The last year has been full of change at one of Downtown Phoenix’s major hotels, the Sheraton at Third Street and Van Buren. First, the hotel was re-branded from just a plain “Sheraton” to the more upscale “Sheraton Grand.” More importantly, the hotel was sold by the City of Phoenix, which opened it in 2008 in an attempt to jump-start business at the nearby convention center, to a group of private investors. It was wise for the city to exit the lodging business, and the name change is flattering. The on-property restaurant, though, is one part of the hotel that already works just as it is.
Hotel restaurants have to negotiate a delicate middle ground. Make the menu too adventurous and some of the property’s more timid overnight guests may eat elsewhere. If the approach is too dull, on the other hand, there’s nothing to draw a local clientele. In addition, hotels often bury restaurants deep inside where passersby are unlikely to discover them. District, the restaurant at the Sheraton Grand, succeeds with a consistent balance of comfort food and quality ingredients, as well as a corner location that directly addresses the busy corner of Third Street and Van Buren.
The restaurant, which is easily identified by a prominent sign and a large patio that wraps around the entire corner, is situated three blocks west of the Van Buren light rail stations and three blocks north of the Third Street stations. Use any combination of platforms that works depending on direction of travel. Bike racks are located along Third Street. Enter District through the door on Third Street. A host station is to the left and a bar with its own seating and condensed menu is on the right.
District’s dining room is quite large and partitioned into distinct regions that become quieter and more secluded the farther one goes. Separate space for private dining is found all the way at the back. A long, high table does double duty as a place for group dining during lunch and dinner and as a breakfast buffet in the morning. A la carte breakfast is also available via one of five menus at District. The others are for lunch, dinner, happy hour, and small bites at the bar. The restaurant also acknowledges its location near theaters and concert halls with prix-fixe pre-event menus.
District’s full name is District American Kitchen and Wine Bar. The official nomenclature, particularly the first part, describes the restaurant’s theme, a nuanced balance of comfort food, regional cuisines, and local suppliers. An herb garden on a terrace somewhere above the restaurant produces some of the fresh ingredients used downstairs. Nearby purveyors include Schreiner’s Fine Sausage, which creates the beer hots that are sliced and then incorporated into District’s decadent mac-and-cheese, a long-lasting favorite on both the lunch and bar menus.
The grilled cheese and tomato soup combination is an equally familiar and well-executed homage to childhood favorites. These items, like all lunch entrees, have their own list prices but are routinely offered for $9 at noon — just as all dinner entrees go for $22 regardless of price printed on the menu. That value is attractive, although it should be kept in mind that entrees do not include sides unless specifically listed, so diners should be prepared to pay a little more to enjoy accompaniments such as crisp frites, crunchy tater tots, sweet potato fries, or grilled asparagus.
Salmon served on a cedar plank has become a cliche, but for good reasons. District serves the popular fish at both lunch and dinner with a side of shrimp risotto. Putting shrimp front-and-center, the po’ boy on the midday menu offers prawns in a baguette dressed with lettuce and remoulade sauce. At night, it’s shrimp and grits or grilled shrimp with black bean fried rice. For beef lovers, District’s lunch menu includes a combination of a small steak and a basket of fries. In the evening, it’s a bigger ribeye paired with jalapeno and bacon mashed potatoes, along with green beans.
Sometimes District’s entrees seem like street food or fair fare, only presented in a more elegant style and with top tier ingredients. Carnitas fry bread, for example, is not one big disc of dough, but instead three slivers ideal for scooping the tender meat in the center of the plate. Three also seems to be the magic number when it comes to the daily lunch special, also known as the Chef’s Trio. Each day, a long plate is offered with a half sandwich, soup, and salad. The items are usually thematically linked and not from the regular menu. Likewise, there’s a daily dinner special.
Desserts at District tend to be of the deconstructed variety. In other words, expect a tower of this next to a pot of that. In most cases, that approach allows individual ingredients to shine before being mixed. A peach cheesecake features a vessel of airy plain cheesecake with a fruit compote on the side and biscuits serving as the crust. Lemon icebox cake is a chilled, spongy pastry in a cylindrical vessel of white chocolate with lemon sorbet on side. A more traditionally composed presentation is favored with the light, airy, and delicious raspberry and chocolate creme brulee.
District also refers to itself as a wine bar, one with a 100% domestic selection, including some Arizona wines. There are also cocktails and tap handles. District even sells its own brand of growlers for taking home craft beer. With the Sheraton now under new, private ownership, some things may change at the hotel. One can only hope the building will eventually be repainted something other than the current bland beige. Nevertheless, District is far more appealing than a standard hotel restaurant, for both guests and local customers. There’s no hurry to change that.
320 N. Third Street, Phoenix, AZ 85004
Van Buren / Central or Washington / 3rd Street stations (westbound)
Van Buren / 1st Avenue or Jefferson / 3rd Street stations (eastbound)