Gus’s Fried Chicken

One of the biggest food trends of the past few years has been Nashville hot chicken, fried poultry with a spicy coating. Now that so many local restaurants offer that Tennessee treat, it’s worth thinking about that state’s other major city. Memphis, with just about the same population as Nashville, offers its own culture and traditions 200 miles to the west. While the cities differ in music, with Memphis being known for the blues and Nashville for country, they both share a fondness for fried chicken, and Gus’s is bringing its food to territory beyond its Memphis base.

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Trapper’s Sushi

Although sushi is strongly associated with Japan, most accounts of its origins trace the fish-and-rice combination to China or southeast Asia, where it began as a means of preserving fish by combining it with rice and vinegar. With sushi having become so popular outside of Japan in recent decades, it’s sometimes unclear if the elaborate rolls being served in American restaurants are really Japanese at all. Trapper’s Sushi in downtown Phoenix is the type of sushi place that embraces an Americanized approach without any shame and with some success.

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Com Tam Thuan Kieu

It was 45 years ago that Bert Lance, then serving as the Carter Administration’s budget director, popularized the folksy phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Since then, the slogan has settled into widespread use and is typically meant to tell people to leave well enough alone. Nevertheless, the words stop short of advising what should be done when something is already broke(n). In the Mesa Asian District, a Vietnamese restaurant known as Com Tam Thuan Kieu has answered that question by using broken grains of rice as the foundation of its distinctive menu.

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Tacos mi Ranchito

A sometimes exaggerated and romanticized version of cowboy culture is often part of the draw for tourists visiting Arizona, and many Western movies were filmed in the Grand Canyon State during the genre’s heyday. Underlying the stereotype of the American cowboy, however, there’s an earlier tradition of Mexican cattle wrangling embodied in the idea of the vaquero, a skilled horseman adept at managing a herd of cows with a lasso. Today, a South Phoenix restaurant known as Tacos mi Ranchito recalls vaquero life through its decor and its beef-oriented menu.

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Wren & Wolf

There are two trends in restaurant branding that have been apparent for at least a decade. The first is the use of an ampersand to join two words, with bonus points if there is alliteration involved. The second is the use of taxidermy as a decorative element in dining rooms. Perhaps it’s an effort to present a more attractive vision of meat than images of factory farming. Regardless of the motivations behind the trends, Wren & Wolf combines both of them to create its own identity as a recent arrival in the core of the downtown Phoenix business district.

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Rough Rider

The name Roosevelt Row has become prominent in the lexicon of Phoenicians describing the lively and quickly gentrifying neighborhood at the north end of downtown Phoenix. Chances are most people using the phrase think it’s based on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but it’s actually named for his fifth cousin and fellow president Theodore Roosevelt. After years of ambiguity and misconceptions, there is now one office building, Ten-O-One, and its restaurant tenant, Rough Rider, that not only acknowledge, but also embrace, the image of Teddy Roosevelt.

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K-Bop

K-pop has become a global phenomenon so ubiquitous that it needs little explanation. A country that years ago had relatively little cultural impact beyond its borders now produces some of the world’s top-selling popular music with extravagant videos and concert tours that reach an international audience. With that kind of influence, it’s easy to understand why plays on words involving the letter “K” as a prefix have become a shorthand for all aspects of Korean influence, including food. K-Bop, a Tempe restaurant, takes that approach to popularizing Korean cuisine.

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Maisen Katsu

Whether it’s German schnitzel, Mexican milanesa, or Italian parmigiana, many of the world’s culinary traditions incorporate a dish made of thinly cut meat that is breaded and then fried to yield a contrast between a crunchy crust on the outside and tender meat on the inside. Japan is no different with its katsu, usually made with panko bread crumbs encasing a flat piece of pork or chicken. In the food court at H Mart in the Mesa Asian District, Maisen Katsu celebrates katsu by serving hearty platters of crisp, breaded meat, as well as appetizers, sides, and noodles.

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EZbachi

There seems to be no limit to what kind of food can be prepared on a truck. While mobile operations might traditionally have been associated with hot dogs, tacos, and other hand foods, chefs and entrepreneurs seem to thrive on finding ways to prepare items like pizzas or lobster rolls in the cramped space of a kitchen on wheels. Along Central Avenue, EZbachi has created its own niche with a food truck version of teppanyaki, the Japanese method of hot iron plate cooking that is a longstanding, if somewhat Americanized, tradition at chains like Benihana.

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El Zaguan

In Spanish, a zaguan is a passage that typically leads from a building’s entrance to an interior courtyard or central patio. On Adams Street in the downtown Phoenix business district, the small storefronts lack that architectural feature, but that has not stopped one new restaurant there from using the word to create the sort of welcoming atmosphere that might be associated with walking through an actual zaguan. El Zaguan has joined the small restaurant row on Adams, catering to populations of workers returning to offices, as well as those who never left.

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Lylo Swim Club

At so many local hotels and resorts, the poolside restaurant is an afterthought, a snack bar that offers only a subset of the menu found in a more substantial indoor dining area. For the most part, that makes sense since people spending time by the pool may be more concerned with swimming or sunbathing than eating. Nevertheless, one recently refurbished Phoenix hotel has made its restaurant and bar by the pool the biggest culinary offering on the property. The appropriately named Lylo Swim Club is the breezy main restaurant for the Rise Uptown Hotel.

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Pop Stand

Checking in at most hotels, a guest is lucky to receive a bottle of water. If a visitor is spending a lot on a suite or has attained a top tier in a frequent stay program, maybe there will be a fruit basket waiting in the room. One exception is Doubletree hotels, which provide their signature chocolate chip cookies in an edible act of hospitality. In Phoenix, the Rise Uptown Hotel has created its own approach to making arriving guests feel welcome: a complimentary popsicle. Fortunately, those popsicles are also available for any to purchase, hotel guest or not.

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