By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
A funny thing happened in 2013. Both of us — two curmudgeonly writers who between us have lived in Arizona way closer to 100 years than either would like to admit — came to a shared conclusion.
We like Phoenix.
That's funny because for years we've loved to hate this place — even as we wrote dozens of entries for Best of Phoenix, reviewed plays, covered the art scene, and investigated politicians. (True, Amy's always maintained there's nothing more fun than picking the low-hanging fruit at the Arizona Legislature.)
623 E. Adams St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004
Region: Central Phoenix
5402 E. Lincoln Drive
Paradise Valley, AZ 85253
Category: Hotels and Resorts
Region: Paradise Valley
7300 E. 3rd Ave.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Category: Hotels and Resorts
Region: Central Scottsdale
2814 N. 16th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85006
Region: Central Phoenix
But last year, there was a lot of talk about leaving the Valley, and somewhere in the midst of the conversation, we each decided that we actually don't dislike Phoenix anymore. The city has grown up; or we have. Or both.
That's why we both jumped at the chance to write up our bucket list for Phoenix — 100 things to do in this metropolis before you die. Most we've actually done ourselves. A few are still on the "to do" list.
Turns out, we had no trouble getting to 100. The challenge was cutting it back. Enjoy our list.
TOP 10 ITEMS FROM THE PHOENIX BUCKET LIST
Eat Mole at Barrio Café and Tour the Calle 16 Murals
Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza serves an amazing mole at her Barrio Cafe, a restaurant lauded by everyone from James Beard (well, the foundation) to Guy Fieri (he stopped by last year). She's not just committed to good cooking; Esparza also is hell-bent on celebrating local culture and fighting anti-immigration policies and sentiments. So several years ago, she began encouraging local artists to put up murals along 16th Street, where her restaurant is located. The result — by many talented folks including Lalo Cato, Nomas, and Breeze — is stunning and not to be missed. (www.barriocafe.com)
Drive Through the Encanto/Palmcroft Neighborhood
In the '60s and '70s, Phoenix exploded with slump-block suburbs, most of which survive, blighting our architectural landscape with bona fide blah. Head downtown and drive through this best-kept neighborhood, and you'll be witness to what Phoenix looked like before Del Webb took over. Stunning 1920s California Craftsman bungalows and Mock Tudors stand side by side on wide lots framed by 100-year-old trees and well-tended box hedges. Stately Victorians and stunning saltboxes stare each other down on streets right out of the Good Old Days, when Encanto/Palmcroft wasn't history, it was just a better street in Phoenix.
Take a Driving Tour of Downtown Phoenix Movie Locations
Head through the westbound I-10 tunnel that appeared in 2005's Transamerica (watch for the Seventh Avenue sign!) and onto Monroe Street to try to pick out the storefront facades that appeared in 1953's War of the Worlds (which also used the West Valley's Dysart Road for its several "desert" sequences), then further south to Jefferson to ogle the Luhrs Building, which appeared in both Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and its 1998 remake. Turn north on Central Avenue to see the mile-wide stretch of downtown that was annihilated in the 1978 cheese-fest Fire in the Sky, about a nasty comet that fell to earth and landed (where else?) on our fair city. Hang a left at McDowell Road and check out the various locations (the Los Olivos hotel, a recently shuttered gas station on Second Street, and Encanto Park, which doubled as Mexico City) used by Sonny and Cher in 1969's Chastity.
Spend a Day at the Spa at the Camelback Inn
The spa at the Camelback Inn is one of the finest in the world and definitely the best in town. It may not be the fanciest, and you might find crazier spa treatments elsewhere, but you're going to have trouble finding a local who frequents spas who doesn't include Camelback in the rotation. Book a hot rock massage; you can't go wrong with any of the facials. And if they are offering the signature wrap, book that, too, and leave plenty of time for the steam room, the Jacuzzi and the cold plunge. Visit on a pretty winter day when the temperature's over 70, and (for no extra charge) spend the day by the private spa pool before or after (or both!) your treatment(s). Order the gazpacho. Stare at the mountain. Smell the air. You're welcome. (www.camelbackspa.com)
Eat Chris Bianco's Mom's Flourless Chocolate Cake
Yes, Chris Bianco makes one of the best pizzas in the world, and by all means you should have one if you haven't — or two, since we have trouble choosing between the Wise Guy and the Rosa. But the Bianco family is a tour de force in Phoenix, and if all you've had is the pizza, you're missing out. Marco Bianco takes charge of the bread, and you can often find him at Pane Bianco, a sandwich shop that recently expanded its menu to include more classic Italian fare. And Francesca, the family matriarch, comes in to the Town and Country Pizzeria Bianco location from time to time to make desserts. You can see her recipes on display there and try her handiwork. The flourless chocolate cake is sweet, rich, and dense in all the right ways. (www.pizzeriabianco.com)
Drive a Surface Road Until the City Stops and the Desert Begins
If you take Central Avenue all the way south, you'll eventually run out of city and straight into South Mountain Park, the largest municipal park in the United States and one of the largest urban parks in the world. If you start far enough north — say, at Camelback Road — you can watch suburban Phoenix turn into downtown's business district and then morph into what our town used to look like: sand and saguaro and the endless desert.
Eat a Sonoran Hot Dog at Nogales Hot Dog
Phoenix doesn't have an "official" food, and neither does the state of Arizona, which has struggled for years to come up with something better than the chimichanga. For an authentic local experience, try a Sonoran hot dog. Wrapped in bacon and available with an assortment of toppings (don't skimp on the jalapeños), Nogales Hot Dog is a delicious and reliable version of the decadent dog (lots of other hot dog stands in town come and go). Pair it with a Mexican Coke. (602-527-0208)
Shop on Seventh Avenue
If you're a fan of antique shops with a little thrifting thrown in, this one-mile stretch of road is pretty much all you need for a pleasant afternoon of acquisition. Starting at the southernmost end (Seventh Avenue and Indian School) of this unique retail trek, there's Zinnias, a premium antiques and collectibles mall (don't miss Antique Sugar, a separate store selling vintage clothing, at the front of the Zinnias building). From there, it's Flo's on 7th, perhaps the cleanest and best-organized thrift shop in town, then on to Qcumberz and Charlie's House and Retro Ranch (for mid-century stuff) and on up to Antiques on Camelback, stopping at any of another dozen antique and junk shops along the way. Finish off at White Dove, another super-clean thrift store, just north of Camelback, and then collapse into a post-shopping heap.
Pick Peaches at Schnepf Farms
Pack the sunscreen and take your Allegra — come May, it's peach-picking time. It's the perfect Mother's Day gift, smack dab in the middle of Schnepf Farms' multi-week festival. Take Mom with you or spare her the heat, pick peaches yourself, and bake her a pie. The farm, on the southeast tip of town, is friendly, dusty, and sweet. And you can even buy a pre-made pie. (www.schnepffarms.com)
Have a Cocktail in the Hyatt's Compass Room
Oh, sure. They have a reverse happy hour. But who cares if the Hyatt Regency's Compass Arizona Grill even serves drinks? You'll go there for the same reason we all have for more than 30 years: to slowly rotate and enjoy a 360-degree view of the Valley in our town's one and only revolving rooftop restaurant. You can eat dinner here — that's what the "Grill" in the Compass room's name is about — but no matter how good your lamb chop or garlic mash happens to be, you'll remember having stared down the skyline of our town and maybe witnessing one of those splendid sunsets we keep having. (www.phxhyatt.com)