10 Tips for Navigating the Takeout Age in Greater Phoenix

As its name suggests, Worth Takeaway bags prime takeout options.
As its name suggests, Worth Takeaway bags prime takeout options. Jacob Tyler Dunn
The number of COVID-19 cases has soared across the Sun Belt, with Arizona seeing ghastly spikes in its curve. The governor’s lagged action has put Arizonans at risk, as well as the entire state’s restaurant industry (but hey, masks now, right?). At this rate, we’ll be eating takeout for a long time.

So far, we’ve covered where to get takeout. We’ve covered why to get takeout. But we haven’t covered how to get takeout.

click to enlarge Ethiopian stews are a great takeout option. - CHRIS MALLOY
Ethiopian stews are a great takeout option.
Chris Malloy
By mid-June, that’s no deep mystery. You probably know how to get takeout in your muscle memory. Here, though, we’ll be sharing some uncommon but effective tips that might hone your approach, moves that will honor the people who prepare our food, and the food itself.

1. Leave a cooler or thermal bag in your trunk.

After a family picnic, out of sheer laziness, I never removed the cooler from my trunk. This turned into a good thing. When I get takeout, I leave it in the cooler for some temperature control. This is especially great for pick-ups from places like Sweet Republic, where pints of ice cream come in a bag with ice but having more under the plastic lid of a cooler can only help.

For hot food, a thermal bag beats an Igloo. Why does pizza delivery come in box-shaped sleeves, the cardboard hot in your hands? Why do delivery professionals who make tips invest in temperature-control bags, unzipped at your door? Follow their veteran lead.

2. Keep frosty glasses and giant ice cubes in your freezer.

Batched cocktails are the rare pandemic win. These are ideal for sharing, pouring beyond the day of your meal, and supporting restaurants by investing in items that, for them, have wide margins. 

Cocktails quickly lose zap as they warm. The reason we vigorously stir or violently shake cocktails in the first place is to chill them, tugging flavors into greater balance. When you step home with a four-cocktail Mason jar, it helps to fish frosty glasses from the freezer. If you own outsize ice molds, it also helps to pour your cocktail over a giant rock, cooling it, letting it send a bracing chill through you.

click to enlarge One way to do to-go tacos: big portions of meat, tortillas on the side. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI PHOTO
One way to do to-go tacos: big portions of meat, tortillas on the side.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

3. Clear the part of your car where you leave food.

When eating for the Just Tacos and More story, I couldn’t find my sope. I checked my trunk. Nothing. I went inside my house. Nothing. I returned to my trunk, moving a case of waters. Under the case lay a murdered sope, plastic container smashed.

When driving, things shift. Remove big objects from near your takeout and avoid teetering your boxes into unsupported Jenga towers.

4. Consider optimal dish lifespans.

A vital question: How much time will pass in your food’s journey from restaurant kitchen to your mouth? Five minutes? Twenty? Some foods can handle delays, like pupusas, sushi, curry, and pozole. Other foods can’t: fried chicken (gets soggy), pasta (softens), and smoked brisket (just loses vitality). If you’re facing a longer trek home, go pulled pork instead of brisket. Think about what foods can hold up. And when given the option, get your sauce on the side.

click to enlarge When ordering takeout, order from restaurants directly. - KELLY SIKKEMA/UNSPLASH
When ordering takeout, order from restaurants directly.
Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

5. Absent blistering heat, eat in parks near restaurants.

In the interest of eating food as close to its creation as possible, you might want to eat in a park by the restaurant. If there is one, and if the heat allows. For this, you'll want to keep napkins and utensils in your center console, just in case the restaurant doesn't provide.

When I head into Old Town Scottsdale for takeout, I know Indian School Park and its glassy pond are on my way back to Loop 101. If I grab food from a place like the Larder + the Delta, I might as well set up a blanket in nearby Margaret T. Hance Park and enjoy. Sun and breezes are wild seasonings.

6. Always order from restaurants directly.

Third-party websites and vendors, like Grubhub and DoorDash, leach away money that should be flowing to restaurants. To support restaurants as best you can, give them a ring when ordering or load up the delivery arm of their website, if they have one.

7. Specify a precise pickup time (where you can).

You want food as fresh as possible. Restaurants want the same. For minds to meet, specificity helps. If you have the option to pick a precise pickup time, use it. Also, if there is any ambiguity at all about the pickup time, call the restaurant for clarity. Getting a surprise text at 3:30 p.m. that your dinner is ready two towns over is a strange thing.

click to enlarge What is the optimal lifespan of takeaway smoked bologna? - CHRIS MALLOY
What is the optimal lifespan of takeaway smoked bologna?
Chris Malloy

8. Gas up early in the day.

You’re off to grab food. Or you’re speeding back to eat. Your gas light blinks on like an itch. It’s a minor inconvenience, but one that can feel big at the time.

9. Tip and thank people.

Restaurant workers are struggling. Kindness is in short supply.

10. Wear a damn mask!

Our chief tip comes last. We now have ironclad proof that wearing masks slows the spread of COVID-19. Even if you get curbside pickup and come into contact with a hospitality professional for a just few heartbeats, strap on your mask. Then take it off, head home, and enjoy. 
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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy