Rising Arizona: how Phoenix is becoming a foodie city to savour
Phoenix is working hard to reinvent a food scene once regarded as flatter than a pancake. Guardian restaurant critic Marina OLoughlin eats her way round the diners and restaurants fusing cuisines and creating fresh twists on American classics
Among Americas great cities, the name of Phoenix, Arizona, does not loom large. Yoghurt, the old joke goes, has more culture than Phoenix. This is a city where even the poshest eating establishments have TVs behind the bar tuned to the sports channel. Nobody seems to actually come from here the rapidly expanding city is populated largely by incomers, attracted by low taxes, attractive property prices, desert heat and killer sunsets.
So what the hell am I doing here, among the gun-totin and Trump-votin? Its because there has been a concerted effort to regenerate, revivify, reinvent. With museums and galleries a-plenty, that culture sneer is no longer valid; plus theres a wealth of mid-century modernism and an expanding light rail system to whisk you around.
But the main reason Im here is for the food. Phoenix is being reborn as a foodie oasis in the Arizona desert. Sure, it takes a while to recalibrate sensibilities the best restaurants can turn out to be in strip malls or gated communities, and down the road might mean a 30-minute drive. But the sense of a city on the cusp is palpable. Downtown, especially around Roosevelt Row pretty much a ghost-town a decade ago is now bristling with inviting bars, offbeat restaurants and a thriving arts scene.
The street art is intoxicating and the cooking, with its south-western US, Mexican, Native American and Sonoran desert influences, is a revelation. The desert itself is counter-intuitively productive: home to more than 500 food plants from wild oregano and mesquite pods to all manner of edible cacti.
This is my pick of Phoenix as ever, a personal one. When I arrived, I couldnt make sense of the sprawling, low-slung place at all. And to my chilly northern ears, the locals warmth, friendliness and see ya soons seemed jarring. But by the time I left I was saying it right back and meaning it.
THE COOL KIDS
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