As the saying goes, appearances can be deceiving -- especially when it comes to a restaurant's cleanliness. While the dining area may look spotless, you never know what's lurking in the kitchen.
Perhaps food workers foregoing the required plastic gloves. Meat left on the counter too long. Or, even -- horror of all possible restaurant horrors!!! -- live roaches in the food, a problem that befell one of our former favorite hangouts back in 2008.
After reading a few of our Gross Out columns, it seems prudent to at least look up a restaurant's inspection record prior to dragging Grandma June to that hole-in-the-wall Asian place down the street that everyone swears by, but you're not so sure about.
Maricopa County's Department of Environmental Services offers a free online database of health inspections conducted in their territory, which encompasses most of the Phoenix Metro. It's pretty slick. You can type in a restaurant name and if the place has been inspected in the last three years, it'll show whether they received "No award" (ick) or a Gold or Silver Award (both respectable).
Unfortunately, certain well-known restaurants are missing. The Range Steakhouse. Ahnala. The Mobil 5-Star rated Kai.
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Seems all of the restaurants on Native American reservations are exempt from Maricopa County's health inspection process. "We don't conduct inspections on the reservations," a Maricopa County employee explained when we called about the missing inspections. "I believe each reservation is responsible for their own health inspection process."
Sounds plausible. According to their website, Gila River Indian Community's Department of Environmental Health conducts inspections of food service establishments on their land. That would presumably include casino restaurants like Kai (although considering how rigorous the process is for Mobil and AAA's awards, you can bet that one's clean).
Calls and e-mails to the Environmental Health department went unanswered, so we could never confirm whether their reports are made public.
What it boils down to is... how important is a restaurant's health inspection record in determining where you eat? If it's difficult or impossible to track down an inspection report on a restaurant, would you still go and risk the roaches?