Welcome to The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.
2: The French Fries at Cafe Bink
What's the big deal about the French fries at Cafe Bink? It's not so much that they are the best thing you'll eat during the course of lunch or dinner at the restaurant. It's more like the French fries made at chef Kevin Binkley's Carefree restaurant represent what's possible when simple dishes are made well, and with a little panache.
The French fries have become a menu staple at Cafe Bink, which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary next year. They've been around long enough to have become enshrined as some of the best in town, and you could argue that they've helped usher in the era of fancy, upgraded comfort food on the local level. Before the poutine craze really took hold, and before gourmet frites became something you could order from a food truck, these Belgian-style fries were already winning hearts around town.
They come wrapped in paper, with a sprig of crisped up rosemary tucked into the bouquet of hot, herb-perfumed fries. They are thick-cut, blanched, and fried at least twice, a process that renders them extra-crispy. The soft, tender-inside texture of each fry is left nicely intact. They come with a trio of very good dipping sauces: a dill-infused sauce vert, a creamy garlic aioli, and a truffle-laced ketchup that easily puts a packet of Heinz to shame.
When it all comes together, these French fries almost seem perfect. Nothing is really ever objectively perfect, of course, but if there were such a thing as the Platonic ideal of French fries, these might be it. They are what you might conjure up when you think about what perfect French fries ought to look, smell, and taste like.
Of course, you'll come to Cafe Bink for much more than just fries. The restaurant, which is now overseen by chef Justin Olsen, makes one of the most memorable mac 'n' cheese plates around town. There's also a deliriously good short rib dish on the current menu that delivers meat so soft and lush, you can spoon it into your mouth. If you're a devotee of chef Binkley and his team, or a big fan of destination fine dining in general, you'll no doubt want to reserve a table at the other Binkley joint in town — Binkley's Restaurant in midtown Phoenix, where a multi-course dinner can stretch for upwards of three hours.
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But if you're in the kind of sunken-in mood that only something like great patio views and very good fries can lift, you would probably benefit from a field trip to Carefree and some face time with the French fries at Cafe Bink.
The Essentials so far:
50: Tequila Sunrise at the Arizona Biltmore.
49: "Dragon" Dumpling Burger at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour.
48: Dizzy Fig Empanada at Republica Empanada.
47: Linguine Carbonara at Avanti.
46: The Food Court at Mercado de los Cielos.
45: Chicken Feta Salad at George’s Kitchen.
44: Spinach & Cheese Chimi Burro at Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant.
43: Dinner at Rustler's Rooste.
42: Gyro Omelet at Mel's Diner.
41: Zipps Wings at Zipps Sports Grill.
40: Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa.
39: Asian Nachos at Moto.
38: Olive Oil Tasting at Queen Creek Olive Oil Mill.
37: Baby Back Ribs at Don & Charlie's.
36: Limoncello at Cibo.
35: Chili Salt Chicken Wings at Asian Café Express.
34: Smoked Prime Rib at Texaz.
33: Steak Salad at Feeney's.
32: Tasting Menu at Kai Restaurant.
31: Toffee Banofi Sundae at Sweet Republic.
30: Big Jim at Welcome Diner.
29: Sonoran Hot Dog at El Caprichoso.
28: Sashimi at Nobuo at Teeter House.
27: Oysters at Casey Moore's Oyster House.
26: Spring rolls at Da Vang.
25: Bruschetta and wine at Postino.
24: Hot green chili fry bread at Fry Bread House.
23: The Big One at The Chuckbox.
22: Cahuamanta Stew at Cahuamanta El Yaqui.
21: Dim Sum at Great Wall Cuisine.
20: Fried chicken at The Horny Toad.
19: George & Dragon’s Famous Fish & Chips.
18: Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches at Pho 43rd Express.
17: Cerreta Candy Co. Factory Tour & Candy Sampling in Downtown Glendale.
16: Steak Dinner at The Stockyards.
15: Margarita + Guacamole del Barrio at Barrio Cafe.
14: BBQ Plate at Joe's Real BBQ.
13: Fried Chicken & Pork Chops from Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe.
12: Breakfast Burrito at Yucca Tap Room.
11: Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies at Super Chunk.
10: Doro Wat at Cafe Lalibela.
9: Lunch at Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli.
8: The Chef's Counter at Posh.
7: Flour tortillas and machaca at Carolina's.
6: Wining and dining at FnB.
5. Shopping at Lee Lee's International Supermarket.
4: Power lunch at Durant's.
3. Standing in Line for Brisket at Little Miss BBQ.