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I'm so sick of hearing about the recession. Aren't you?
There's got to be a bright spot in the midst of dark economic times, and for me, it's the way folks are starting to get in touch with their inner bargain-hunters, being pickier about how they spend their hard-earned dough — especially at restaurants. Since the culinary world is already Darwinism in action, with only the strongest surviving, we'll start to see even swifter natural selection in the dining scene. For you, the customer, the downturn has got to have an upside.
Of course, how you define a "strong" restaurant that'll weather the lean times depends a lot on what kind of establishment it is to begin with. Even fancy spots with prices in the stratosphere can thrive, if they step up their game. But in the case of the no-frills Two Hippies eateries — one a taco stand, and the other a burger and hot dog joint — the strength is simply the irresistible allure of a bargain.
802 E. Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85014
Region: Central Phoenix
The eats are, indeed, tasty, if not always exceptional. Factor in the throwback prices ($4 burritos; a burger, fries, and drink for the meager sum of five bucks) and the fact that their competitors are the major fast-food chains, and there's a lot to love about these quirky little spots.
Husband-and-wife team Andy and Jan Goldstein started Two Hippies Magic Mushroom Burgers, a psychedelic burger shack on Indian School, a couple of years back, and opened their Camelback Road taco place, Two Hippies Beach House, a couple of months ago. Despite Magic Mushroom Burgers' slogan ("Don't Tell ANYONE Where You Bought Them"), word of mouth is working, and both restaurants are booming, often with lines out the door or even down the sidewalk.
Andy's got a long history in the restaurant biz; his brother Ron founded Long Wong's nearly 30 years ago. Not surprisingly, the Long Wong's hot wings at Two Hippies Magic Mushroom Burgers are as good as ever — golden and crispy, with the full selection of different sauces. Yes, they even have the cult-fave "suicide" sauce.
Setting foot in Magic Mushroom Burgers is like walking into a '60s time capsule. It's a shrine to kitsch, with walls plastered in trippy blacklight posters, vintage toys and lunchboxes tucked into every nook, and random ephemera, like a sparkly Elvis guitar clock. Order at the counter, grab a counter seat inside or on the front porch, or hang out at a picnic table out back. When your order's up, it'll be tucked into a brown paper bag.
I loved the kooky vibe, and I was pretty pleased with the food. Along with those great wings, the signature Magic Mushroom Steakburger was a sloppy-good winner, smothered with melted Swiss, garlicky sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, and homemade Thousand Island dressing ("Liquid Sunshine Sauce"). I also enjoyed the jalapeño steakburger, which put some color into my cheeks after one bite.
Another highlight was the hot dog, one of the best I've had in a while. First of all, the thing was huge — not a one-hander, that's for sure. It was really juicy, too. According to Andy Goldstein, they hand-pack these all-beef dogs themselves, and then charbroil them. You can get one plain, or heaped with toppings like chili or cheese and bacon. So delish.
Even the chicken breast sandwich was decent — nothing fancy, just moist meat with the smoky grilled flavor of a summer cookout. A glaze of hot sauce on the Buffalo chicken breast sammy added some zing.
Dry, overdone potato skins drowned in melted cheddar didn't win me over, but hand-cut fries sprinkled with seasoned "moon dust" and onion rings cloaked in a light, crispy batter made fine nibbles.
At Two Hippies Beach House, the food has a lighter spin — nothing's fried, and the meats and vegetables are organic. Goldstein told me he doesn't classify it as "Mexican food" as much as "healthy food."
Indeed, I'll hit up one of the joints on 16th Street for real Mexican food, but I'll still head to the Beach House for cheap eats. Even the $1.50 taco here is pretty filling.
The atmosphere's fun, too. Inside, there's a tiny counter with a ginormous lava lamp and trays of cream cheese brownies behind glass; outside, there's compact counter seating, plus a patio decked out with picnic tables and flower boxes adorned with tiny paper umbrellas (left by customers who plucked them from their drink cups). On one of our recent balmy January days, it was a laid-back place to enjoy the weather and a casual bite.
I tried all the taco and burrito fillings, and found a few favorites. Fish is a specialty here, and I liked that the batter-free cod was baked, not fried. Juicy shredded pork beat out the so-so carne asada, and I preferred the balanced flavor of the green chile beef, made with Hatch chiles, to the chipotle-heavy red chile beef. Straightforward chicken consisted of moist chunks of white meat.
All the tacos and burritos were served with lime wedges and two kinds of salsa, and were stuffed with rice, shredded cabbage, pinto beans, shredded cheddar, diced tomato, and cilantro.