In the last few years, thanks to an explosion of TV shows, celebrity chefs, blogs, and social media outlets, our knowledge of and accessibility to various kinds of cuisine, cooking methods, and ingredients has increased tremendously. And while the Phoenix dining culture has evolved as well, there's always room for improvement. In the coming year, I'm pulling hard on the proverbial wish bone in hopes that these five wishes for the Valley food scene come true.
1.) More Ethnic Food Yes, there are more options than before and yes the majority of them can be found in Tempe and on the Valley's west side, but we could do more -- and better. I'd like to see our hunger for world cuisine play itself out in more cultural fare from Africa, Brazil, Korea, Russia, Cuba, etc., whether in brick-and-mortar buildings or in the form of pop-ups and food trucks. The last two options providing a go-anywhere and low-overhead concept that could bring a world of global cuisine to more Valley residents more often. No passport required.
2.) Arizona Regional Cuisine This may be the biggest stretch on my wish list given what feels like a continuous (and frankly head-scratching) shunning of celebrating our state's diversity with south-of-the-border eats. Call it what you will -- Az-Mex, Mex-Az, Zone-ico -- the term would describe a type of cuisine we could truly call our own; one that blends ingredients found in the United States with the culinary creations of Mexican-Americans influenced by the dishes of Mexico. Southwest is too broad. Texas has its Tex-Mex. Let's make this our own.
3.) More Late-Night Dining Options In 2011, top-notch Valley restaurants like Petite Maison, FnB, Posh, Noca, Sens Asian Tapas, and Citizen Public House offered select menus of late-night gourmet eats to hungry diners not yet ready to call it a night. A good start to be sure, but in 2012 I'd like to see more options at all dining levels -- offering eats from exotic late-night bites, to evening sweet treats, to hearty hangover breakfasts at 3 a.m. And speaking of hangovers, if more food trucks were to be found alongside bars and music venues throughout the Valley, that'd be nice, too.
4.) Upscale Brewpubs There's no denying Arizona has a solid selection of locally-brewed beers. But when it comes to brewpubs, restaurants that sell beer brewed on the premises, the eats don't always match up to the stellar suds. Perhaps O.H.S.O., the new eatery and nano brewery in Arcadia, will be one of the first when it obtains its brewery license in 2012. Until then, there's room -- lots of room -- for an upscale brewpub to make the scene and offer great-tasting, locally-made beer along with upscale eats worth raising a glass to.
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5.) More Specialty Food Stores With just a handful of spots in existence (think Luci's Healthy Marketplace and the Downtown Phoenix Public Market), the senses of Valley residents would benefit from more specialty shops selling artisanal wares -- places where strolling the aisles and sampling an array of delicacies can inspire the creation of a new meal or the makings of an amazing dinner party. How about more cheese shops, an artisanal Jewish deli, or gourmet food stores like Zabar's or Citarella in New York City? There's lots of room for growth in this area. Let's hope it happens soon.
Bonus Wish: Bring back Maui Dog. Since the oasis of island-inspired fare in Central Phoenix closed its doors in December, I've been hoping for news of a comeback ever since. Sadly, still waiting.
What do you say, Valley food scene? Do you have any food-related wishes for the New Year? What are they?