes and supplement my Asian bowl with items from the Italian isle (fettuccine, penne, rotini, roasted red peppers, pesto, marinara, Alfredo, braised eggplant sauce, et al.). Or, I could throw in something from the salad bar (chicken, turkey, greens, lots of vegetables).

I would. I will. But today, I don't have the time.

Maxie's World Grill

The people at Maxie's World Grill don't seem to realize they're working in a fast-food joint. Really. Servers and line cooks actually smile. Show me another place pushing $4.75 hamburgers and $2.75 hot dogs staffed by people who act like they honestly enjoy spending time there.

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