Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Phoenix dining

On a five-day trip to Phoenix for baseball spring training, I was determined to ferret out some good restaurants. I like baseball (my cousin's son is a left-handed starting pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, go Doug!), but for me, the real raison d'etre of travel is food...

I knew there would be enough ball park food to go around - and as a veg the selections are pretty limited. The ball park vendors aren't grilling up many tofu dogs, that's for sure.

With the help of my friends at , I found some decent places to eat during breaks between ball games.

The first stop was Mucho Gusto Taqueria (AZ Republic Review) for afternoon snacks and margaritas. The big surprise was that they didn't sell margaritas by the pitcher. A really pleasant setting on University Avenue with a nice outdoor patio, part covered and part in the open. All Southwestern style, tiles and chile ristras. I had an Indian Fry bread pizza - black beans, lettuce, queso fresco and tomatoes on a piece of oh-so-healthy fried bread. It wasn't fabulous but it was a great place to enjoy a snack, a margarita, and the afternoon breeze. Tony claimed one of the shrimp in his shrimp cocktail was bad, but he didn't suffer any ill effects over the next three days.

We had lunch at Ibiza Cafe in Scottsdale and it was excellent. It is a tapas place, a very modern and interesting room with a huge bar. We split a big salad with a wonderful citrus vinaigrette, herbed goat cheese and pecans. We also had a nice garlicky hummus with warmed pita bread triangles. The best part of the meal was mushroom risotto croquettes served with a tomato mayonnaise. They had a great deep rich flavor and were crispy on the outside with a panko crumb crust.

The only bad part was the music, which was awful dance-trance stuff that I guess was supposed to make the room seem hipper than it was. It would have been fine at 11 p.m. with a bar full of people, but it just didn't suit a lazy Phoenix afternoon.

A late dinner at Bungalow Restaurant was good, too. It was quite the bar scene - dozens of fashionable twenty- and thirty-somethings ignoring loud 80's dance-music videos to talk at the bar or at tables out on the patio.

I had a good veggie burger with roasted red peppers with a monster pile of crispy fries and my friend had 4 tiny angus burgers that he just raved about, along with a huge salad dripping with a creamy dressing. I didn't look at the wine list before I ordered and when the bill came, I found my glass of Pinot Noir had set me back $11. The burger was only $9. Oops.

While the guys were at a baseball game, I had a solo meal at the Udupi Indian Buffet (AZ Republic Review) Madras-style vegetarian food.

The buffet had about 6 vegetable dishes, a dal, idli, parathas, salad, lemon pickle, 3 chutneys, raita, yogurt, papadum and dessert. Each meal also came with a wonderful, large, light rice-flour dosa (crepe), which enclosed a bit of mild spiced mashed potato.

The buffet was all-you-can-eat and had a nice mix of spicy and mild. They would bring you more dosas if you wanted, but after one big plate I was full and happy. The food wasn't fabulous like The Woodlands in Chatsworth, but it was far better than I, for some reason, expected to find in Phoenix. The place was a big bustling room full of Indian families, a kind of diner for South Asians.

On our last night, we made a trek over to Mesa to the Blue Adobe Grille. I had heard a lot about their wonderful New Mexican cuisine.

It was great, but if you're looking for vegetarian food I have to warn you - it is a meat palace! The food is really, really, good but it all has meat. The rice and beans are made with chicken stock. We got them to make us stacked cheese enchiladas - one with red sauce, one with green - which were just tortillas layered with cheese and sauce. The sauces were to die for, but it wasn't the most creative or tasty thing I have ever eaten.

Greg got 2 soups, because there wasn't a vegetarian one so I gave him mine. I, being a very bad vegetarian, tasted them both. There was a creamy chile, potato and pecan (with chicken stock) and a pork pozole. Both were just great - complex, deep flavors wonderfully combined.

The people obviously know their way around the kitchen and how to make very fine food. It just isn't a place for the veg heads among us.

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