In the food world, nothing seems to entertain readers quite like a scathing restaurant review — the funnier and meaner the better. Slightly less attention-grabbing, but also popular, is a glowing review, especially if it’s an effusive ode to the city’s latest critical darling.
The truth is, most restaurants are neither awful nor very remarkable. Most restaurants, like most people, are somewhere in between: slightly flawed, yet still deserving of some of your time and attention.
Perfect Pear Bistro, a locally owned micro-chain, is this kind of restaurant. It has quietly carved a niche for itself in the Valley as a destination for happy hours, low-key first dates, and as a place to feed your hankering for fancy grilled cheese. Its success is no small achievement in a city dominated by super-charged restaurant groups and national chains.
There are now three locations of Perfect Pear in the East Valley, including two in Tempe, and the bistro seems to be especially popular with college students looking for something a little more refined than burger and taco joints.
The appeal of Perfect Pear is obvious — the servings are generous, the prices are moderate, and the ambiance is nice enough for a birthday lunch or dinner.
I’ve had meals at all three locations, which means I’ve come to know the subtly uplifting feeling that comes from stepping inside any of the Perfect Pear dining rooms. All three have been thoughtfully designed with modern flair, including elements like Edison bulb chandeliers, oversize mirrors with wood accents, and spacious, mist-blasted patio areas. In the throes of a Phoenix summer, Perfect Pear is a welcome refuge — a crisp, cool spot with craft beer and pear-scented Moscow Mules served in ice-cold copper mugs.
The restaurant’s name, despite what your most dirty-minded friend might tell you, is not a Hooters-esque double entendre; it’s an obvious reference to the fragrant, apple-like fruit.
How much you love Perfect Pear Bistro will depend, in part, on how you feel about pear in dishes like tacos and quesadillas. It also is a reference to classic food pairings, the likes of pears and Gorgonzola cheese, or dried cranberries and feta cheese. You’ll find both featured prominently across the menu.
The menu is seasonally oriented American comfort food, prepared fresh, and often with panache. Too often, though, dishes revert to formulaic culinary chestnuts. This makes Perfect Pear far less interesting, and less satisfying, than it could be.
There are some creative turns, like the hummus nachos, a popular house appetizer that’s big enough to double as an entree. The dish — a massive heap of shatteringly crisp tortilla chips glued together with sauce, cheese, herbs, and hummus — is not bad at all. The hummus is light and creamy, which helps offset the heaviness of the tangy “Southwest cream sauce” drizzle. A scattering of feta cheese, ribbons of basil and cilantro, and diced tomatoes round out the dish and add flavor. But it still smacks of something your health-conscious friend brought to the company potluck — nice but forgettable.
Hummus nachos, though, are far more successful than pedestrian appetizers like the green chile cheese dip. On a recent visit, the dish was not much more than orange nacho cheese spiked with barely spicy green chile, served with tortilla chips and crostini on the side.
You’d be wise to bypass appetizers altogether and dive right into the entrees, especially the grilled cheese menu, which stands out as the most compelling reason to stop by Perfect Pear Bistro for lunch.
Bacon and jalapeño grilled cheese, a thick, melty parcel of cheese and roasted jalapeños, is divine. And the house grilled cheese — called the Perfectly Grilled Cheese — is an extra-buttery, Brie-infused sandwich made on pear-inflected grilled bread. It’s a sophisticated take on grilled cheese, skillfully evoking the classic Brie-pear pairing.
Sandwiches, in general, are very good at Perfect Pear, including signature creations like the Quad City Melt, which is stuffed with thinly sliced sirloin, caramelized onions, and mushrooms, and sluiced with melted cheese and a lovely chipotle aioli.
Dishes get clunkier on the “North of the Border” section of the menu. That’s where you’ll find dishes like the Tukee Pear, a quesadilla stuffed with pear slices, arugula, pepper jack cheese, and bacon. The combination feels more haphazard than it should, the flavors never quite harmonizing, even when pressed together inside a buttery, crisped-up flour tortilla.
Paco’s Pear Tacos, stuffed with roasted chicken and thick flakes of crispy bacon, are more succulent and delicious — the house-made spicy pear pico, especially, delivers a satisfying, sweet-zesty punch.
Roasted butternut squash tacos, meanwhile, are hearty and generally well-executed. There’s arguably nothing wrong with these tacos, but to truly enjoy them, you must block out previous memories of every slinky pile of cow meat you’ve ever had the pleasure of sucking off a corn tortilla. These are tacos undone by their own wholesomeness, drained of life by overly familiar pairings like black beans and feta cheese. They are a touch too dry, and too dull, to remind you of why you love tacos in the first place.
Speaking of wholesome dishes, Perfect Pear has become known among the healthy-lunch set for its expansive salad menu. One of the signature salads is the Perfect Pear Classic, a melange of pears, dried cranberries, Gorgonzola crumbles, and toasted hazelnuts served atop your choice of greens (options include a baby spring mix or a house blend that’s heavy on arugula and kale). It was nicely textured on a recent visit, but also noticeably overdressed; picking out a spear of arugula that wasn’t soggy with the house cider vinaigrette was a challenge.
The “bistro” side of Perfect Pear Bistro is most strongly reflected in its pasta menu, where you’ll find a very good macaroni and cheese made with cavatappi. The only bad thing about this creamy mac and cheese is the swirl of crisped-up bacon bits deposited into the middle of the dish. Bacon bits, thick and crisped to a hard finish, are a feature of many dishes at Perfect Pear. Bacon bits, of course, are normally considered a good thing, but here they are often too hard; I confused them for walnuts on more than one occasion.
One of the more sophisticated pastas dishes is the butternut rigatoni, a thick, tubular pasta tossed in a creamy, buttery white sauce and topped with walnuts and bacon. Like Perfect Pear Bistro itself, the dish registers as fine and wholesome, but about as exotic and exceptional as a vanilla ice cream cone.
You’ll have to look elsewhere for deeper, more thrilling flavors.
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Perfect Pear Bistro
1241 East Chandler Boulevard, Phoenix
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
603 West University Drive, Tempe
Hours: Daily 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
9845 South Priest Drive, Tempe
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday and Monday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Hummus nachos $8.29
Paco’s pear tacos $9.29
Bacon and jalapeño grilled cheese $9.29
Quad City Melt $10.29