Best of Phoenix

Best of Phoenix 2018: Charlie Levy's Favorite Local Spots

Best of Phoenix 2018: Charlie Levy's Favorite Local Spots
Carrie Wheeler
Carrie Wheeler

Crescent Ballroom owner Charlie Levy always knows when it’s 3 p.m. “When I see Michael Strong walking down the street with his briefcase, I know it’s 3 o’clock,” Levy says. That’s when downtown’s legendary Michael’s Jewelers — located just above Levy’s Valley Bar — closes for the day, and when 98-year-old Strong exits the jewelry sales and repair shop he’s owned since 1950. “Michael still repairs the jewelry and watches himself,” Levy says. “Just going in and talking to him is like going back in time. He’s been on this street forever, and he remembers everything.”

Levy has been around awhile himself, and has been eating at Haji-Baba for decades. “I remember going there when I was at ASU 25 years ago,” he chuckles. “The food is as good now as it was then. It’s consistent because it’s the same people running the place that have always been there. They never fail me.”

When he’s not eating gyros or kafta, Levy might be at Encanto Park, watching soccer games. “On the weekends, in the late afternoon, on the east side where the playing fields are, there are always soccer games. The thing about it is these guys play like world-class athletes. I sit on the embankment, and I’m just blown away by their play.”

Hands down, the best music in town can be found, for Levy’s money, at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church. “There is no local band from anywhere that can match this choir,” he insists. “They perform on Sundays and do some nighttime concerts here and there. The band must be 10 pieces and the choir is 50 or 60 people strong. They do gospel music, and they are a treasure.”

So are the French pastries at Ollie Vaughn’s. “I would put their croissants up against any I’ve eaten in Paris,” Levy says. “I think every good city needs a really great local bakery, and Ollie Vaughn’s is that bakery for me.”

• You can go to Michael’s Jewelers (138 North Central Avenue, 602-253-1002) to get your watch repaired, but you can also get a history lesson about downtown Phoenix, there, too. Michael Strong owns the place, and he’s 98 years old and has been around since 1950. He’s fascinating to talk to.

• A lot of the time, you remember a restaurant’s food as better than it was, if you went there a lot when you were younger. But Haji-Baba (1513 East Apache Boulevard, Tempe, 480-894-1905) has been great since I started going there in the early ’90s. You can always pick up some weird spice to put in your scrambled eggs in their market, too.

• I love Encanto Park (2605 North 15th Avenue) for a lot of reasons, but the soccer games there are amazing.

• I’ve tried to get the choir from Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church (1401 East Jefferson Street, 602-258-0831) to perform at The Van Buren, but they won’t return my calls. Hopefully they’ll read this and change their minds.

• My dad is a cheesecake connoisseur, and Ollie Vaughn’s (1526 East McDowell Road, 602-254-1392) cheesecake made his eyes light up.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela