A hundred years ago, the United States was engaged in the 13-year experiment known as Prohibition. After alcohol was banned, illegal bars known as speakeasies proliferated as a way around restrictions. Although the 1933 repeal of Prohibition made underground bars unnecessary, it’s not uncommon a century later to have semi-hidden, although perfectly legal, bars that are colloquially described as speakeasies. Downtown Phoenix has several, and one known as Pigtails operates in obscurity despite being in the heart of the central business district.

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The Vig Fillmore

On the north side of downtown Phoenix, Fillmore Street hasn’t always gotten much respect. Like the antebellum one-term president it is named for, Millard Fillmore, the corridor has sort of just been there. Fillmore acts as a collector street halfway between better known Van Buren and more trendy Roosevelt, but it hasn’t had much of an identity of its own. That has started to change with new protected bike lanes east of Central Avenue, and newly constructed apartment building joining the popular Vig Fillmore restaurant along the street’s western segment.

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One of the most interesting food scenes in Arizona isn’t anywhere in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. It’s nearly 150 miles to the north of the state capital in Flagstaff. The mountain city of just over 70,000 people has recently garnered culinary respect for its homegrown restaurants and local purveyors. Beyond favorable media coverage and social media chatter, there’s another important indicator of Flagstaff’s gastronomic success when one of the city’s eateries branches out to open a second location in the much larger and more competitive Phoenix market.

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Fatty Daddy’s

As ice cream shops come and go throughout the metropolitan area, successful ones often need to find an angle to differentiate themselves. That may mean unique flavors, a specific style, or an inventive presentation. At the north end of downtown Phoenix, a small store known as Fatty Daddy’s (sometimes written with the initials “OG” in front of its name on social media) has created its own niche by offering ice cream side-by-side with espresso, boba, bubble waffles, macarons, and cookies in a sort of Asian-American-European celebration of frozen desserts.

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Harumi Sushi

There aren’t a lot of purple foods, but those that lie somewhere between red and blue tend to be vibrant and surprising. Think of the complex purple of grapes, the nearly black purple of an eggplant, and the unexpected purple found in some varieties of cauliflower, carrots, and potatoes. The pigments responsible are called “anthocyanins,” and they also have a role to play in making a type of rice appear black in its raw state and purple after some time in the rice cooker. That black/purple rice is a key feature at Harumi Sushi in Downtown Phoenix.

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Cornish Pasty Company

Many culinary traditions from around the world incorporate the idea of handheld food. For most Americans, a hamburger or a burrito are common choices that provide a filling meal while remaining portable and easily consumed while multitasking. In the mining towns of southwestern England, there’s a tradition of a handheld food known as a pasty, a comforting, hearty stuffed pastry easily transported underground to be consumed during a meal break in the middle of a day of dangerous, demanding work below the surface of the Earth in Cornwall.

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Just about anyone who needs a reminder of when to wake up these days relies on a smartphone or a smart speaker for their morning reveille. It wasn’t that long ago, however, that clock radios were ubiquitous on nightstands, and one of their chief features was the snooze button, designed to be used when just a few more minutes of sleep were desired. Even with the concept of a snooze now a tap on a phone screen instead of a press of a button, the concept persists, and a Denver-based breakfast restaurant chain celebrates the idea in its name.

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Huss Brewing Downtown

Originally part of a 1970s urban renewal project known as Phoenix Civic Plaza, the city’s convention center has grown over decades to fill multiple city blocks in the downtown business district. Like most convention centers, it can be lively during major events. At slower times, it presents blank walls and locked doors to the street, diminishing the vitality of the surrounding area. Knowing what a mixed impact convention centers can have on the urban fabric, the Phoenix Convention Center has partnered with Huss Brewing to enhance its street presence.

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Metro BurgerZ

Whether it’s arbitrarily calling young people born between certain years “Generation Z” or enjoying the zombie apocalypse depicted in the “Z Nation” franchise, the letter Z seems to be gaining greater currency than its status at the end of the alphabet might suggest. A burger joint at the Collier Center in downtown Phoenix has recently jumped on board the Z bandwagon with the name “Metro BurgerZ,” a reflection of the restaurant’s urban location, its primary menu item, and, of course, a capital Z in place of a regular S to signify a plural word just for fun.

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La Olmeca

In South Phoenix, the shopping center known as South Plaza has stood for decades at Southern and Central avenues as a legacy to late 20th Century design and land use. It’s an L-shaped complex with an iconic sign visible from Central Avenue. In addition to its retail tenants, South Plaza has also been a venue for car shows that celebrate cruising culture. With that heritage, recent proposals for redevelopment have drawn controversy. One current South Plaza tenant, La Olmeca, is decidedly less contentious with its menu of Mexican food.

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Think of the typical Chinese restaurant menu and a few regional cuisines immediately come to mind. Foremost is usually Cantonese food, reflecting the culinary traditions of Hong Kong and southern China with an emphasis on seafood and light sauces of garlic and ginger. Most restaurants will also have some Szechuan dishes characterized by tingly spice, and it’s not uncommon to find representation of Hunan and Mandarin (Beijing) styles. That variety only scratches the surface of China’s diverse foodways, and there are many regions left to explore.

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New Garden

Phoenix’s historic Chinatown, once centered immediately south of the downtown business district, vanished long ago. Its last vestige, a long standing restaurant known as the Sing High Chop Suey House, closed in 2018, and now the region’s biggest cluster of Chinese food is found 15 miles to the east in the Mesa Asian District. Nevertheless, New Garden, a restaurant just half a mile south of the old Chinatown keeps alive the tradition of chow mein, chop suey, and other dishes that formed the basis of classic 20th Century American-Chinese cuisine.

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