June 30, 2008

El Charro

By Angele Sionna


[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="409 S. San Francisco, Flagstaff, AZ"]409 S. San Francisco, Flagstaff, AZ[/caption]

409 S. San Francisco St., Flagstaff
(no menu on line)

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>>>= good, but not great

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
xxx= good but could be improved

Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
$= under $10

Value (what you get for your money)
*** = fair -you get what you pay for, not in a bad way

With El Charro, what you see is what you get. It’s a simple, family owned Mexican restaurant without any bells and whistles, but good service and food by people who care about making it. Inside a converted home in the midst of a Flagstaff Neighborhood, this isn’t the place you’re going to see many tourists. What you’ll find instead on most weekday afternoons are NAU employees who took a short walk from their office to grab lunch. That’s when I recommend going to El Charro because their great lunch special makes this place definitely worth trying.



[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="One of El Charro's lunch special combos"]One of El Charros lunch special combos[/caption]

For $6.25 plus tax, you get any two items from the A La Carte menu, rice, beans, a tortilla or sopapilla, and soda or iced tea. Hard to find a deal like that in this town. The A La Carte menu includes tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, and burros. My personal recommendation is the guacamole tostada and a cheese enchilada with the sopapilla for dessert. My husband always gets one beef enchilada and one cheese enchilada. To note here, the beef enchiladas have not been Americanized. They are a cheese enchilada with cubes of beef and red sauce on top. It was a little surprising the first time my husband ordered it, as he’s used to ground beef mixed with cheese inside the enchilada. But he likes it enough to order it every time we come.

If you’re on a diet, you’ll want to skip El Charro. There’s probably nothing for you on the menu. It is very meat and cheese driven and loaded with carbs.

El Charro is also not the place to go if you’re looking for spicy or interesting flavor combinations. Instead the flavors are mild, bordering on boring. Growing up in Texas I’m accustomed to Tex-Mex style cooking that brings much more zing and spice in every bite, not to mention more vegetables in the entrée selections. You’re not going to get anything like that here. But I’ve yet to find any place like that anywhere in this town.

This is a Mexican restaurant in every sense of the word. The tone of the dishes are much more basic, yet solid and reliable. Every time I’ve come to El Charro the food tastes exactly the same. Also dependable is the service. The owners and their family run the restaurant hands-on. They greet you, serve the food, and make sure you’re drink glass is always full. I often see the owner’s family eating lunch here when they’re not working.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="180" caption="El Charro's sopapillas"]El Charros sopapillas[/caption]

The atmosphere is kid-friendly with colorful murals hand painted on the walls and piñatas hanging on the ceiling. My daughter particularly likes the animals depicted in the landscape, which she promptly begins naming as soon as we sit down. Also good to note, if you’re little ones don’t go for Mexican food, the menu has picky-kid friendly items like burgers and fries. Hands down my daughter’s favorite part about coming here are the sopapillas with honey that come with the lunch special. Truth be told, they’re my favorite part about coming here too.

See more photos of El Charro HERE.

Hot Wok Express

By Angele Sionna

1000 N. Humphreys St. #243
Fort Valley Shopping Center, Flagstaff
(no menu online)

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>> = mixed bag, can be good but can be bad, can’t count on it

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
x= if the food's good enough, still worth going, otherwise forget it

Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
$= under $10

Value (what you get for your money)
Lunch *** = fair -you get what you pay for, not in a bad way
Dinner ** = okay - overpriced for quality/taste

Flagstaff is known for its beautiful mountains, gorgeous hikes, and wonderful weather; not it’s Chinese food. There’s a reason for that. Ask any local and they’ll tell you, Flag is not the place to find great, or even consistently good, Chinese. If you surveyed ten Flag residents about where they go for Chinese, their answers would most likely differ. In fact, I’ve had long discussions at dinner parties on this very topic. The one thing we all agreed on, Flagstaff could use a standout Chinese restaurant.

But as things go, sometimes you just want Chinese food. Kung Fu Panda put my family in the mood for it this weekend. Those noodle bowls Poe the panda makes were calling our name. So we headed to Hot Wok Express. This little restaurant is tucked away in the far left corner of the Fort Valley Shopping Center. It’s kind of hard to find if you aren’t looking carefully. Hot Wok is popular with people who work at or visit the hospital, which is right around the corner.

There’s nothing fancy about Hot Wok Express. The tables, chairs, and booths are all made of plastic. The interior looks a lot like most fast food spots, except for the oversized Chinese fans scattered around the walls. The fluorescent lighting doesn’t help the atmosphere either. It feels sterile and generic. This isn’t the type of place you’d go for a romantic or nice dinner. In fact, I would skip the sit down meal here all together. Instead use the drive-thru window. It’s particularly a good idea if you want to grab food on the go with the kids in the car without the hassle of unloading them. Another good option, Hot Wok delivers in a limited area for an extra charge.

