I eat a lot. Specifically, I eat a lot in Phoenix. So it wasn't easy to narrow my list, but after much mastication and consideration, here are my top five reasons to love the Phoenix food scene. When you've finished digesting them, go out and find some of your own.
Food Truck Friday: From Filipino street food to freshly made crème brûlée to Cajun-Creole cooking or a gourmet pizza, whatever your lunch time hankerin' may be, chances are you'll find fulfillment on four wheels, thanks to Food Truck Friday. From 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each week at the Phoenix Public Market (14 E. Pierce St., www.phoenixpublicmarket.com), downtown denizens can take their pick of mobile lunchtime fare — from lechon manok courtesy of Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food to grilled catfish sandwiches from Jamburritos Cajun Grille to gourmet dogs from Short Leash. And with around 10 trucks motoring through every Friday, lunchtime never looked so much like a rolling buffet.
Kai's swoon-worthy patio: Sure, the dining room is divine, but the real picture poetry at Kai (5594 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Chandler, www.wildhorsepassresort.com), the top-notch restaurant of Native American cuisine and the only five-star dining establishment in Arizona, is the view from its patio. Overlooking a desert landscape of majestic mountains, stately saguaros, and a sky kissed with twinkling stars, this outdoor dining experience, along with exceptional service and the sophisticated cuisine of chef Michael O'Dowd, makes any special occasion all the more memorable — thanks to Mother Nature.
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Silvana Salcido Esparza's cochinita pibil: When it comes to the swine-lovin' splendor of cochinita pibil, the classic Mayan dish of slow-roasted pork from the Yucatán peninsula, few give it the mouthwatering tribute it so deserves. Valley restaurateur and chef Silvana Salcido Esparza is one of those few. Soaked in achiote rojo and sour orange and cooked low and lazy for 12 hours, this tender, melt-in-your-mouth dish can go big, as in a piled-high platter, or bite-size, like squeezed into a street-style taco. Whatever form it takes, get it at Esparza's Barrio Café (2814 N. 16th St., www.barriocafe.com), her neighborhood eatery for authentic southern Mexico cuisine, and make its final destination your stomach.
Late-night love with FnB's Charleen Badman: For hungry diners not yet ready to call it a night, FnB — the seasonal-cooking restaurant in Scottsdale — has the cure, and it's delicious. From 9 to 10 every Sunday night, chef Charleen Badman creates an ever-changing, always craveable menu of anything-goes eats — from comfort food favorites like fried chicken and mac 'n' cheese to cultural delights such as ramen, chilaquiles, and pho. And when you consider that sightings of celeb chefs and eavesdropping on the hottest restaurant gossip are distinct possibilities when you visit, bedtime can wait.
Downtown pop-ups at Cycle: For those who said the Phoenix food scene couldn't think outside the box, Cycle, the pop-up venue inside the Lexington Hotel in downtown Phoenix, let the haters be its motivators. Every weekend all summer long (and during the week at its high point), Valley diners were treated to a revolving door of one-of-a-kind fare from some of the best chefs in town — from Andrea White's South African cooking to Josh Hebert's ramen to Jeff Kraus' "experience" of frog-leg lollies. Thanks to Cycle, the pop-up concept's no longer a strange surprise to the Valley — it's an expected one.