Phoenix, you've got a wonderful food scene. But even Valley chefs and restaurant owners have to admit that we've got some holes that deserve to be filled. While some people may be hoping for better late-night dining options and fewer restaurant chains, I've got my own wish list of things I'd love to see in metro Phoenix during 2016.
A Local Meat Butcher
Sure, we've got butcher shops in this town, but in 2016 I'd like to see metro Phoenix get a butcher shop that specializes in all-Arizona meats. Sound like a pipe dream? Well, it's not. Proper Meats + Provisions in Flagstaff is already doing just that. The "Arizona-raised meatery" brings freshly made lamb sausages and pasture-raised turkeys to locally-focused home chefs and diners, and that's on top of serving sandwiches and other ready-to-eat deli fare. With an outpost to our north and one planned to our south in Tucson, it only seems logical Proper will eventually set up shop here in the Valley...right?
If you've spent a substantial amount of time in central or south central Texas, then I'd imagine you're already familiar with the kolache. This breakfast pastry is of Czech decent but has since been co-opted by Texans and is now a popular road snack or quick breakfast. (For a fuller history check out this New York Times piece from 2013.) The combo of sweet, yeasted dough and fillings like egg, chorizo, and cheese is simple enough. Which only leaves me wondering why they're not more widely available here in the Valley.
Yeah, I know, it's not hard to make your own kombucha. But let's not pretend that restaurants making kombucha in house or smart people cashing in other's laziness aren't happening elsewhere. In fact, in cities including Chicago and Denver, locally-made kombucha is such a trend that bartenders are using the stuff to make cocktails. Down in Tucson there's a "microbrewery of kombucha" called Fermented Tea Company, so I ask, what's a girl gotta do to get some locally-made kombucha in the Valley?
There's at least one place in metro Phoenix where you can satisfy your craving for Hawaiian-style fare, but even then, it's hard to find certain drive-in, plate lunch dishes like shoyu chicken, loco moco, and island-style barbecue short ribs. Also missing: Hawaiian-style breakfast. I'm dreaming of two scoops of rice, two eggs, and a couple slices of spicy Portuguese sausage served, of course, in a Styrofoam container.
More Indigenous Ingredients
Let's step up our game in using native Arizona ingredients next year. Because I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sick of seeing nopales on every menu. Sure cactus paddles can taste great, and they're sure as hell indigenous, but what about all the other delicious plants the Sonoran desert has to offer? Tepary beans, mesquite pods, and other native plants could add some serious local flavor to our city's cuisine.
An Artisan Food Market
The bottom line is that metro Phoenix still doesn't have a central artisan food market that offers high quality produce and other groceries as well as an enticing and varied selection of prepared foods. DeSoto Central Market aimed to fill this niche last year, but has yet to reach its full potential and still lacks vendors in several spaces. But just about every other major city from Denver to New York has its own food market, and it's well past time we figure out how to make it work here.
Have you tried Christina Tosi's Corn Cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar? Well, if not, let me tell you, they're awesome. Sweet and buttery and with intense corn flavor (the secret is freeze dried corn), these cookies aren't exactly difficult to make — you can get the recipe here — but frankly, I'd just prefer if someone in town would do it for me.
Upscale Ethnic Food
You can get excellent Mexican and Indian and Chinese food here in the Valley. But I've noticed that taking first-time diners to my favorite ethnic restaurants usually means convincing them to get over the restaurants'...er...less-than-shiny facades. But you shouldn't have to psyche up for sticky tables and sub-par service just to enjoy great ethnic food. I want a great Chinese restaurant with white table cloths and an authentic Indian restaurant that's a destination for a nice dinner date.
And I'm not talking about the "tapas" you'll find at trendy restaurants that are really just a bunch of over-priced small plates that are supposedly meant for sharing but are always too small to actually share. No, I'm talking about Spanish tapas like gambas al ajillo, shrimp sautéed in garlic and parsley, and jamon Serrano with a side of bread and olive oil for dipping. When Lola Tapas was open you could experience the joy of Spanish tapas in town, but since it shuttered we've developed a hole that deserves to be filled.
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Locally Made Charcuterie
I want more. More cured meats, more pâté, and more of it done locally. I know some of the issues around making charcuterie in house at restaurants has to do with the health department, but I'd love to see more chefs making their own proscuitto and mortadella and speck — and being able to share it with diners without having to hide.