It's easy to latch on to all the things I'm not going to miss about the Valley, but in the case of the local food scene, the positive completely overwhelms those things that have been making my right eye twitch. Let's take a misty-eyed journey through the city's culinary offerings.
The local produce Summertime produce in Arizona is a sad and limited sight; when the rest of country is bountiful in vine-ripened tomatoes, green beans and delicate lettuce, we're being crushed by heat, more okra and eggplant than one city is capable of ever eating, and obscenely large Armenian cucumbers -- until the cooler weather arrives, that is. Agritopia's Arizona sweet oranges, Maya's purslane and jewel-colored Easter egg radishes, Bob McClendon's fractal romanesco.... It's hard to beat what can be grown in the Valley at a time when knee deep snow is not uncommon in other parts of the country.
The Phoenix Knife Shop If there is a place where good Valley cooks go to dream of the perfect razor edge on shining damask steel, or blades so sharp and fine it is almost -- almost, but never quite -- a shame to beat them against a scarred institutional plastic cutting board for 12 or 14 hours a day, day in and day out, that place is the Phoenix Knife Shop. Not only is this shop a dream gallery of the knives we all need, want and lust over, the go-to place to get the edge into our damaged or dull precious babies, but also an information hub, the place to get the gossip of who's not doing so well out there, who's hiring, who's about to walk out and take their entire staff with them. Your office water cooler is just not as cool as the knife shop.
The 16th St. Corridor in Phoenix Starting just south of Van Buren, with Asadero Norte de Sonora, and running north to south of Osborn with El Pacifico Restaurante Y Pescaderia, 16th St. may have the highest concentration of Mexican restaurants, snack bars, ice cream shops, candy shops, panaderias and carnicerias in the Valley. I couldn't possibly eat at all of them in one day, not even on my hungriest of days, and believe me, I have tried. Call these restaurants authentic, traditional, surprisingly clean for being in a run down part of town, a slice of old Mexico, just like you imagined Mexican nanas everywhere make, or any other form of quaint semi-condescending descriptor typically found in a Yelp review. Most of us that frequent them just call them a really tasty place to get lunch.
The Dobson Road Corridor in Mesa The stretch of Dobson Road in between Southern Ave. and Main St. is the Asian cuisine equivalent to Phoenix's very Mexican 16th St. With Korean soft tofu soup, whole roasted sucking pigs, shabu shabu, pick-it-live-then-have-it-cooked seafood, and one of the best stocked grocery stores in the Valley, Dobson Rd. is a culinary jewel I'm not likely to have replicated within walking distance of my home again.
The Mexican Drive thrus Not every Mexican drive thru is worth hitting up, but who hasn't been saved late at night, after a closing shift, or slightly (or more than slightly) tipsy, when nothing else in the world will do but a lengua torta? And if you find a Filiberto's that serves horchata made with actual rice, not a chalky powder, you stick with it 24 hours a day, sober or not.
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The Pizza This is a town with an abundance of seriously great pizza, and what else can you expect from a place with one of the country's top pizza makers in residence? The debate as to which pizza is best is no less heated in the Valley than in Chicago or New York, two cities more commonly associated with great pizza than Phoenix. Some may decry Chris Bianco's pizza as being boring, overhyped or just too plain, but his pizza has never been about reinventing the wheel when it comes to toppings, but about starting with the perfect dough; that dough, as well as the mustachioed 'Super Mario Bros.' working the wood fired oven will be sorely missed. A close second is Papago Brewing Co.'s beer dough pizza. These are just two of my favorites in a town with a great pizza joint waiting to be discovered in every neighborhood.
The Airport Food Remember the days when airport food meant pizza with a pool of grease on it, a chewy microwaved egg burrito, or a dry and overpriced burger? I do, and have been grateful every single time I've been able to build my own multi-course menu from locally owned coffee shops, restaurants, bars and dessert spots scattered throughout terminal 4.
I could another 10 points to this list, counting every single great chef and their signature dish I will miss terribly when I'm gone; but mostly I'm happy to have been in Phoenix for the past 12 years, a time that has been so transformative for the local dining scene. The days of coming up empty on finding a downtown dining spot for before or after a game are long gone; ethnic food here isn't just Mexican anymore, though that rarely ever got a complaint from me. I'll miss Phoenix, and I'm sure whenever I come back the dining scene will have blossomed into something completely beyond my expectations.