Welcome to the 2018 edition of 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.
50: Soul Food Platter from Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles.
“Our signature drink is Kool-Aid,” says my waiter. “We’ve got purple, red, and blue.”
You've just sat down, cracked a menu. Your waiter came over, smiled and spoke. And right now you’ve reached the point in a meal at Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles when you realize or remember you’re in a great place. In an era of carbonated water and Chemex coffee, a time when eateries use chickpea brine to froth drinks, Lo-Lo’s keeps the old-school neon stuff flowing.
Lo-Lo’s prides itself on plating “hood classics.”
Chicken and waffles. Collards. Fried okra. Fried catfish.
You can get all of these on one plate with the Famous Soulfood Platter. The platter pairs your choice of a main component with three sides (two wide-ranging, one starchy). The best way to experience as much of Lo-Lo’s as you can in one pop is to spring for this platter, and to hone in on the split chicken and fish option. You’ll get one piece of fried chicken (breast, thigh, or drumstick), one piece of fish (catfish or cod).
The fried and non-fried food at Lo-Lo’s has deep roots in Phoenix, and deep roots in the south.
Larry White, owner, gives his nickname “Lo-Lo” to the restaurant. He grew up in the kitchen of his grandmother, Elizabeth White, she of the legendary Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe downtown. Elizabeth learned how to cook in Temple, Texas. She opened Mrs. White’s in 1964. Taking a page from her book, Larry opened the first Lo-Lo’s in 2002. Since then, he has expanded to a total of five Valley locations, Las Vegas, Omaha, and even his grandma's native Texas.
Larry's breaded delicacies teeter over the platter’s rim.
His fried chicken has a huge shatter. The crunch rolls through your head and blots out all non-chicken thoughts as you chew, meat hot and juicy even if you opt for breast (the biggest piece, though not as tasty as dark meat). The golden batter jacketing the catfish brings a different texture, one with more of a short granular crunch – not as massive and better suited to the more fragrant, delicate fish.
The choice of sides isn't easy. Collards fit the bill if you want some green with all your golden. They’re soft with nice depth and can chainsaw through the fried heft if you add drops of Lo-Lo’s homemade hot sauce, bringing mellow heat and rich chile flavor. Fried okra comes soft and piping hot, another good side bet.
If the choice of sides is hard, the choice of starchy add-on is hellacious: biscuit, waffle, or cornbread.
Any will round out your mini tour of Lo-Lo’s “hood classics” warmly and nicely. One of the amazing things about Lo-Lo’s, on top of the utter lack of pretension and genuine service, is that the food comes fast and tastes great despite how crowded the place often is. Though Larry White has eight locations and Lo-Lo's has something of a chain-vibe at this point in its expansion, tables fill with diners crunching into chicken and sipping neon Kool-Aid because the place delivers.
It delivers food. It delivers vibes. And because it delivers, this soul food staple – a limb branching creatively and boldly from a local family tree – is an essential Phoenix restaurant.
Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles. 1220 South Central Avenue (plus other locations); 602-340-1304.
Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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