We arrived hungry and craving Chinese food at 2:30pm. At most restaurants that would mean we would’ve been out of luck for getting in on lunch specials, but not at Hot Wok. They have lunch specials seven days a week from 11am to 4pm. For about five bucks, the specials are a bargain. In addition to a wide array of entrees, you also get an egg roll, crab puff, cup of soup, and steamed or fried rice. You can sub lo mein for the rice for an extra $1.50. Hot Wok is essentially a fast food joint; except here food is made when you order it and you get more variety.

On this visit we got Chicken Lo Mein with steamed rice, Kung Pao Beef with fried rice, and Orange Chicken with fried rice to split between three adults and one child. Plenty of food to go around. None of us got the soup because we don’t like hot and sour soup or egg drop soup, which were the choices today.

The Chicken Lo Mein has a distinct soy sauce and garlic flavor but is not spicy. The noodles aren’t as plump as I’ve had at other Chinese restaurants. Veggies aren’t plentiful in this dish, neither is the chicken. The Kung Pao Beef has water chestnuts, peanuts, and a sweet and spicy brown sauce. This dish has a ginger bite with lots of beef and water chestnuts. The Orange Chicken is fried with a crispy outside and chewy inside. It is surprisingly spicy. You take a bite and first notice the sweet and by the time you’re done chewing –bam- you’re hit with the spice.

As for the sides, the white rice isn’t moist and sticky like I’ve come to expect at a Chinese restaurant, which is a shame. I really enjoy sticky rice, as does my daughter. The fried rice was also dry and didn’t have much flavor. In fact, it hardly resembles fried rice at all except for the egg bits. But on the upside, their egg rolls are yummy, not too greasy, and filled with cabbage and carrots, no pork.

All in all, the three dishes and sides we had were average. On other visits to Hot Wok I’ve had better. I recommend ordering Moo Goo Gai Pan, Broccoli Chicken, or Cashew Chicken, all I have enjoyed more than today’s choices. While Hot Wok is nowhere near the best Chinese I’ve had, compared to other Chinese in town, Hot Wok gets my vote because it is quick and cheap.

Thai Delight Cafe

By Arikka Fullmer

6271 Dixie Dr., West Jordan, UT
(no menu on line)

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>>>>>
= always great, unique, and flavorful no matter where you're from

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
xxxx = comfortable

Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
$= under $10

Value
(what you get for your money)
***** = superb -lots of quality/taste for what you pay

Not since my travels to Thailand have I had phad thai this good.
You would think the traditional noodle dish would be an easy and consistent staple from restaurant to restaurant. But I’ve had so many terrible variations in the U.S. that when I find a gem I hold on. I flirt with keeping it a secret but it seems word is out on Thai Delight.
Despite its out of the way location (for downtowners like me), it is a crowd favorite valley wide. Thai Delight is just off Bangerter highway and 6200 South in a strip mall with plenty of parking.The service is genuinely friendly and quick! The prices were just as refreshing. Main dishes from 8 to 10 dollars with plenty leftover for tomorrow’s lunch.

Thai Delight’s version of pad thai included chicken, shrimp, and tofu (perfectly cooked). I can’t stomach poorly fried tofu. I’m also a curry snob - I like it full bodied, spicy, and yellow. But on this trip, we ordered the Peanut Panang Curry with green peppers and chicken. It’s a red curry so our waitress asked how hot we wanted it. I loved that she gave us a choice and I loved her reaction when we said ‘Thai’ hot. I guess most Utahns, or most folks in West Jordan like it mild.

If you are looking for authentic Thai tastes and a varied menu then you will enjoy Thai Delight. The family run location is modestly decorated with booth seating. A trip to the bathroom takes you through the casual kitchen giving you a homey feel. It’s always reassuring to see where your food is prepared. The chef made it look effortless and delightful.

