The countdown to Best of Phoenix is on. Mark your calendar: This year's issue will be on newsstands September 26. What better way to warm up than by asking some local "experts" to list their own personal bests? This week, Greg Esser -- director of the International Artist Residency program and the Desert Initiative at Arizona State University -- offers up his five favorite spots to take an artist to dinner.
By Greg Esser
One of the many tasks for my day job is figuring out where to take new visiting international artists, sometimes arriving in the United States for the first time, to create the perfect first impression of Phoenix. The ASU Art Museum International Visiting Artist Program brings artists from around the world to develop new artwork in collaboration with diverse individuals and community organizations throughout Arizona with support from the expansive research and other resources of Arizona State University. Artists live in downtown Phoenix at Combine Studios from a few weeks to a few months while developing projects.
Los Dos Molinos There is no better place in the city to watch the sun go down than Dobbins Lookout at South Mountain preserve. The panoramic view at 2,330 feet is like the view from the airplane window for arriving international artists. How fortunate that at the bottom of the return drive into the city Los Dos Molinos (make sure you hit this particular location, the most picturesque of the local chain's various spots) happens to serve one of the best margaritas in town along with a killer New Mexico Hatch Valley Green Chili.
Heard Museum Cafe The Heard Museum is undoubtedly the best place to give an overview of the 22 different indigenous communities that call Arizona home through artwork and exhibitions. The exhibition "Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience" remains one of the most moving narratives and the mural "Fear of Red Planet" by Phoenix artist Steven Yazzie is one of the city's best public art installations, graphically portraying histories that most history books omit. The real draw is the perfectly spiced posole with roasted pork at the Heard Museum Café, itself worth the trip. The prickly pear lemonade or margarita also gives a perfect culinary introduction to the foods and cultures of the Sonoran desert.
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Durant's Little else compares to the experience of walking through the back door into the kitchen of Durant's to make a first impression. The deep red velour wallpaper and crisp black and white dress reinforce the impression of a lost era. Long a hangout for theater professionals and artists, Durant's still offers some of the best mixology, wines, steaks and seafood in central Phoenix. It is an excellent choice for artists, curators and collectors. My personal menu favorite is the wedge salad.
Gallo Blanco For fresh and authentic Mexican-inspired fare, few places in Phoenix are better than Gallo Blanco. My favorite standby is the Ensalada Cortada, one of the city's best chopped salads. I almost always order the added guilty pleasure of the Elote Callejero, street-style roasted corn with cotija cheese and either a horchata or watermelon agua fresca when it is in season. After dinner, enjoy a nightcap with a view from the Clarendon Hotel's rooftop bar, a great vantage point from which to explain the geography and evolution of the Phoenix skyline.
Cocina 10 at Crescent Ballroom Dancing is its own international language. The incredible performers that Crescent Ballroom regularly brings to town is one of the defining features of downtown Phoenix. Walking to see bands like Yacht with artists from Japan and Mexico City or Dengue Fever with artists from Italy and Portugal remains among the most high-energy of experiences found downtown. Crescent's restaurant/bar, Cocina 10, also happens to offer my personal favorite burrito in town, the Tejano, made with Tillamook Extra Sharp cheddar cheese. Add a few fresh corn chips and an amazing full bar and staff, every night of the year offers a tasty menu with live music.