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Immersed in Art Dining Guide
Phoenix has a immense palette of available dining destinations, but why not take a break from the over-designed and homogenized chain restaurants and spark your taste buds as well as your brain?
Here is an informal selection of some of Phoenix Art Space staffs’ favorites across the Valley…vast, but by no means, comprehensive!
Restaurant: Caffe Boa (Tempe)
Street: 398 S. Mill Ave
Culinary Bent: Mediterranean Fusion
Hours: Sun – Wed, 11am - 10pm; Th – Sat, 11am – 11pm
Description: Certainly not to be confused with its previous quaint incarnation on Mill next to Long Wong’s, or the since separated Ahwatukee café of the same name, this new Caffe Boa is an entirely different creature. The food is still excellent and the ambience is still at a peak for Mill, but the character, charm, and intimacy of the original has been traded in for a Pottery Barn-esque corporatism. Modern and clean, the new Boa is sure to please, but no longer expect to fall in love. Enjoy blaring jazz on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, but don’t expect to be able to talk to your date. Despite the loss of some character, they now have a swank full service wine bar and exceptionally abundant patio seating.
Restaurant: Coronado Café
Street: 2201 N. 7th St.
Art: Visual Arts
Culinary Bent: Southwest Fusion
Description: Perhaps one of the most charming dining locations in Phoenix, Coronado Café is the perfect infusion of nostalgia, progress, and Southwest flavors. Built in 1915 as a private residence, the Historic building, now renovated, evinces comfort and History. Coronado blends the past with the present and future: its smartly designed interior is warm, modern, and even serves as a trendy Art gallery that rotates and holds receptions. The food is excellent and reasonably priced, though some dishes, while well prepared, are a bit understated. Expect home-style dishes with a gourmet twist and a splash of Southwest character. Now with expanded patio seating!
Restaurant: Zest Spirited Dining
Street: 4117 N 16th St
Art: Visual Arts
Culinary Bent: "Innovative American"
Hours: Tues - Thurs, 5 - 9pm; Fri - Sat, 5 - 10pm; Sun, 5 - 9pm
Description: Zest Spirited Dining is concerned as much with its art as it is its food. Located on 16th street just north of Indian School, Zest is a great destination for friends, business people, and casual diners in the downtown Phoenix and Biltmore area. Though the open floor plan doesn’t lend itself to any intimacy, those on dates, especially double dates can enjoy the atmosphere and food. With entrees ranging from $13-35 dollars, there’s something for people of all budgets. Zest describes its menu as “innovative American,” but don’t expect to find any hamburgers. Zest’s menu focuses on the swankier American plates and includes a variety of seafood. One drawback to Zest’s menu is that lack of vegetarian options, offering only one meatless angel hair pasta. Zest’s ambiance is unique and painting focused, and though it has a terrific dinner menu, it still feels somehow more of a lunch than dinner destination.
Zest’s roughly 2,500 square foot dining room exhibited eleven paintings when I last visited. Work is shown by one artist only for a period of approximately ninety days, and prices are listed if one wishes to purchase a piece. The restaurant finds its artists by word of mouth and by some who request to have their work exhibited. The owners review the art to determine whether or not it fits well with the restaurant’s character, and judging from past visits, the owners know a thing or two about both decorating and artistic aptitude.
Restaurant: AZ/88 Bar & Restaurant
Street: 7353 Scottsdale Mall
Art: Visual Arts
Culinary Bent: American Fusion
Hours: Food available: 11:30a.m.-12:30a.m. M-F, 5:00p.m.-12:30a.m. Saturday and Sunday, Cocktails until 1:30 a.m. everyday
Description: AZ/88 Bar & Restaurant has been an Old Town staple since 1988. It is known as a people-watching site and the huge glass windows and open design make it easy to see who is inside and outside on the patio. It’s supposedly hard to find, but the website includes a map and directions. AZ/88 is a bar more than a restaurant, and while the food is good and fairly inexpensive for Scottsdale, it is easy to see that the drinks and atmosphere are what keep people coming back. The food is mostly American—burgers, salads, chicken sandwiches, and a few plates—and above average. It is one of the only places in Old Town to get decent food late at night, unless you want to get greasy pizza. The contemporary architecture and rotating art installation create a memorable atmosphere. It is always crowded, so come early and come thirsty.
Restaurant: Oasis Café
Street: 1310 E. Apache Blvd.
Culinary Bent: Middle Eastern
Description: If you drive by Oasis Café during the day it looks like an abandoned building with worn white paint and dark tinted windows. At night the yellow sign is illuminated and the parking lot is packed, and once you step inside it’s like nothing else in Tempe. Oasis Café is a sensory experience. Loud voices and Arabic fusion music hits your ears, the smell of flavorful hookah and spicy food fills your nose, and if you’re lucky the moving belly dancers catch your eyes. The place is frequented by of a lot of ASU students and regulars. The hookah/dining area include floor booths with pillows and low tables. The food is tasty with very reasonable prices and very generous portions. The menu includes common Mediterranean foods: gyros, hummus, baba, falafel, tabouli salad, combo plates, and more. The chicken hummus deluxe is a popular menu item and enough for two people. Only natural coals are used for the hookahs and flavorful smoke densely fills the air. It can get very busy later in the evening and hard to get a table, so try to come during Happy Hour.
