From now 'til we publish the 2012 edition of Best of Phoenix, New Times and Chow Bella present 100 Tastemakers -- Valley residents who make the cut in our culinary scene. Some you'll know; for others, it'll be a first introduction (but likely not the last). While you're here, check out our 100 Creatives on Jackalope Ranch.
Today: A man who's brought a taste of the Middle East to our corner of the Southwest.
Tastemaker 47: Isam Saed
At Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli, "When you're here, you're family" isn't just some corporate slogan -- it's a way of life. Owner Isam Saed, who grew up in Nazareth, has made it a habit to personally put a smile on every customer's face. Saed has degrees in physics and chemistry and taught high school in Israel before moving to Chicago, where he once owned a chain of mini-marts. Count your lucky stars, Valley residents, that he's not planning on leaving anytime soon.
"My presence here is like a vacation," Saed says.
I arrived in Phoenix with... my family.
If I was sitting down for dinner for six, my five dream dining companions would be...
My brother, Saleem: He was a phenomenal soccer player and he teaches martial arts. To me, he's my brother, my friend . . . he's like everything.
My cousin Sameer: He used to be a principal at the best school in Jerusalem; he had 770 teachers under him. He tells my mom I'm the best person in his life right now and he misses me so much. He wants to work for me just to be around me. We became good friends just recently.
One place everyone who comes to Phoenix must eat is... Middle Eastern Bakery, of course. Because, I'll tell you why, it's not because it's me. It's because I make it an experience. I don't want people to just come in and eat -- you can eat anywhere. But where you eat and you enjoy and you are able to laugh? My friend comes here four times a week and he said, "I have yet to see someone leave your store without a smile on his face."
One menu item this city could do without is... fatty hamburgers.
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My last meal in Phoenix would be... Lebanese chicken at Middle Eastern Bakery.
The Tastemakers so far: 100: Tracy Dempsey 99: Craig DeMarco 98: Lara Mulchay 97: M.J. Coe 96: Betty Alatorre de Hong 95: Eric Schaefer 94: Hanna Gabrielsson 93: Shinji Kurita 92: Silvana Salcido Esparza 91: Mike Pitt 90: Christina Barrueta 89: Christopher Gross 88: Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung 87: DJ Fernandes 86: Cullen Campbell 85: Chris Lee 84. Gwen Ashley Walters 83: Tony Morales 82: Lylah Ledner 81: Andrea White 80: Lori Hashimoto 79. Mrs. White 78: Eugenia Theodosopolous 77: Lou & Lovey Borenstein 76: Anthony Patafio 75: Carl Seacat 74: Sacha Levine 73: Sharon Salomon 72: Johnny Chu 71: Susie Timm 70: Jason Silberschlag 69: Gina Miller 68: Cindy Gentry 67: Amy Binkley 66: Dave Anderson 65: Mark Tarbell 64: Marianne Belardi 63: Audrey Lasalle 62: Brandon Gauthier 61: Brad and Kat Moore 60: Denise Clayton 59: Nobuo Fukuda 58: Richie Moe 57: Robin Trick 56: Alberto Della Casa and Letizia de Lucia 55: Farah Khalid 54: Dave Andrea 53: Vincent Guerithault 52: Danielle Leoni 51: Stan Zawatski 50: Maya Dailey 49: Duc Liao 48: Lisa Reinhardt