"Taste It Tours" Makes a Downtown Phoenician Want to Cry

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Ever find yourself thinking, "Wow, I really wish there was someone who could show me around downtown Phoenix's bustling food scene. It's all so overwhelming"?

Well . . . probably not. But anyway, Taste It Tours is here to satisfy your burning curiosity about all that downtown has to offer you and your stomach. And although the company advertises "Phoenix's premier food tasting . . . walking tour," the three-hour excursion can best be summed up as a food tour, yes, but not one designed for the culinarily enlightened (a.k.a. the foodie).

The tours take diners "inside the restaurants that have impacted Downtown Phoenix's culinary scene." Developed by Jessica Combest, the company takes tour-goers to three to seven eateries. Combest, an Arizona native, decided to create her own way to share downtown culture with visitors after going on several food tours herself.

Curious, we forked over $59 for a Phoenix Walking Tour and happened to get rescheduled/upgraded to the Dine Around Tour -- a $68 value -- due to a company schedule conflict.

The tour began at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Hotel San Carlos' Ghost Lounge. After introductions and a sample of the bar's margaritas, our tour guide shared a few nuggets of the hotel's star-studded history. Admittedly, even to this local, the tour offered a surprising amount of knowledge about the buildings and history of downtown Phoenix.

At the second restaurant, Hanny's, our stopover included a visit to the creepy-doll tea party in the basement (which had gone unnoticed during my previous visits) and a peek into the burned-out elevator shaft, which, our guide told us, Phoenix firefighters used to practice their skills. For those who've spent any real time downtown, Hanny's would be a familiar point of interest, but my fellow tour-goers seemed thrilled to take in the unique building and a few pieces of their flatbread pizzas.

From there, the tour moved along to the Arizona Center, where we enjoyed lobster lettuce cups and mussels Provencale at 1130 The Restaurant. Despite the manager's endlessly pimping the restaurant's happy hour and other specials, I enjoyed both dishes and was glad to have tried a restaurant I usually would skip in favor of downtown's more distinctive dining options.

But our last stop, I have to say, made me genuinely sad for those of us who love and appreciate the rich and ever-expanding culinary culture of downtown Phoenix. My Big Fat Greek Restaurant sure did put on a show with its Flaming Saganaki, but with neighborhood favorite Athenian Express just a few blocks away, shining a spotlight on this chain restaurant seemed . . . shallow.

At best, the food on the tour was average and I was by no means full at the end of the tour. For nearly $70, I'd expected a little something more. Not to mention that adding alcohol to the tour cost an extra $10.

But the rest of the tour group, comprising mainly snowbirds and suburbanites, seemed more than satisfied with their foray into "Phoenix's fantastic culinary culture." Most -- if not all -- had bought their tickets on Groupon. Perhaps the discounted ticket price contributed to their positive attitudes. As for me, the tour did nothing to inspire any affection toward downtown's rich food scene. To bring people who rarely, if ever, venture downtown and overlook the true bright, shining lights of the culinary and cultural landscape -- places like The Breadfruit and Jobot . . . and the list could go on -- reeks with the stench of overpriced tourist trap.

With the hot weather here, your window of opportunity to try a tour out for yourself is quickly closing. According to Combest, day tours will stop at the end of May, although Taste It Tours hopes to continue night tours through the end of June.

Tickets for the tours must be purchased in advance. For more info, see the Taste It Tours website.

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