From Shake Shack coming to Scottsdale to Okra opening in Phoenix, the last year has been chock-full of exciting food news.
Read on to see what news made the biggest splash this year.
Considering how popular Ocotillo has been since opening about two months ago, it should come as little surprise that our story announcing the plans for the Central Phoenix restaurant, bar, and coffee shop was one of the most-read stories of the year. When we first shared details about Walter Sterling, Sacha Levine, and Dave Johnson's plans for the complex back in July, Sterling called Ocotillo "an opportunity to make Phoenix a better place,"
Craft cocktails in the East Valley? Yeah, that was big news. In July, we told you popular local bartender Brandon Casey, formerly of Citizen Public House in Scottsdale, was taking his talents to — of all places — downtown Chandler. Back then he told us about his plans to turn a hotel basement into a sleek craft cocktail destination, and in the passing months he's succeeded in opening The Ostrich, an underground bar below the historic San Marcos Hotel where guests can find speakeasy classics such as the aviation, the vesper martini, the sazerac, and the Singapore sling.
Remember when Pizza Hut debuted a pizza that had hot dog bites around the edges instead of crust? Well, we do. Because we tried it. Apparently, we weren't the only ones curious about the new creation since thousands of people clicked on our review — we might, however, have been one of the only ones dumb enough to try what ended up being the "worst pizza invention ever in the cheap chain pizza world."
In October, the queen of Mexican food in the Valley, chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, announced that she'd set her sights on a new territory: Grand Avenue. Just weeks after the closure of Bragg's Factory Diner, Esparza told us she'd be taking over the restaurant space, and though she couldn't share many details about her plans for the new Barrio Cafe, the one thing she did know was that she wouldn't be serving tacos. "I'm a little sick of tacos, to be honest," Esparza said. "They've saturated the market. McDonald's is going to start selling them next!"
And East Valley residents weren't the only ones to get good news in 2015. West Valley seafood lovers had plenty to celebrate in June when Angry Crab Shack owner Daniel Sevilla told us about his plans to open three more restaurants in Ahwatukee, Goodyear, and Peoria. The South Phoenix restaurant opened in the Ahwatukee restaurant about a month later, and the Peoria restaurant (located at 7608 West Cactus Road) opened its doors just last month. The Goodyear location has yet to be completed, but will open at 310 North Litchfield Road soon. For updates on that location keep an eye on the restaurant's Facebook page.
10. Not Your Father's Root Beer: Small Town Brewery's Alcoholic Root Beer Comes to Arizona
At 5.9 percent ABV and with a flavor that's closer to soda than beer, Not Your Father's Root Beer was an understandably intriguing addition to Arizona liquor store shelves this year. Brewed by Small Town Brewery, a not-so-small brewery with ties to Pabst Brewing Co. owner Eugene Kashper and the company that makes Four Loko, this brew could be considered controversial — but nevertheless tastes great in a frosty mug with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Our August 2015 cover story "Wok Away" brought attention to a disturbing trend — disturbing, at least, to anyone who loves authentic Cantonese food. As explored in the long-form report, Valley Cantonese Chinese restaurants are on the decline, part of a national trend that's related to changes in Chinese-American immigration among other causes. There's hope, however, as increased immigrants from northern China introduce new types of Chinese cuisines to American diners, but the face of Chinese food in America may never be the same again.
These days it seems like every watering hole in town is bragging about offering "craft cocktails," but when it comes to making above-average drinks you usually also need an above-average bartender. That's why we came up with this list of five signs that make it easy to tell when you're dealing with a serious beverage professional, or just some guy who may or may not know a Manhattan from an Old Fashioned.
Coffee lovers may remember Summer 2015 as the season when Starbucks officially entered the cold brew coffee market, introducing a product that some would consider the worst thing to happen to coffee ever. Ok, at least the worst coffee we drank this year. Although the company promised cold brew coffee that tasted "distinctly sweet" and "smooth," "when we tried it, we got kind of an engine-exhaust aroma, with notes of 'rubber tires', 'making out with a smoker', and 'sadness'."
This year we broke the news that world-famous pizzaiolo Chris Bianco will open a new restaurant at Town & Country in 2016. The chef told us that nearly 30 years after opening his first Pizzera Bianco, he's ready to focus on something new — specifically, pasta — and that this newest eatery will be more of a date-night spot where couples can get handmade pastas and a few meat and vegetable entrees. "I want it to be not just a great restaurant for Phoenix, [but] a world-class restaurant," Bianco said of his new endeavor.
Anyone who enjoys a good bahn mi isn't likely to have forgotten this story already — even if it did happen more than six months ago in May 2015. As we told you then, California-based chain Lee's Sandwiches, which has one metro Phoenix location in Chandler, was forced to recall about 213,000 pounds of meat after being busted by the USDA for labeling "chicken, beef, and pork products with an 'unauthorized' USDA inspection mark."
Cat cafes may have taken off in Japan years ago, but it wasn't until July 2015 that Melissa Pruitt announced her plans to open the Valley's first cat cafe in Scottsdale. Over the summer, Pruitt told us about her vision of a cat-filled coffeehouse with 12 to 15 felines roaming freely — and since our initial story she's made some big steps toward turning that dream into a reality. Though she was initially aiming for a January 2016 opening, Pruitt says she's now looking toward February or March 2016. And while she still hasn't settled on a location for La Gattara, she's looking at a few location in Old Town Scottsdale. Pruitt also tells us she's partnered with All About Animals rescue and Kate Benjamin, author of New York Times bestseller, Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat. Benjamin will be designing and decorating the cat cafe.
We started quite a debate in August with this essay about what "authentic" really means when it comes to Mexican food in America. Despite what most American diners might think, it's not as simple as identifying handmade tortillas and, even for someone who grew up in Mexico, it's a complicated issue.
Perhaps the biggest restaurant closure of the year came when the Valley's most infamous restaurant owners, Amy and Samy Bouzaglo announced plans to sell their Scottsdale restaurant and open an online cooking school. The restaurant wouldn't close until September 2015 (and has already reopened under new ownership), but Amy and Samy have yet to get their online cooking school up and running. Nevertheless, Valley residents aren't likely to forget the couple, who rose to internet fame after appearing on an episode of Kitchen Nightmares in which celebri-chef Gordon Ramsay walked out of the restaurant, anytime soon.
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By far the most widely read food story of 2015 came when Lou Malnati's tweeted about plans to open a pizzeria in Phoenix. In July, a company spokesperson would only confirm the company's intentions to open its first location outside of metro Chicago here in the Valley, but since then we've reported that the restaurant will be opening in May 2016 at Uptown Plaza in Phoenix.