Phoenix is not a place that comes to mind when we list the top culinary spots in the world. Surprisingly it does have quite the dining scene. From my rather lengthy layovers at the airport in Arizona, I’ve gotten a chance to graze at some of their restaurants. If you ever find yourself in Phoenix, you’ve definitely got to drop in on one of these places.
The House at Secret Garden
When it is not as hot as hell during the summer, Arizona actually offers some nice weather. The desert air is definitely refreshing if you live in a humid climate like me. This place has one of the best dining out patios in Arizona. Seating is in, you guessed it, an actual sheltered garden with lots of tall trees that are actually part of working orchid. During the winter they have heaters out, and for daytime diners there are rather enormous umbrellas.
It is not just about eating outside that makes this place special, it is the food. Fresh ingredients from the working farm they are located next to give all the dishes an extra punch. The stand out dish you must have is the Grilled Lollipop Lamb chops that are cooked to perfection. I am very picky about my lamb, so trust me on this one. It comes with a sweet carrot puree, mild shishito peppers and a flavorful pistachio pesto, and most of their entrees offer unique flavor combinations like this one. Even if you cook at home a lot, The Secret Garden is one of those places you can come to for food you couldn’t make at home without some divine inspiration.
Rarely do I recommend pizza, because honestly the United States pizza scene is terribly disappointing. This one came with a strong recommendation, so I decided to give it a try. The pizza actually offers a complex set of flavors that please all five of the senses. The crust is cooked to a charred perfection that is not too dry or too wet. The super star on their menu is the Wise Guy (we already know fans of the movie Good Fellas love the name) which is topped with toppings that’ll make you think you died and went to heaven in Sicily. The mozzarella is smoked in house, giving it the perfect texture and deep flavor you expect from a good mozzarella. The juicy and flavorful fennel sausage is perfectly complimented by the roasted onion. I literally think I may be in love with this pizza.
Anyway, the only reason I don’t go to this pizza joint every time in Phoenix is because there is a long wait since the place is extremely popular and busy. Not to mention the parking really sucks too. If you are going to make the stop at Pizzeria Bianco, make sure you have plenty of time and patience. Trust me, the pay-off is totally worth the wait.
Do not let the 50’s style building exterior fool you: Tuck shop is actually a mix of elegant and quirky on the inside. Deep cherry wood tables and dark ceiling combined with low lighting gives the place a warm feeling. My favorite place to sit is in the over-stuffed couch by the big window while enjoying one of the best dark & stormy cocktails I’ve had in my life, and I don’t have to pester the wait staff to get me another round either. The service is always the perfect mix of attentive without being too in your face.
What people come here for is the cheese curds that are out of this world. Lightly beer battered cheese deep fried in fresh oil taste like a bit heaven. If you are really trying to clog your arteries up even more, finish it with the Chicken & Waffles. The waffles are topped with not too sharp white cheddar that oddly goes perfectly with the waffles even if you are still new to the whole chicken & waffles scene. The chicken is brined with citrus and fried to perfection with a crunchy outside and a perfectly moist inside. This is one of those places who actually execute fried chickens despite most Americans low expectations of fried chicken being on par with KFC.
If you didn’t know the name of this restaurant when you walked in, you would figure it out the theme in less than 10 seconds after hearing the sassy French jazz music and seeing the pseudo Vietnamese Décor. The French options are rather limited though, so I usually go straight to Pho. There is also Vegan pho, yes with a vegetable broth and all, available for you vegans and vegetarians out there.
The Pho is adequate, but the main reason to come here is to people watch and have a drink. This joint attracts probably some of the most interesting and attractive people in Arizona. The drinks are alright, if a bit on the sweet side.
I’ve only been to the airport location, but there is one located in the city as well. You can’t go out west without seeking out Tex-Mex food at least once, and this place does that genre of cuisine elegantly and uniquely. I was sold after just having a sip of the Flor De Jamaica Margarita, which contains Hibiscus flower reduction, Tesoro silver tequila and grand mariner. I can’t say I’d ever mixed hibiscus with tequila before this experience, but trust me it works fantastically. Next you got to order a set of the tacos. I would start with the Cochinita Pibil tacos. These tacos contain pork marinated in Achiote and sour orange with pickled red onion and pico de gallo. It is a masterpiece in taco form.
The dining area is open to where the crowds are walking through the airport, so you can sip your margarita as you watch unfortunate passengers race to their planes. Make sure to not drink too much tequila or you may be next! The décor has a sort of hipster meets swanky feel, and it is not surprising since the only picture of the chef on the website is of her tattooed calf.
Holly Williford is an avid traveler who hates airplanes and bad food. She likes seeking out new cuisine whenever she gets a chance. She is always planning for her next trip, and she just booked a tour to Ghana with Palace Travel as she wants to taste African food.