Street: 3815 N. Central Avenue
Culinary Bent: Mediterranean/American
Description: Anyone with established roots in Phoenix--and let’s be honest, three years of residency equals native status in Arizona--knows the frustration of finding a good spot in downtown for get together with your buddies. Fortunately, FEZ fixed all of that and gave Phoenicians much more. The urban-influenced eatery is full of sleek lines, dim lighting and thick white screens that double as space separators and projection screens. It’s not uncommon to walk in and be greeted with the pulsating beats of Madonna, Beyoncé, Janet or the other divas of pop music on the restaurant’s speaker system or main video screen. You’ll also be welcomed by the friendly and attentive staff who seem to go the extra mile with every martini order or request for harissa fries. Besides the delicious Mediterranean/American cuisine (think kisra, burgers and pomegranate chicken), guests are known to flip over the strong margaritas and martinis. Ranging in flavors from tart apple, apricot and the aforementioned pomegranate, visitors have no problem downing a second during FEZ’s 2-for-1 happy hour.
Restaurant: Ticoz Resto-Bar
Street: 5114 N. 7th St
Art: Visual Arts
Culinary Bent: Latin Fusion
Hours: 11am to 11pm daily, until midnight on weekends
Description: Another great addition to Downtown Phoenix is Ticoz Resto-Bar. This Latin-influenced taco stand, burger joint and cocktail bar blends the three together with what seems like minimal effort. The menu features plenty of solo and shared plates, such as the Ticoz Chicos Burgers and the Ticoz Chicos Pollos, both of which are mini-burgers or chicken sandwiches that can be customized with your choice of five combinations of sauces and toppings. The Grilled Burrito is a filling entrée full of rice, beans, avocado and chipotle crema, pico salsa and jack cheese. Add your choice of meat, but if you’re looking for a recommendation, the chicken version of this plate-filler won’t disappoint. Just like it’s cousin FEZ, Ticoz features 2-for-1 happy hour on their selection of martinis and margaritas. This chill atmosphere, with its dark colored upholstery, seductive red-lights providing the color and intimate and spacious seating, is ideal for special occasions from a dinner date to an after-work happy hour to a get together your closest friends.
Restaurant: Three Roots
Street: 1020 S. Mill Ave.
Art: Visual Arts, Performance/Music
Culinary Bent: Vegetarian/Coffee
Hours: 7:00 AM - 11:00 PM Mon. - Sat., 9:00 AM - 7:00 PM Sun.
Description: Looking for the perfect independent coffee shop? Pay a visit to Three Roots, one of the last remaining vestiges of what used to be an incredibly cool Mill Ave. It sports not only an amazing variety of unique coffee drinks, (my personal favorite of which is the "Jamaican-Me-Crazy Mocha,") but also a vast array of vegetarian dishes. From vegan burritos and the grilled veggie grilled cheese at lunch to the famed tofu scramble for breakfast, Three Roots serves up filling meals at an affordable price.
The building used as the shop was originally an art school, and was then transformed into a gallery adjacent to The Matte Corner frame store. Today Three Roots still acts as a gallery, showcasing the work of many talented local artists. In addition, there is live music there several times a month, and a biannual all day music festival, featuring back to back acts on two "stages," one indoor and one outdoor. Three Roots has also become a local hub for many people to discuss politics and world affairs, and the shop has hosted numerous events focusing on global human rights issues. So come for a quiet scrabble game, a lively debate, a great cup of coffee, and always good people.
Restaurant: Pita Jungle
Street: 1205 E. Apache Blvd.
Art: Visual Arts
Culinary Bent: Healthy Mediterranean Cuisine
Hours: 9 am- 10 pm 7 days a week
Description: Tucked away in a shanty little strip mall, hidden by the atrocious construction consuming Apache Blvd. (and what feels like all of Tempe) lies one of the city's most infamous, vegetarian-friendly, kitschy Mediterranean cafes still holding on strong, despite the dismembered streets. Pita Jungle caters to everyone with vegan dishes as well as natural, free-range meaty entrees. The inside is as warm and inviting as the shawarma dishes set before you. With a wine bar in the back and walls adorned with warmly toned art, the feast for your eyes is as fulfilling as the food. The menus starts off with some of the city’s best hummus dishes, followed by delicious hearty salads. From wood-fired pizza, to grilled Halibut, to vegetarian pitas, there's something to suit every hunger level and (in true ASU collegiate fashion) every wallet budget. Check it out, eat healthy, and support local, small-business’, especially while they thrive to keep from going belly-up and corporate in during construction.