Castro Overthrown

Chary's Place, a Cuban cafe in downtown Phoenix, has become even more authentic. The place is abandoned, and, like many of the restaurants I've seen in Cuba, has no food to sell.

But all is not lost -- owner Chary Castro simply decided that when the time came to renew her lease and commit to five years in the little shop at First Avenue and Adams, the store was too small. She currently is looking for a new, larger location.

"The food was very well-received," she says, "but it was a pilot project over the two and a half years we were downtown. Now I'm ready to take it to the next step."

In the meantime, the full menu from Chary's Place is available at Castro's original restaurant, Pica Poco Taco at 40th Street and Camelback. And ever the positive thinker, Castro reminds me that while the downtown location's hours were limited, Pica is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.

The new and improved Chary's Place might land anywhere; Castro says she's particular to Ahwatukee, downtown Scottsdale or the West Valley.

Chicken Coup: TexAZ Grill has sold its 500,000th chicken fried steak. The Texan restaurant at 16th Street and Bethany Home has been keeping a running total on a sign outside since it opened in 1985. How good is the massive platter, swimming in gravy and paired with chunky mashed potatoes? I personally have purchased enough to qualify as a triple-digit contributor.

Pig-Headed: Yes, Virginia, there is a free lunch. And for the first time, dinner, too. On Wednesday, May 22, Gilbert's cherished Joe's Real BBQ is celebrating National BBQ Month by giving away its sweet, mild, Arizona pecan-smoked 'cue from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m. No strings attached.

The food giveaway has been an annual promotion since Joe's opened five years ago, says owner Joe Johnston, but previously limited to lunch. It's an extremely effective way to encourage new customers, he thinks, and it's his hope that the dinner will attract more families.

Diners get a regular-size sandwich, two side dishes, and a soda (no other food will be served that day). It's a fair deal: Diners must go through the line themselves and get one plate only. The to-go window will be closed and group takeout orders are not allowed. The offer is good while supplies last, but Joe's is preparing for at least 3,000 meals (it did 1,350 lunches last year).

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet