Tarnished Treasure: 24 Carrots in Tempe Misses the Mark

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercadetti
Tacos, a carrot overeasy drink with an Arizona bowl.
I believe that you should eat whatever makes you feel good and stay away from whatever doesn't. When I heard about 24 Carrots, a Tempe restaurant and juice bar specializing in vegan cuisine, I was excited, because meat-free food has come a long, long way since the advent of the Tofurkey. Unfortunately, for a restaurant that specializes in promoting vegan and raw food, 24 Carrots offers little in the way of innovation, and the food is just not great.

There seems to be a gaping void at 24 Carrots. The space feels incomplete, the source of the ingredients is shrouded in mystery, the food is generally missing flavor, and the service is spotty at best. There is no sign above the storefront. Handwritten notes and store hours are Scotch-taped to the doors. I would be willing to give the slow service and half-finished décor the benefit of the doubt if this were a brand-new restaurant. But 24 Carrots opened its Tempe location in December after a five-year stint in Chandler -- it seems the owner has had more than sufficient time to work out the kinks.


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Breaking the Cyclo: After 12 Years, Cyclo in Chandler Could Use A Fresh Start

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Bun Cha Ha Noi (left), Bun Sai Gon (right).
Entering Cyclo for the first time, you'll notice one thing before anything else: owner Justina Duong. On a recent summer evening, she's wearing a flowered maxi dress, dramatic false eyelashes, and a hip pixie cut. Her elegance appears effortless, like she's a guest herself. She immediately starts talking to a new customer about moon cycles and how the heat affects them, as if she's chatting with a gal pal over Cosmos.

After 12 years in business, it's obvious that Duong must know what she's doing at her Chandler Vietnamese fusion restaurant, Cyclo.

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The Pride of Guadalupe: San Diego Bay Restaurant Offers High Quality Food at Low Cost

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Shrimp cocktail and marlin tacos
Despite aspirations to the contrary, the Phoenix metropolitan area is largely a provincial town. Especially when it comes to food, we rarely leave our comfort zone. In a literal sense, we stay put. Restaurants in the west Valley rarely draw customers from Gilbert, and residents of Scottsdale often can't even tell you how to get to Chandler. By and large, we eat where we sleep, forgetting that better - or more interesting - food is more than a few miles away.

And no place in the Valley is more forgotten than the town of Guadalupe. Drive south on Priest and you'll know you've hit Guadalupe when the landscape suddenly changes as you cross Baseline. Despite sitting in the shadows of the fabricated civilization of Arizona Mills and Ikea, Guadalupe - with roughly 5,000 residents - is the town that time forgot. Largely Hispanic and economically depressed, some of the nicest structures in town are the brightly painted bus shelters. It is not a picture of prosperity.

But nestled in a sleepy corner of a desolate outdoor square is San Diego Bay Restaurant, and it's reason enough to get outside your comfort zone and visit Guadalupe no matter how far the drive. It's a cheery and spotless space, with brightly painted blue walls, mismatched banquettes, bright lights and the chatter of a wall mounted television which alternates between Univision and the Cartoon Network. Whatever it lacks in warmth is made up for by friendly, proud and welcoming staff and some of the best Mexican style seafood outside of Rocky Point.

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The Hunt for Good Escargot in Metro Phoenix

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Escargot with bone marrow from Peite Maison in Scottsdale.
You think of them, perhaps, as garden pests. For me, they are a favorite meal. I eat snails. With a glass of good rosé and the proper amount of French bread, escargot are on my comestibles short list.

I've eaten them in sauces and in phyllo purses, wrapped in sourdough and cooked into stews, and once, very memorably, in a mediocre cassoulet at a place called Patin Couffin in Fayence, a small Provençal village. I remember more about Virginie, the transsexual septuagenarian who ran the place, than I do the cassoulet, in part because her English was so good and because she noticed that my hair was in dishabille and, licking the palm of her hand, patted it back into place. (Also, she sat down at our table, advised us against the fish course, and never stopped talking. Also, there was the part about how she used to be a man and now she was an old woman in a halter top.)

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Lunch Be a Lady: Exploring the Arcadia Lunch Scene

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Grilled Yellow Fin Tuna Nicoise Salad, asparagus soup, and charcuterie from The Market by Jennifer's.
If you're lucky enough to lounge during lunch like a modern-day Oscar Wilde character, you have plenty of options. Arcadia has expanded its lunch game in the past year with more and more places that cater to the upper-crust, midday meal crowd. Chestnut, Flower Child, and The Market by Jennifer's are three recent additions to the scene.

