El Snappy

The Rio Salado, long neglected as an industrial zone separating South Phoenix from the rest of the city, has gotten a lot more love and attention in recent years. The development of the Audubon Center and a network of multi-use paths through the riverbed has motivated interest in birding, bicycling, and walking in a natural riparian setting. With any outdoor activity, there’s often a need for sustenance before or after in an environment where there’s no dress code and no pretense. El Snappy fulfills that need with its hearty and well-crafted Mexican food.

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Matt’s Big Breakfast

It’s interesting how even the most adventurous eaters tend to be conservative about breakfast. People who gladly consume foods from outside their own family traditions in the afternoon and evening often revert to familiar dishes like eggs, bacon, pancakes, and waffles in the morning. Matt’s Big Breakfast, having recently expanded from its tiny original site to multiple locations, continues to embrace the familiar but takes the classics to an uncommon level by stressing high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients and a hand-crafted approach to their preparation.

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Pa’La

It took 28 years, but in 2021, the Phoenix Suns made it to the National Basketball Association finals for the second time. When the Suns did this the first time in 1993, they had just enjoyed their first season in their then-new arena. The surrounding blocks of downtown were still pretty bleak, however. A lot has changed in nearly three decades, and the city’s core now has even more restaurants than it did before the pandemic. Among many new arrivals is Pa’La, an upgraded version of a chef-driven restaurant with an original location on 24th Street.

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Novel Ice Cream

The word “novel” means not only a book of fiction, but also innovative or new. Sometimes, that meaning can be negative, as with the novel coronavirus that has caused disease, death, and disruption, but more often it has a positive connotation. In downtown Mesa, Novel Ice Cream celebrates all that is good about being novel with its innovative approach to ice cream, sorbet, and creations made from those frozen treats. Novel began on Grand Avenue in Phoenix, where it still operates. The newer store in Mesa is just two blocks from the Center/Main light rail station.

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Hot Daisy Pizza

Besides being rich in carbohydrates, cake and pizza have something else in common: They both typically need to be sliced to be enjoyed. On Roosevelt Row at the north end of downtown Phoenix, Tammie Coe has been baking and slicing for over a decade-and-a-half. What has changed, though, is the transformation of the space from retail bakery to pizza slice shop. With the closure of the old Tammie Coe cake shop in the Artisan Village development, there followed a transformation of the storefront into Hot Daisy Pizza, a casual place for slices on the go.

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Walter Station

In both 2020 and 2021, the annual Burning Man event in Nevada has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The yearly gathering will no doubt eventually return, but even without a densely packed temporary city arising over Labor Day weekend, Burning Man’s cultural impact can be felt in small and subtle ways. On Washington Street on the east side of Phoenix, Walter Station serves beer brewed on site with matching food and a loose connection to Burning Man, firefighting, and nearby Sky Harbor Airport, all in an unlikely combination that somehow works.

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Detroit Coney Grill

Midwestern migration to Arizona is a cliche, but like many stereotypes, it has a germ of truth at its foundation. There are many people in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area with origins in the Great Lakes states, including Michigan. As with transplants from all points of origins, many new arrivals from the Wolverine state bring their loyalties to Detroit sports franchises and a love of Michigan foods. Detroit Coney Grill, even though it makes reference to a New York landmark in its name, is designed for the displaced Michigander with both its regional food and thematic decor.

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Kuka

Over the past decade, Apache Boulevard in Tempe has begun a transformation from a low-rise corridor of motor hotels, mobile home parks, and strip malls to a canyon of multi-story apartment buildings. A few restaurants have been lost in the process when the land they occupied was sold to developers looking to build with more density. At the same time, many of the new complexes have ground floor retail spaces providing opportunity for new businesses to grow. One of the new breed on Apache is Kuka, which identifies itself as a sushi bar and izakaya.

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Pino’s Pizza al Centro

In Italian, “pino” can be a diminutive for a longer name like Giuseppe, and “centro” can often mean downtown or the center of a city. Since every neighborhood can benefit from good pizza, why not have a place for it near the heart of Phoenix’s Midtown business district? With a location just a block west of the Thomas/Central light rail station, Pino’s Pizza al Centro seems a fitting name for a small pizzeria and Italian-American restaurant, especially when someone actually called Pino has been the proprietor for over two decades of continuous operation.

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Luana’s Coffee and Beer

There’s a whole genre of children’s books that encourage readers to look for small details within a much larger picture, often reiterated over many pages dealing with the same theme. There’s one from author and illustrator Walter Wick that shows details of treasure in a sunken ship only to zoom out to show that the entire tableau is actually a ship in a bottle. At the south end of Midtown in Phoenix, Luana’s Coffee feels sort of like that scene. With a vaguely tropical look, a bit of a pirate theme, and a vibe of cluttered eclecticism, Launa’s is itself a ship in a bottle.

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Pane Bianco

For over a quarter century, Chris Bianco’s namesake pizzeria has garnered national acclaim, but Pizzeria Bianco ceased long ago to be his only venture. Another enterprise, Pane Bianco, has been around for nearly two decades. Pane Bianco began as a sandwich shop with just a handful of items available for takeout or consumption on picnic tables outside. Since then, it has gone through several transformations, trying on new identities but never losing sight of its core mission of serving minimalistic preparations of fresh, high-quality ingredients on fresh bread.

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Maskadores Taco Shop

Over the past year, masks have been transformed from a Halloween novelty to both an everyday accessory and a source of contention. The question of whether masks are needed restaurants when not seated remains unresolved as of today with conflicting dictates and guidance dependent on vaccination. Regardless, restaurants can legally maintain their own dress codes for customers to follow. At Maskadores Taco Shop, a local chain, masks of another type are far less controversial, having always been an integral part of the theme and decor.

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