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 required when not seated in restaurants remains unresolved as of today with conflicting dictates from the governor and local city governments. 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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JL Patisserie

Bread and pastry, long-established in the food traditions of so many cultures and nations, have recently become less desirable for some diners. Whether it’s paleo this, keto that, or gluten-free everything, it sometimes seems like cauliflower and chickpeas rule the day. As wonderful as vegetables and legumes are, they’re not the same as grains, making it a refreshing change to find an unabashedly traditional French pastry shop in the Uptown neighborhood of Phoenix. JL Patisserie is a second location building upon the success of an original store in Scottsdale.

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Oasis Raspados

From the fiery New Mexican cuisine of Los Dos Molinos down by Dobbins Road to the incendiary salsa bar at Kiss Pollos in the Harmon Park neighborhood, the South Central corridor is a street full of spicy food. To offer some relief from the heat, both the kind found in chilies and the hot weather that dominates Phoenix half the year, ice cream and fresh fruit seem like some of the best options. Oasis Raspados offers both, along with some savory snacks, in a colorful and comfortable location in South Phoenix at the corner of Central and St. Charles avenues.

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Dog Haus Biergarten

CityScape and other big projects in the core of the downtown Phoenix business district are usually defined first in terms of their anchor tenants, whether a contemporary hotel like the nearby Kimpton Palomar or an essential amenity like the Fry’s grocery at Block 23. In the smaller pockets of these developments, however, are numerous opportunities for more fine-grained retail and restaurant development. One spot at CityScape, a corner space right at the intersection of Central and Washington, has recently become home to Dog Haus Biergarten.

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Tortas Paquime

Tortas, the hearty sandwiches of Mexico, are typically found in small, independently operated restaurants. So far, there’s been no “Torta Bell” to standardize these street foods and sell them from drive-thru windows under a national brand. That’s probably a positive, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for innovation in the torta experience. Tortas Paquime is a small local brand of torta restaurants with a handful of locations throughout Phoenix, one of which happens to be just a quarter mile north of the planned Baseline/Central Station on the South Central Extension.

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Blanco Cocina + Cantina

When downtown Phoenix has seen developments with ambitious names like “CityScape” and “The Arizona Center,” it’s hard to get excited about something with the more modest moniker of “Block 23.” All it takes is a little awareness of local history, though, to understand the importance of the redevelopment of this site, named for the numbered system of parcels used when the city was first developed. Block 23 has been home to city hall, a fire station, the Fox Theater, and a JCPenney store before sitting vacant, underutilized as surface parking, for several decades.

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Happy Bao’s

Over the past two decades, Mesa’s Asian Business District has grown from a few scattered shops to a busy corridor, and one shopping center, Mekong Plaza, has been at the center of the growth. The former Target store, now an Asian-themed plaza full of restaurants and stores, is now joined by the H Mart across the street, Arizona International Marketplace down the road, and even plans for its own expansion. Even so, Mekong Plaza itself still has plenty of hidden corners to explore. One of them is a tiny restaurant by the food court known as Happy Bao’s.

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Superstition Downtown

Without a time machine, it’s hard to know for sure, but it’s often thought that the world’s oldest fermented beverage is mead. Since mead is made with honey, a sugar source that can be found naturally through foraging, its use to create alcohol could have easily predated the agriculture needed to grow grain for beer or cultivate grapes for wine. Just east of downtown Phoenix, Superstition Meadery has fittingly chosen an old building, the former Ong’s market, for a restaurant and shop focused on its signature beverage and complementary food.

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Zuki’s Pita

The ubiquitous pita bread, descended from flatbreads that originated thousands of years ago in the Fertile Crescent, has become so popular it’s the theme of many restaurants, including several chains with the word “pita” in their names. Sometimes, though, there’s still room for a family business with a single location with a focus on pita and the kabobs, dips, and salads it can accompany. On 19th Avenue’s international restaurant corridor, Zuki’s Pita is just that type of place: a neighborhood shop for Mediterranean food in a casual counter service environment.

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