June 21, 2008

Beaver Street Brewery & Whistle Stop Café

By Angele Sionna

11 S. Beaver St, Flagstaff, AZ
menu at: www.beaverstreetbrewery.com

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>>>>= a favorite, can count on it being good every time
The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
xxxxx= you'll love it
Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
$$ = $10
Value (what you get for your money)
***= fair -you get what you pay for, not in a bad way

Beaver Street Brewery is the kind of place that everyone in town always ends up. It’s got a friendly, warm, and comfortable atmosphere with possibly the friendliest wait staff in town and something even for the picky eaters on the menu. That means all of our friends and family who come to visit leave their vacation with fond memories from Beaver Street. The menu has upscale bar food with an Arizona twist of flavor, so the choices are anything but ordinary.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Beaver Street's patio/beer garden"]Beaver Streets patio/beer garden[/caption]

Whether you are a tourist or a local, this is a great spot to hang out, especially if the patio is open and it’s a sunny afternoon. They make several types of award-winning, seasonal beers ($3.50 half-pint, $4.50 pint, $5.50 Imperial 20 ounce, $14 pitcher, $15.50 filled to-go growler). My favorite for summer is the Hefe Weizen. And I’m not alone. This bold brew won the gold prize for best "South German Style" out of 60 competitors at the Great American Beer Fest in 2007. In winter, I recommend the Bramble Berry Brew. Both remind me of beers I had while vacationing in Munich, Germany a few years back at some of their most famous beer halls.

But it’s not only all about the beers at Beaver Street. Equal attention is paid to quality food that leaves you wanting to go back for more. All the salad dressings are homemade. The salads themselves are fantastically fresh and crispy. They don’t scrimp on even the side salad, which comes with fresh mushrooms and mixed greens. On a warm, sunny day, I like to grab a side-salad ($3.95) with ranch dressing and Hefe and kick back in the beer garden.

The Arizona Quesadillas ($8.95) are a nice change of pace. They bring some heat without being overpowering and are served with tortilla chips, guac, salsa, and pico. Great for sharing as an appetizer or as an entrée. Honestly, I haven’t had better quesadillas in Flagstaff. They come in chicken, grilled flank steak, smoked salmon, or black beans.



[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="The Beaver Street Burger"]The Beaver Street Burger[/caption]

For a main course, my husband will get the Beaver Street Burger ($10.95) nine out of ten times. This burger is made with garlic, fresh basil, and sun-dried tomatoes mixed in with the beef before being flame grilled and served with Havarti cheese and a special signature basil pesto mayonnaise sauce. Juicy and flavorful without being over-powering.

One of the most glowing reviews of all our friends and family came from my Aunt Gail when she bit into the Salmon BLT ($9.95) for the first time. She still talks about this sandwich, complete with a unique tangy lemon tarragon mayo, years later as being the best she’s ever had.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Beaver Street's pizza oven"]Beaver Streets pizza oven[/caption]

The wood-fired pizzas are one of my favs. They're cooked in a giant stove that you can see right when you walk in the restaurant. The BBQ Chicken Pizza ($10.85) usually calls my name. It's blend of smoked Gouda and mozzarella cheeses, a sweet and tangy sauce and grilled pieces of chicken breast and red onion pack a flavorful punch. My two-year old daughter also thinks it’s a treat to share this and a side salad with me.



[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Beaver Street's Apple-Ginger Stout Cake"]Beaver Streets Apple-Ginger Stout Cake[/caption]

Not to be left out, the Apple-Ginger Stout cake ($4.95) makes a nice way to round off your meal. This little gem is made with gingerbread cake, apples, spices, and Beaver Street’s own R&R Oatmeal Stout. It's served warm, drowned in a thin and not overpowering caramel sauce and fresh whip cream. Yum! This could be the most unique twist to gingerbread yet. Good anytime of the year, but especially great on a cold winter day with fresh snow on the ground. Still, that didn't stop me from ordering it today while sitting on the sunny patio.

Overall, this is my favorite joint in Flagstaff. It's the type of brewery that would hold up in any city in the country for their beers, atmosphere, and food. If you were to travel through Flagstaff on your way to the Grand Canyon as many folks do every summer, I would say a stop into Beaver Street is a must to get some local flavor and leave your stomach satisfied.

More Beaver Street photos HERE.

Josephine’s Modern American Bistro

By Angele Sionna


[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="503 N. Humphrey's St., Flagstaff, AZ"]503 N. Humphreys St., Flagstaff, AZ[/caption]

503 N. Humphrey’s Street, Flagstaff
menu at: www.josephinesrestaurant.com/menu.htm

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>>>>> = always great, unique, and flavorful no matter where you're from

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
xxxxx = you'll love it

Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
Lunch= $$$
Dinner = $$$$$

Value (what you get for your money)
Lunch **** = worth it - you won’t be disappointed with what you get for your money
Dinner *** = fair -you get what you pay for, not in a bad way

Josephine’s Modern American Bistro is the kind of restaurant that catches your eye from the moment you drive up. With its dark volcanic rock columns and beautiful, inviting stone patio, it’s a romantic setting anytime of the day. The quaintness increases in the evenings with the twinkling of lights around the historic building. The sense of timelessness is not, however, reflected on the very modern menu, which features bold and flavorful combinations of food to delight both the eye and the stomach. Josephine’s proclaims on their menu to be free of “ethnic constraints.” Instead blending “ingredients and techniques from many different cultures.” This is the type of place you come to have flavors dance through your mouth, popping with originality in their combinations.

