Road Journals Blog—Taste it Tours , which traverses Phoenix’s culinary scene, is the perfect way to discover the city’s revitalized downtown and varied dining options. Hosted by the local CVB, I ate my way through town, experiencing the diverse range of restaurants that call Phoenix home.
Tour guide Marlene Amodeo and founder Jess Combest led our sizeable group on a three-hour jaunt, dispensing bits and pieces about Phoenix’s history and knowledge of local landmarks along the way. Marlene and Jess regaled us with tales of hotel ghosts and past celebrity visitors. (Marilyn Monroe was apparently quite the Phoenix fan.)
At the tour stops, an owner or chef introduced the food, explained a little about the history and philosophy of the restaurant, and then let us dig in. After a five-minute warning, we’d settle the tab before being whisked away to the next destination.
Province , located within the new Westin hotel at the corner of Central and Van Buren, was our first stop. (The team behind Province restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop, which opened in 2008, is also behind this venture.) The restaurant emphasizes farm-to-table cuisine from local, organic, and sustainable origins. We sampled smoked chicken linguica and eggplant escalavida flatbreads paired with a sparkling champagne cocktail, and were given house-made granola for the road.
The next stop was Seamus McCaffreys , an Irish pub credited with bringing Irish beer to Phoenix. The bar, which was shipped in from Ireland, is plastered with police badges. They started putting up badges, and what began as a local tradition grew to include badges mailed in from all over the country. Leprechaun statues hide in the top corners of the shelves housing bottles, and glowing neon signs advertise beer and feature a countdown to St. Paddy’s Day. Their shepherd pie is crafted from scratch and pairs well with their unique spin on a brunch staple: The Irish bloody Mary, which includes A1, Worcestershire sauce, Franks RedHot, pickle juice, and a Guinness topper. They also boast the largest scotch collection in the area, including one shot that costs $175.
From Seamus’ dark interior, we set out for a tavern with a decidedly different feel. Well-lit Tom’s Tavern , tucked into one of the oldest buildings in town, used to house an old morgue and once acted as a pool hall with an illegal gambling room in the back. The tavern takes a hands-on approach to its food, making everything from the bacon to the barbecue sauce. We sampled pulled pork sliders and washed them down with mango margaritas rimmed with an addictive mango salt.
Our journey took an Asian turn at Thai Basil . Instead of cooking menu items in bulk, Thai Basil fires each dish order by order, combining flavorful lemongrass, talanga, and kefir into winning combinations that burst with clean flavors. Owner Mimi Smith credits her family’s longevity to the food, and it’s hard to argue when her great grandparents have yet to take a trip to the hospital. The fresh pad Thai was flavorful and light, and swayed by the claims of good health, I snagged a Thai iced coffee for the road.
After a brief tour of The Westward H0 , an old hotel that used to welcome Jackie Gleason and where, rumor has it, Roy Rogers rode his horse up the staircase, we ended our journey at Fair Trade Café . The café features an outdoor Zen garden, an art gallery, and a full menu of paninis, including curried chicken and grilled cheese. We sampled the toddy-pressed iced coffee, a smooth blend that reduces acidity by 60 to 80 percent, alongside a rich chocolate peanut butter cookie (which also happened to be gluten free). We wrapped up our tour at The Sweetness , which serves scoops of super premium ice cream in innovative flavors such as salty pretzel and horchata from the front of the café until 2 a.m.
This blog post was first published in May 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.