The Essential Valley Spot for Old-Fashioned Banana Splits and Fizzy Ice Cream Sodas

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.

17: Camelback Soda at The Sugar Bowl

Old Town Scottsdale has seen plenty of legendary businesses come and go over the years. The district is a veritable graveyard of gone but not forgotten restaurants, bars, and late-night haunts — places like the Lulu Belle, the Red Dog Saloon, and the Pink Pony.

If there's one Old Town Scottsdale restaurant that's survived the decades with aplomb, though, it's the Sugar Bowl, an old-fashioned family restaurant and ice cream parlor that's currently celebrating its 60th year in business. That's one hell of run, especially considering Old Town's changes.

Founder Jack Huntress opened the cotton-candy-pink restaurant and ice cream parlor on New Year's Eve 1958, hoping to fill a void in the local family-friendly dining scene. His nephew, Carroll Huntress, took over the business in the 1980s. Over the years, the space has expanded to include additional dining room and arcade games.

For the most part, though, the Sugar Bowl hasn't changed much since it first opened in the late 1950s, staying true to its midcentury design roots. The dining room is something of a time capsule: the tufted pink booths, heart-shaped tables, and soda fountain are all original to the space.

The menu, a hodgepodge of sandwiches and extravagant ice cream concoctions, remains eccentric and charming. How many spots in Scottsdale offer a PB&J, a meatloaf sandwich, and tea sandwiches served with Jell-O for lunch? Probably not many.

In the age of fro-yo, gelato, and gourmet ice cream, the Sugar Bowl's ice cream menu feels very much like a throwback to the time of seltzer-sluiced ice cream sodas, root beer floats, parfaits, and extravagant banana splits.

There's really no wrong way to order when you come to the Sugar Bowl, but I'd like to put in a good word for the Camelback Sodas. They come in about a dozen flavors — the most exotic option is probably the pineapple mint — and the fizzy soda base is topped with an oversize scoop of vanilla ice cream that inevitably causes your drink to run down the side of your glass. It's a vintage Sugar Bowl treat: fun, messy, and a little out of step with the latest trends. Of course, you really can't go wrong with any of the ice cream sundaes and banana splits, which are still served in old-fashioned glassware.

By now, the Sugar Bowl has been around for so long that it's easy to take it for granted. That would be a mistake, of course, so dig in (or drink up), while you can.

The Sugar Bowl. 4005 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale; 480-946-0051.
Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight.

The Essentials So Far
50: Soul food platter at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
49: The Bear at Short Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Doughnuts
48: Grilled squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer
47: I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10
46: Coffee made from ROC2 beans
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff
44: Zookz at Zookz
43: Jade Red Chicken at Chino Bandido
42: Tasting menu at Quiessence at The Farm
41: Single-origin Papua New Guinea Bar at Zak's Chocolate
40: Green chile at Casa Reynoso
39: Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company
38: Hand-pulled noodles from China Magic Noodle House
37: Carne adovada sliders at Dick's Hideaway
36: Crispy Pig Ear and Amaro cocktails from Crudo
35: Chile-laced specialties from Cafe Ga Hyang
34: Martinis at AZ88
33: Nooner at Duck & Decanter
32: Eggs Maximilian at Harlow's Cafe
31: Beef Tacos from Asadero Norte De Sonora
30: Orange Blossom from Huss Brewing Company
29: Rye bread from Yasha From Russia
28: Scotch Beef and Mashed Potatoes from Tarbell's
27: Griddled Corn Cakes and Ramona Farms Super Food Salad at Phoenix City Grille
26: Soup from Reathrey Sekong
25: Lamb tongue sandwich at Haji Baba
24: The Special at Grand Avenue Pizza Company
23: Red chile at Elmer's Tacos
22: Marranitos at La Purisima Bakery
21: Kronuts from Karl's Bakery
20: Beef pies at Chou's Kitchen
19: Bavarian pretzels & schnitzel at Haus Murphy's
18: Red chili burro and sopapillas from Los Dos Molinos
17: Camelback Soda at The Sugar Bowl
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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.