One of the things I always enjoyed about the Phoenix area was the vast array of businesses that cater to the Mexican population. Unlike most places I’ve lived, it’s relatively easy to go out and get some fresh masa, a wide variety of chile peppers, tamales, and the like, with most neighborhoods having either a grocery store that caters to the Mexican market, or at least does a good job of carrying Mexican staples and tortillas from some local bakery. However, on my last trip through Mesa, Arizona, I noticed that Ranch Market, the long-time Phoenix Mexican-themed supermarket, had now opened a location in Mesa, so I decided to go in and check it out, since I hadn’t been to Ranch Market in a while.
It’s time to talk about the other great joy of going to Yuma. No, I’m not talking about the green chile burgers at the Yuma Proving Ground bowling alley (although they do make a pretty good burger). I’m talking about the variety of taco stands that can be found all over Yuma. Around 5-6 pm every day, all sorts of sleepy little stands all over town (but centralized on West 8th, aka Calle Ocho) fire up their grills and start mixing up fresh jamaicas and horchata. Yes, to me, that is the real Yuma culinary experience, eating tacos from all manner of little trucks, stands, and tents located on vacant lots and parking lots.
Anyone that’s been reading this blog for a while knows, for as long as I’ve been doing the blog I’ve had periodic trips to Yuma, since it’s the Army’s premiere spot for, well, throwing crap out of airplanes (I’ve got several projects at work that involve parachutes and parachute guidance systems). I’ve now been to Yuma enough times that I’ve got a lot of favorite restaurants (more on that when I do the next installment of my taco adventures), traditions (getting a Route 44 cherry limeade at Sonic to celebrate successful testing after a long day in the desert), and places that I keep meaning to try (Mar Azul, for example). Brownie’s Cafe I discovered on my first trip to Yuma years ago (it’s hard to miss, being on 4th Ave/I-8 BL/Old Highway 80), with a most distinctive storefront (which I’ve done a mediocre job of capturing with this 2008 image), and I usually go there for breakfast once every trip…
For years people (both friends in AZ and credible bloggers) have been telling me that I have to try Pizzeria Bianco, since it’s the “best pizza ever”. Yeah, I’ve heard that many times before, for many places, and usually when someone says a place is that good? It’s usually good, but no Pepe’s, Lombardi’s, or Punch (to name three of my pizza favorites). However, Bianco has gotten a huge amount of buzz, consistently, for years. And Chris Bianco has even gotten a James Beard award…
Yuma has always been an interesting place to me. In some ways, it captures a lot of what I remember about the Phoenix area of my youth, with funky neon motor lodges and adobe-style buildings. Meanwhile, the town is so close to the border that it’s unabashedly Mexican in flavor. Businesses gleefully advertise in Spanish, and little mom-and-pop grocery stores proudly stock masa, beef tongue, and a variety of hot peppers, knowing that their clientele will be buying and using such items. Unfortunately, the busy part of Yuma is the “New Yuma”, centered along Highway 95 and I-8 Business Loop, which is mostly newer fast food chains (although they at least have some of the better fast food chains, like In-N-Out, Del Taco, and El Pollo Loco, in addition to the ubiquitous McDonalds), chain restaurants, and big box stores. There’s nary a taqueria, taco truck, burrito joint, or Spanish meat market to be found near most of the hotels and motels, and if there’s a Mexican restaurant, it’s heavily Tex-Mex influenced. Luckily, for those willing to go explore off of the I-8 Business loop, there’s plenty of real Mexican fare to be found in Yuma…
I’ve always had a fascination for old diners. And small restaurants with very small seating areas. So when I happen across a gem like Dot’s Diner in Bisbee, Arizona, it’s obligatory that I stop in and check it out. Dot’s is an authentic Valentine Diner care, originally built in Kansas bu the Valentine Manufacturing Company in Wichita. According to the literature they’ve got as a diner, Dot’s started life as a burger diner in Los Angeles before being purchased in the mid-90s and moved to it’s current location in the Shady Dell RV Park in Bisbee in 1997, with Dot at the grill.
My friend Karla wanted to meet with us for a mid-afternoon snack while we were in Phoenix. She recommended that we get pie at Linda’s, which is at 24th and Osborn in Phoenix. It’s a little hard to find, since the only obvious name on the place is BJ’s (from the previous business name). However, it was worth our effort tracking this joint down. Despite the non-descript exterior, Linda’s has quite a good selection of homemade pies. Our group opted for Coconut Cream, Banana-Chocolate (shown here), and Cherry. Mine was the Banana-Chocolate, which was pleasantly creamy, not too banana-y, with a good substantial flaky crust and a nice chocolate flavor.
(Closed) I’ve been a pho addict for almost 15 years now. Unfortunately, living in New Hampshire, I’ve got no local pho joints, and only two that are within an hour’s drive of my home. So most any time I’m traveling to an area with good Pho shops, I try and get a pho fix. Phoenix is a particularly good area for Pho, with a large Vietnamese population. I used to have a favorite place up in Scottsdale by the Motorola plant, but it isn’t there anymore. Khai Hoan on Apache in Tempe is good as well, but wasn’t open on Christmas Eve this year, so we decided to give one of the better-reviewed places in Phoenix a try (19th Ave around Camelback has a number of Vietnamese businesses). We settled on Pho Bang due to a number of good reviews online, including two that mention that it’s John McCain’s favorite Pho joint.
For many years, Haji Baba’s in Tempe has been one of my go-to places for good Middle Eastern food in the Phoenix area. Indeed, it’s been one of the places on my hit list whenever I’m in the Phoenix area.
Haji Baba’s isn’t exactly the best decorated place—it’s important to realize that the idea here is a market that sells food, and not a restaurant. As a result, the overall ambiance here is a bit lacking, it’s like eating in an office supply store. But you’re not coming here to enjoy the ambiance, you’re coming here to eat. And that’s where Haji Baba’s shines, with a solid menu of Middle Eastern delights, such as gyros, schawarma (shown here), hummus, tabouleh, grape leaves, olives, and such.
As part of my job, I had to spend a whole week in the Yuma, AZ area. One of the brighter spots of Yuma is that it’s one of the best places to get good authentic Mexican food (without the usual Tex Mex or New Mexico influences, which are good in their own right, but not true Mexican Food). I’ve known several good places in Yuma (including Mi Rancho, which has been around forever), and several good taco stands, but I wanted to see what the best Mexican food out there was. Consulting several online sources (Chowhound, FindItinYuma, and several blogs), there was quite a consensus that Los Manjares was the place to try first.