Admit it. Are you one of those people who equates dining on McDowell with free lunch at the Show Club? Is your McDowell eating experience confined to hot dogs at the coliseum during Suns games? Do you suffer from Fear of McDowell?
If you said "yes~" to any of these questions, read on. Contrary to what you may believe, McDowell Road is possibly one of the best streets for eating in this city. Affordable, authentic and, dare I say, "funky," it offers an exciting range of ethnic cuisines as well as solid American standards. Not that every restaurant on McDowell is a winner. There are shining stars like Indian Delhi Palace, San Carlos Bay Seafood Restaurant, and Gourmet House of Hong Kong. There are lesser luminaries like Rachel's Kitchen and Gina's Pizza. There are even places that are positively awful. But if I were condemned to eat on one street for the rest of my days in Phoenix, McDowell might just be it. "But," I hear you protest, "McDowell is, well, scary."
Not anymore. Both the City of Phoenix and local merchants have made a concerted effort to clean up the street. Sure, there are still places named the Dancing Sunshines and Club Me, but as David Stanfel, owner of Brookshire's, points out, "We all co-exist. The bars don't bother us." He and other merchants are determined to restore East McDowell to its halcyon days of 35 years ago, when the area encompassing 12th to 18th Streets was known as the "Miracle Mile." So, in light of its reemergence as a respectable and viable street, maybe it's time you reacquainted yourself with McDowell Road. In fact, allow me to give you a guided tour--from the eating perspective, of course.
We'll survey East and West McDowell restaurants from 52nd Street to 51st Avenue. Along the way, we'll be making some stops (31 to be exact) to check out McDowell's more noteworthy eateries. Yes, there's still construction, but it's really not as bad as it was. Besides, I'm driving, so don't worry about it.
Just so you know, for the purpose of our tour, I have excluded the following types of eating establishments: 1) national or regional fast-food chain restaurants; 2) any place listing "cocktails" above or larger than "food" on its sign; 3) any establishment in which a bar and pool table are the first things one sees upon entering--or that remind me of the college frat basements I used to frequent in the 1970s, full of the smell of stale beer, with sticky floors and rubbernecking patrons.
With these parameters established, let's get started.
Traveling McDowell east to west, we begin in the shadow of the Papago Buttes at 52nd Street. They're widening McDowell through the Papagos--orange-and-white reflective standards are in place from 48th Street through the pass--but don't let that scare you. The street is not impossible to negotiate. In a small strip mall on the northwest corner of the 52nd Street intersection (across from the Motorola plant) are two fine restaurants that deserve your attention.
Much has been said about Indian Delhi Palace , 5050 East McDowell, but that won't prevent me from saying more. (Formerly known simply as Delhi Palace, the name change differentiates it from the separately owned Delhi Palace in Tempe.) I love this place for its dim lighting, pastel murals and interesting clientele. We've spotted Meat Puppets, newspaper editors and professors dining here. We assume they come for the complimentary crispy papadum and incendiary green sauce, the tender and buttery chicken tikka masala or delicate lamb korma, the wholesomely satisfying vegetable biryani, the cooling cucumber-yogurt raita and lovely tandoori breads like naan or paratha. We do.
Order dishes any temperature you like: The excellent service staff will always double-check "very spicy" orders. (Server: You want it spicy? Me: Yes. Server: Very spicy? Me: Yes. Server: Super spicy? Me: Yes. Server: Okay, I'll bring it super, super spicy. Me: Great!) If you go the hot route, be sure to order an Indian beer, soft drink or tea to extinguish the fire. They serve a buffet during lunch--a great way to sample.
Rachel's Kitchen , 5024 East McDowell, is another restaurant I endorse wholeheartedly. So it's a little dingy, maybe even a little messy, but the food and service compensate. As New Times' own Cap'n Dave has noted, the hash here will change any naysayer's mind. Choose from eight kinds (corned beef, bacon and roast beef are just three): What you'll get is neither mushy nor wet, but more like New York-style home fries tossed with meat. As Rachel says, "You'll try it, you'll love it!" Deli sandwiches and hamburgers also are served, and don't miss the potato salad--it's the best I've ever eaten in a restaurant. Back in the car, we negotiate west through the orange-and-white construction standards. This is not a particularly interesting section of McDowell, comprised as it is of industrial strip malls, anonymous apartment complexes and high-tech institutes.