The Arcadia neighborhood somehow has become the burger capital of metro Phoenix. I can't think of another part of town that has a higher concentration of chichi burger joints. Indeed, it seems burger-centric restaurants outnumber all the other places combined.
And so when The Stand first took over the space that once housed the beloved Maui Dog, on 36th Street and Indian School, my first thought was, "Oh, jeez, not another burger! Don't we already have enough of those around here?" I stopped in during the first week of operation for a peek.
On that first visit, I thought the burger was decent, but it wasn't quite good enough to get me out of my well-worn rut to other environs. After a couple of months, I noticed often that the parking lot was full and the drive-thru lane was doing brisk business. I made a note to stop back in and see what all the fuss was about. But I kept heading to my usual haunts. One day, I found myself in the area with a serious burger craving — and without transportation. It was time to return to The Stand.
3538 East Indian School Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (dine in), 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (drive-thru) Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Standard cheeseburger: $5.45
Short rib taco: $2.95
Chips and salsa: $2.75
Specialty milkshakes: $4.49
The Stand's shtick is part burger joint, part taquería. The atmosphere reflects this in clever ways. On one visit, a swingin' oldies song immediately was followed by Celia Cruz belting "Guantanamera." One trash can is marked "Thank You," and the other reads "Gracias." My favorite touch is the mural and T-shirts that echo the iconic "Hecho en Mexico" label with "Hecho en Arcadia."
The burger menu has exactly one item, The Standard. It's a double burger stacked like In-N-Out's Double-Double, with American cheese or without and with such available extras as bacon, grilled onions, and grilled jalapeños. A bacon Double-Double? Sign me up! A single burger is available but not listed on the menu. I wish they made The Standard as the single, but only because I like the pun possibilities that arise from having an item dubbed the Double Standard.
The taco menu also keeps it simple, with three fillings: beef short rib, chicken, or vegetables, all with various accouterments. Another menu board lists sides (fries and chips, of course, plus Mexican street corn) and a variety of beverages, including everything you'd expect to see at a burger or taco joint: Coke fountain drinks, bottled Mexican sodas, aguas frescas (proudly made in-house), fresh-squeezed lemonade, and a variety of shakes.
I ordered my burger with cheese and bacon, along with fries and a tall glass of jamaica from the aguas frescas list. I settled into a cozy patio table on a bright, sunny afternoon while the cooks got to work. At least, I tried to settle in. The banquette seat around the patio perimeter was too narrow for my ample derriere; I felt I was going to slide clean off. The regular chairs were much more comfortable. The aforementioned patio fence blocked a little too much light for my taste, and blocked sun was exacerbated by the dark gray paint job. (A second visit at night found the patio much more inviting, with great lighting and the fence boards blocking Indian School's headlight glare.)
A flock of high-pitched Arcadia soccer moms, noisy brood in tow, descended upon the patio. As I headed to the brightly lit interior to escape the hubbub, I noticed the slender moms had no problem parking their skinny carcasses on the banquette. To each her own. I happily slurped the tall glass of jamaica (strong and well-balanced between sweet and tart, darn near perfect) while I waited for my order.
When I sampled the burger and fries, I couldn't have been much happier. It was an obvious copy of In-N-Out's legendary burger, but with extra TLC that a large company like In-N-Out just can't provide. The burger patties were nicely seared but still juicy, and the American cheese was delightfully gooey. Green leaf lettuce attractively poked out the sides of the burger. Pickle slices were thick and crisp. The bacon is good stuff from Niman Ranch, but the burger is well-crafted to the point that bacon is almost gilding the lily. Almost. Fries are competently prepared hand-cut skin-on spuds, hot and crispy like a fry should be, great either with ketchup or au naturel.
On my way out the door, temptation got the better of me. I had to have a salted dulce de leche shake. I'm very glad I did. It's a serious shake, loaded with rich caramel and studded with little chunks of salt for spark. No ordinary straw could handle a shake this thick, so the folks at The Stand provide the strong half-inch diameter straws that usually accompany boba tea. Can every place with shakes do this, please?
My return visit for an impromptu taco night met with less consistent results. On future visits, I'll pass on the chicken taco; the chicken was a little dry from overcooking, and the cotija and pickled onions didn't do much to perk up the flavor. I was pleasantly surprised by the vegetable taco, with its mix of sautéed squash and peppers with quinoa and black beans. The big taco star was the beef short rib taco, with succulent meat braised in very flavorful red chile sauce.
The Mexican-flavored sides were, for the most part, fine. The chips themselves were nothing to write home about, but the salsas and guacamole were spot-on, to the point I'm tempted to ask if I can order them by the pint to go. I was in the mood for Mexican street corn but got sad news that they have it only when corn is in season. I appreciate the commitment to freshness, but I kind of wish they'd hide that line on the menu when it's not being offered.
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After swooning over the dulce de leche shake, I had to try the chocolate chile one. I'm a huge fan of sweet-and-spicy combinations, so this was right up my alley. People who aren't fans of chile heat might find it too spicy; I couldn't get enough.
My absolute favorite part of visiting The Stand has been the service. Everyone there is friendly, enthusiastic, and polite. More important, they appear sincerely friendly. It's a tough sweet spot to hit (even more so in fast food, where most of the workforce is either an apathetic McRobot or a creepy Chick-fil-A Stepford Wife-in-training), but literally every employee I encountered at The Stand, from the drive-thru guy all the way up to the owner, left me with a bigger smile than when I walked in.
The Stand has found a great niche. It's loads better than a drive-thru chain, but a good deal less expensive than the swanky-casual full-service burger joints all over Arcadia. I'm as happy to have The Stand in my neighborhood as the staff is happy to see me every time I walk in the door.