Growing Pains and Hunger Pangs — PHX Night Market 2019

A dreamy setup with nightmare prices.
A dreamy setup with nightmare prices. Lauren Cusimano
First, what the PHX Night Market is doing is spectacular. Thoughts of walking down the literal middle of Jackson Street was never a notion in anyone’s head — especially while holding a five-pound pineapple drink.

For its second year, PHX Night Market decided to take things downtown. Upgrading the food festival to the Warehouse District was a great idea. Lyft or light rail and you’re there. The setup was mostly gorgeous and there was plenty of room to wander — but almost too much.

It seemed immediately like the PHX Night Market had upgraded from the Phoenix Public Market space to an entire district of town a little too soon — or without much of a blueprint. It was like a small city, with congested urban areas and sprawling suburbs. Some areas, or lots, had food and retail vendors pressed up against each other like shotgun homes, the lines to which were jumbled and indecipherable. Other streets were occupied by just a handful of food trucks. I’m certain there were reasons for this — generators, room to park, food truck versus non-food truck setups — but it felt disjointed.

click to enlarge First course — carne asada fries from Ni De Aqui, Ni De Alla. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
First course — carne asada fries from Ni De Aqui, Ni De Alla.
Lauren Cusimano
That said, the food was incredible. But many amenities — basic amenities — were entirely overlooked.

First, there was a noticeable lack of trash cans. Not no compost receptacles. Not no recycle cans. But trash cans. Some areas had a couple boxes for discarded packaging or whatever jammed against a light pole base, others had overflowing, permanent receptacles. Other areas had nothing.

Restrooms weren’t an issue, thank goodness, but actually using one? Some rows of the purple porta potties were lined up beneath ballpark-level lighting. Other rows were shrouded in darkness. Having to pee in total darkness while managing a crossbody purse is no one’s favorite task.

I showed up hungry, as many people suggested, but it took a while to figure out which spot to try first, which line to hop in, which neighborhood to explore. I went for the Ni De Aqui, Ni De Alla truck tucked off a side street. I ordered the carne asada fries and the Morena quesadilla. I was not disappointed.

I dug in like a mad woman. It was like your favorite fast food french fries loaded with meat, cheese, and vegetables. Each bite brought wafts of cilantro and onion. I almost forgot to share what was a very shareable serving.

click to enlarge Don't get that corn out of my face. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Don't get that corn out of my face.
Lauren Cusimano
Next was street food. The option to coat something in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos was everywhere, but Elote Man AZ had something others didn’t — reasonable prices. A generous cup of elote came heavily dusted in the dark-red Cheetos crumbles, cream, and wedges of lime. But the best part? Only $6.

After a couple of walk-throughs, it was obvious Lot 3 was where it was at. The soft night lighting made an otherwise dark corner of the Warehouse District look like an outdoor wedding. There was actual seating and some proven vendors — Mango Rabbit, Nomadic Ice Cream Rolls, Pokitrition, Snoh.

I wanted just one more thing, something sweet. Lot 5 seemed to be the most popular area, but crowds were high and so were prices. Someone wanted $15 for crawfish. I kept walking.

That’s when I noticed the woman with the pineapple — the ultimate hedonistic dessert. I gave every lot an ocular scan till I saw it on a sandwich board next to Paraiso Tropical (CRUSH). It was $15 for a piña colada in a sawed-off pineapple. Fine, I love piñas and we’d already come this far. But by the time I braced my forearms for the hand-off and took one sip, I was utterly disappointed.

Thin juice took about four big sips to finish off. That left the giant pineapple with no way to cut into the thick shell here, no way to properly dispose of it. Waste woes rose as I dropped the thing into a thankfully nearby receptacle, my splurge item taking the garbage bag liner with it and landing with a big loud thud.

click to enlarge Still can't believe I paid $15 for a virgin piña. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Still can't believe I paid $15 for a virgin piña.
Lauren Cusimano
I was ready to leave.

While the outdoor lighting was dreamy, the hot food pretty dang good, and the juxtaposition of the bustling vendor booths operating against an old Phoenix brick building with busted out windows cool looking, the price — my, god, the price — was not worth it.

Online tickets were $25, $28 total, or $30 at the gate. I won’t even get into early access (meaning 5 p.m. when it wasn’t exactly night time) or VIP options. Then, before you could get a beer, you had to go through the old trope of buying drink tickets. They were $5 a pop, and of course a drink will cost you two.

At this point, I’m still not sure what the entry fee is for here. The DJ? The staff? Fine, fine. But the food prices were such that, coupled with admission, maybe even a keepsake, a couple hours at this market meant easily dropping triple-digit funds.

PHX Night Market was like the Arizona State Fair except no rides, no games, no cute bunnies in the agricultural area. It was more like Sky Harbor — get through security and start paying airport prices for food.
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Lauren Cusimano is Phoenix New Times' food and drink editor. She is a journalist and food waste writer based in Tempe. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.
Contact: Lauren Cusimano