Each caters to the persnickety demands of the clientele it seeks to win over with gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and other dietary options clearly labeled so that no one has to wonder -- though customers tend to loudly ask anyway. The restaurants also gravitate toward a vintage and quaint yet chic aesthetic that says, "I take myself and my lunch seriously."

If you're willing to drop a 20-spot or more on lunch, you're welcome to navigate the highs and lows of this rapidly increasing East Phoenix neighborhood's offerings. While Flower Child and Chestnut suffer from identity issues, The Market by Jennifer's goes for a more comforting culinary approach, resulting in less healthy but more interesting fare.

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Pony Tale: The New Pink Pony Misses the Point

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Pork chops with polenta, house chopped salad, and pretzel fondue from the Pink Pony.
The first time I visited the Pink Pony, following its floor­-to-­ceiling overhaul earlier this year, I was distracted. Where was the slightly shabby lounge singer, cracking us up with tacky renditions of ancient Pet Clark hits? The cozily dark bar, straight out of a 1930s Warner Bros. gangster film? Where was the fun of visiting an old Scottsdale steakhouse?

In the end, mostly disappointed by near-­miss appetizers and entrées, I left wondering, The Pink Pony's main draw, for decades, has been its scruffy sentimentality and dependable steak dinners. In a town full of upscale restaurants offering New American cuisine, we don't need another.

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Love Shack: Angry Crab Shack in Mesa Delivers Seafood by the Pound

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
One pound of crawfish from Angry Crab Shack in Mesa.
Originality is dead. It is a universal truth that we have come to accept, whether it be with regard to Hollywood's inability to produce anything but sequels and remakes, fashion's predictable cycle of "what's old is new again" or restaurateurs who seem to latch on to a popular idea and perpetuate it ad naseum. We could have solved a litany of societal woes if any one of them garnered as many resources as does trying to discover the next Chipotle or a new twist on sushi.

But almost without exception, the old adage hold true: The imitator is rarely as good as the original.

And that brings us to a curious exception in the realm of restaurant game theory, a case where he who copies is far better than who he copied.

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An Homage to the Classic Caesar Salad

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Nobody does the Caesar quite like Alexi.
I remember Caesar salads the way other people recall first dates. I can recite for you my best Caesar, and my worst; can list for you the most disappointing Caesars in my life, and how they fell short. I especially recall my first Caesar, prepared by my paternal grandmother, Giovanina, when I was 7. It was dressed with long, flat croutons, each of them cradling an oily black anchovy. I stood and watched as she grated Parmesan directly into her dressing.

I've had kale Caesars, and Caesars with chopped tomato, and Caesars loaded down with steak and fish. I've endured grilled Caesars, a new form of torture; eaten Caesars at country club restaurants and pizza joints and even, as research while preparing to write this essay, one of those make-it-yourself bagged Caesars from the grocery. (It tasted like a plastic bag.)

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Taco Guild in Phoenix Is A Beautiful Place with So-So Food

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Taco trap: Beautiful setting, but so-so food at Taco Guild.
It doesn't take much to make an excellent taco. Oftentimes the very best ones come off of trucks or carts parked on the side of the road and its the simplicity of the dish that makes the dining so great.

But Taco Guild takes an altogether different approach. The restaurant offers creations that blend unexpected ingredients like bleu cheese with more tradition ones like chipotle cherry steak. In some cases the inventiveness yields successful results, but in other cases you end up with seriously unsavory eats.


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Little Miss BBQ in Phoenix, Where Well-Smoked Meat Takes Center Stage

Categories: Cafe Review

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Lauren Saria
Pork ribs from Little Miss BBQ in Texas.
Since opening three months ago, Little Miss BBQ has Phoenix diners crushing hard. The restaurant brings the great barbecue debate to our own backyard, offering smoked meats in the style of Central Texas.

Though owners Scott and Bekke Holmes will give you the option to uses one of a trio of sauces on the 'cue, you may want to forgo them all in favor of a more pure experience. Scott smokes his brisket for 11 hours in a custom-built R & O smoker made in Granbury, Texas, checking the heat every 15 minutes to ensure everything's going as planned. The result of such persistence is meat so good that the restaurant regularly -- almost always -- sells out by the end of the day.

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