Pete's Fish & Chips: Phoenix's Own Guilty Pleasure Nexus

The Guilty Pleasure: Anything deep-fried The Place to Get It: Pete's Fish & Chips, eight locations valley wide The Cost: $4-7 What You'll Really Pay: Around a thousand calories, and enough grams of fat to blow any diet. But it's seafood, so it's healthy, right?

Sometimes I should know well enough to keep my mouth shut.

There we were at the New Times office discussing Chow Bella content, when I got on a good rant about some food that I really shouldn't enjoy as much as I do. We all have these dishes. It's that package of something at the store that you can't buy because you know that the moment you open the box, the entire contents will be devoured in seconds. It's that restaurant that you adore, despite knowing that being spotted there will be worse than getting caught dipping into the collection plate at church. It's that dish that people beg you to bring for potluck, but you never share the recipe because it's either astonishingly fattening or embarrassingly simple to make (or better, both).

It's now something else: A new column here on Chow Bella. And this week, I'm kicking it off with a place that is arguably the collective guilty pleasure of the Phoenix metropolitan area.

I know that fish isn't supposed to be rectangular. I know that fried shrimp should have more shrimp than breading. So why do I enjoy Pete's Fish & Chips as much as I do? There's just something about the place that keeps me coming back. If you ask anyone who will confess to their Pete's addiction, the usual theory is that they must put something in the sauce that makes you crave it at regular intervals. That sauce has certainly been a cornerstone of Pete's success; it was the only condiment available at the place for decades, until a couple of years ago when a few locations caved to consumer demand and started offering tartar sauce and ranch dressing. You're still on your own for a side of ketchup.

Pete's does have hamburgers, but I find it's best to stick to the deep-fried items. They have a pretty wide variety; in addition to the eponymous fish, they have hand-battered shrimp, oysters, scallops, or crab sticks, along with chicken nuggets and tenders. The hand-battered onion rings are highly underrated, one of the better examples in town.

I think part of the allure of Pete's is that it's one of the few fast food places in town that fries the food to order. With so many places frying in advance and keeping it in a warming tray until it's time to serve, it's easy to forget that food tastes better when it's still piping HOT instead of a touch over lukewarm.

And then there's that darn sauce. It can't be that complicated; it's close to cocktail sauce, but with the heat coming from something besides horseradish, probably some kind of chili sauce. The sauce's tanginess with a bare glimmer of heat acts as a good foil to the grease on the plate, not weighing the fish down with even more oil like tartar sauce does. And it's also good to know you're supporting local business; the family has kept Pete's running in the Valley since 1947.

You're probably thinking I'm crazy for writing something like this in a public forum, and you may well be right. But keep in mind, everyone has a guilty pleasure; it's uncouth to think that someone else's guilty pleasure is worse than your own. And who knows, maybe I'll feature yours very soon.

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