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.
24: Hot green chili fry bread at Fry Bread House
Fry bread is a deceptively simple food. Traditionally, it's made with just a handful of pantry staples — white flour, water, baking soda, and Crisco. In the right hands, though, the ingredients coalesce into something full of lavish flavor and texture.
Fry bread is not particularly easy to make, either. It takes experience and practice to fashion a piece that's beautifully airy and puffy in all the right ways, and achieves that perfectly golden-brown finish.
It's that remarkable marriage of flavor and texture that has helped put fry bread in such high demand at fairs, powwows, and anywhere else with large groups of hungry people. Far from just a deep-fried fair food treat, though, the Native American staple carries the weight of history. The dish was born out of necessity more than a century ago, a food fashioned out of the government-issued commodities supplied to Native Americans stripped of their lands and forced onto reservations.
In metro Phoenix, you'll find some of the city's best fry bread at the Fry Bread House, located on Seventh Avenue between Camelback and Indian School in Phoenix's Melrose District. In 2012, the restaurant was famously cited by the James Beard Foundation as one of "America's Classics." The distinction is awarded to restaurants that are "beloved for quality food that reflects the character of the community."
The restaurant's location has shifted over the years, but the quality of its fry bread has never seemed to waver. The biggest decision you have to make when you stop into the Fry Bread House is sweet or savory. You can order your fry bread open-faced, drizzled with an array of sweet toppings like chocolate, or maybe the ultra-rich trifecta of cinnamon, butter, and sugar. Or you can go the savory route, with your fry bread folded over like a taco, and stuffed with things like saucy beef, homemade refried pinto beans, and cheese.
The two most popular meats are the spicy red chili and the hot green chili, and you can't really go wrong with either option. Might we suggest the hot green chili, though? It's a smoky, slow-cooked, thick chili, beautifully seasoned with onions and secret spices. The "hot" is not just in name, either: this chili is spicy enough to clear a stuffy nose in the space of a few seconds.
Your thick, nicely chewy slice of fry bread turns out to be the ideal vehicle for soaking up the chili's rich, oniony flavor, and for sopping up any juices that inevitably end up dribbling onto your plate. For even more indulgence, upgrade to the "Ultimate Taco" option, and your fry bread will arrive spruced up with beans, sour cream, shredded cheese, and crisp lettuce.
This might be one of the most flavor-rich meals in midtown Phoenix, one that happens to be steeped in tradition, history, and wrapped up in layer upon layer of flavor and comfort. It will run you about $10, but it will fill you up for hours.
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.