Welcome to 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.
Last, but certainly not least ...
1: The Rosa Pizza at Pizzeria Bianco
The Essentials series was not intended to be a traditional countdown, and it certainly falls short of highlighting everything that's great and unique about the metro Phoenix food world. It's impossible to highlight everything — the quintessential old favorites, the modern classics, the hidden gems, the only-in-Phoenix experiences — on a list of 50.
But it would be downright weird, some would say sacrilege, to round out the list without including something from Chris Bianco's pantheon of famously great wood-fired pizzas.
The pie that feels unique to Pizzeria Bianco, and to Phoenix in general, is the Rosa, which brings together the old forno al legna pizza-making traditions with the sun-deluged flavors of Arizona. The Rosa looks a little muted and yellowish on the plate, but don't be thrown off by the fact that it's not brightly mosaicked with toppings. There is something elegant about it, especially the dough, which is thin and airy and artfully misshapen. It bears the irresistible depth and timeless flavors of fresh-made bread.
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The Rosa is missing most of the usual things that make the average pizza pie so alluring — the dense layer of soft cheese melded onto tomato sauce, and the salty punch of cured meats. This is a different kind of pizza, the kind that crackles a little mysteriously with flavor and texture, and which might take a few bites before you fully surrender to everything that makes it great.
It's sneakily subtle, with an ingenious combo of red onion, Parmigiano-Reggiano, rosemary, and Arizona-grown pistachios. Every ingredient pulls its weight, earning its spot on the pie: the clean, herbal astringency of the rosemary, the sweetness of the pistachios, the assertiveness of the red onion. It's a finely tuned combination that registers as a little exotic and fragrant, even though the flavors of hot-weather herbs and nuts are about as exotic to Arizona as the average suburban shopping mall. The Rosa is probably not everyone's bag, but it's arguably the most singularly Arizona pizza in the state. If there were such as thing as an official state pizza, the Rosa Pizza would have to be in the running.
Someone recently told me that they love Pizzeria Bianco because it's helped make Phoenix famous for something other than controversial politicians and bad summer weather. It was a nice reminder that the Rosa pizza, and the other very good pizzas at Pizzeria Bianco, are a major bragging point in this city. As the years pass, Pizzeria Bianco is becoming more and more of an institution, the place you take your food-obsessed friends who come to visit from out of town. It's the Grand Canyon of Phoenix restaurants, the place you have to go to at least once, just to say you went. It's also a good place to go to when you just want to be left alone with some good pizza. There's something very essential about that kind of comfort.
The Essentials so far:
50: Tequila Sunrise at the Arizona Biltmore.
49: "Dragon" Dumpling Burger at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour.
48: Dizzy Fig Empanada at Republica Empanada.
47: Linguine Carbonara at Avanti.
46: The Food Court at Mercado de los Cielos.
45: Chicken Feta Salad at George’s Kitchen.
44: Spinach & Cheese Chimi Burro at Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant.
43: Dinner at Rustler's Rooste.
42: Gyro Omelet at Mel's Diner.
41: Zipps Wings at Zipps Sports Grill.
40: Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa.
39: Asian Nachos at Moto.
38: Olive Oil Tasting at Queen Creek Olive Oil Mill.
37: Baby Back Ribs at Don & Charlie's.
36: Limoncello at Cibo.
35: Chili Salt Chicken Wings at Asian Café Express.
34: Smoked Prime Rib at Texaz.
33: Steak Salad at Feeney's.
32: Tasting Menu at Kai Restaurant.
31: Toffee Banofi Sundae at Sweet Republic.
30: Big Jim at Welcome Diner.
29: Sonoran Hot Dog at El Caprichoso.
28: Sashimi at Nobuo at Teeter House.
27: Oysters at Casey Moore's Oyster House.
26: Spring rolls at Da Vang.
25: Bruschetta and wine at Postino.
24: Hot green chili fry bread at Fry Bread House.
23: The Big One at The Chuckbox.
22: Cahuamanta Stew at Cahuamanta El Yaqui.
21: Dim Sum at Great Wall Cuisine.
20: Fried chicken at The Horny Toad.
19: George & Dragon’s Famous Fish & Chips.
18: Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches at Pho 43rd Express.
17: Cerreta Candy Co. Factory Tour & Candy Sampling in Downtown Glendale.
16: Steak Dinner at The Stockyards.
15: Margarita + Guacamole del Barrio at Barrio Cafe.
14: BBQ Plate at Joe's Real BBQ.
13: Fried Chicken & Pork Chops from Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe.
12: Breakfast Burrito at Yucca Tap Room.
11: Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies at Super Chunk.
10: Doro Wat at Cafe Lalibela.
9: Lunch at Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli.
8: The Chef's Counter at Posh.
7: Flour tortillas and machaca at Carolina's.
6: Wining and dining at FnB.
5. Shopping at Lee Lee's International Supermarket.
4: Power lunch at Durant's.
3. Standing in Line for Brisket at Little Miss BBQ.
2: The French fries at Cafe Bink.