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.
21: Dim Sum at Great Wall Cuisine
On the weekends, this classic Phoenix restaurant draws big brunch crowds who come primed to feast.
It's Sunday morning in west Phoenix, and you're surrounded by family and friends. The atmosphere is lively and boisterous all around, no doubt buoyed by bottomless pots of chrysanthemum tea, and the promise of a near-endless supply of delicious, snack-sized offerings like steaming hot, pork-stuffed buns and slippery, shrimp-perfumed dumplings.
Quick-moving servers push carts around the cavernous, noisy dining room, which is big enough to accommodate weddings and other multi-generational gatherings, plus the big brunch crowds on the weekends.
On these carts, tucked inside bamboo and metal steamer baskets, you'll spot delicacies like bright orange, chile-sluiced barbecued chicken feet; meaty, saucy spare ribs; salty-sweet noodles wrapped around pork and beef; and all manner of soft, lush buns stuffed with things like bean paste, or maybe a light, sweet custard.
Welcome to Great Wall Cuisine, home to one of the oldest and most popular weekend dim sum services in metro Phoenix.
You point at everything you want to eat, and it quickly materializes on your plate. Chasing down a cart filled with your favorite dumplings is probably not polite, but it does happen. Like almost everything else in life, your dim sum experience is greatly enhanced by an open mind and a sense of adventure.
Great Wall is not often accused of being glamorous or trendy. But that's a great part of its appeal. The banquet-size restaurant is situated in a sun-faded, half-empty strip mall near 35th Avenue and Camelback Road, and it remains one of the last, great Valley outposts of Cantonese cooking and Hong Kong-style dim sum in Phoenix.
In terms of sheer value, this is one brunch that rarely feels overpriced. It's almost impossible to leave Great Wall without incurring a minor stomachache. You will eat too much, and you might as well accept that fact before you sit down to feast.
But it will be a well-earned stomachache, one that you will probably associate with the distinct flavors of a classic dim sum; the sounds of laughter and feelings of almost overwhelming abundance; and, of course, bottomless cups of chrysanthemum tea.
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.