The experience at Josephine’s differs depending on whether you are dining for lunch or dinner, as well as seasonally. While the atmosphere, service, and food quality remain the same, the prices vary quite a bit. At lunch, the prices are slightly higher than other top eateries in town with slightly smaller portions. At dinner, Josephine’s is true fine dining with prices that go along with it. Both menus also change seasonally.

On this occasion, my husband and I went to Josephine’s for lunch. We were celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary. The exceptional setting makes it a popular spot for folks to commemorate anniversaries, birthdays, and other special occasions. But it is also a fine place to grab lunch on a regular day out with the family as well, if the mood strikes you. I am partial to eating lunch at Josephine’s. Not only for the better value, but also because on a beautiful summer day when the sun is out and there’s a breeze in the air, it is a relaxing experience to sit on the patio and take in the flowers and other greenery as you wait for your meal.



[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Josephine's Pecan Encrusted Fish Tacos"]Josephines Pecan Encrusted Fish Tacos[/caption]

And that’s just what we did. The weather was perfect, so we sat back in the comfortable chairs on the patio and placed our orders. I had a hard time deciding what to get. I narrowed it down to either the Pecan Encrusted Fish Tacos "with roasted tomato salsa, cabbage slaw, avocado and ancho mayo” ($11.50) and the Po-Boy Crab-Cake Sandwich with a spicy remoulade ($11.50). The tacos won out because they were so fantastic the last time I was here. And they didn’t disappoint this time either. The fish is lightly breaded in a slightly sweet pecan crust. The flavors of the toppings blend nicely for a tangy taste with a kick.

My husband ordered the Caprese Sandwich ($10.25). It is served on garlic toasted ciabata bread with tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil, Prosciutto, and a balsamic reduction. It’s also available as a vegetarian sandwich without the ham for $9.25.

All of the menu items are intriguingly different, which in itself makes you want to come back again. Among the most unique: the Baklava Baked Brie ($9.50), which is “Phyllo wrapped Brie with pistachios and peach fig chutney” and the Diablo Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese, which is pasta smothered in a “smoked Gouda ancho chili cheese sauce” and topped with spicy diablo shrimp ($10.50 as an appetizer or $22 as a dinner entree).

Also of note, the wine menu is expansive with something to compliment every dish. Check out the hundred plus choices on their wine menu online. Not a wine expert? No worries. Josephine’s chef has already done all of the work for you with a recommendation for each dish printed right on the menu.

Josephine’s is owned by a brother and sister who named the restaurant after their mother. One is the award-winning head chef. The other runs the business side of things. You can tell that this family establishment takes great pride in each and every thing they serve. It is reflected in the menu as well as the wait staff. Each time we’ve visited Josephine’s we have had spectacular service to compliment the setting and the food. While this spot can be a budget buster, especially in the evening or if you order wine, it is the experience that you are paying for along with the food. I say, treat yourself. Stop by Josephine’s. You’ll be glad you did.

More Josephine's photos HERE.

June 15, 2008

Fratelli Pizza

By Angele Sionna

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="180" caption="119 W. Phoenix Ave., Flagstaff, AZ"]119 W. Phoenix Ave., Flagstaff, AZ[/caption]

119 W. Phoenix Ave., Flagstaff
Menu at: fratellipizza.net

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>>>> = a favorite, can count on it being good every time

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
xxxx = comfortable

Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
$= under $10

Value (what you get for your money)
***** = superb -lots of quality/taste for what you pay

When I walked into Fratelli Pizza, I was feeling brave and a little nervous. It was the first time I’d ventured to any restaurant by myself with my two year old and 8 month old daughters. I couldn’t have picked a better spot. The staff went out of their way to help me and the food was served hot and fast.

I strolled up to the counter holding my eldest’s hand and pushing my youngest in a stroller. We ordered one of their fantastic combos – plenty of food for us to share. For six bucks (including tax) we got an over-sized slice of cheese pizza, a fresh salad with ranch dressing, and a drink. You can also get two slices and a drink for the same price. Either combo can be upgraded to add one of the six beers they have on tap instead of a soda for $1.50 more.

After we ordered - we pulled up into a booth at Fratelli's relatively new location south of the tracks downtown. It still has that “new” feel to it. The five tables and four booths look like they could have been installed yesterday. The walls have a relaxing Italian garden wall theme painted on them. Two flat-screen TVs are mounted on either side of the restaurant. I’ve yet to be in here without some sort of sports on both of the TVs. The volume is always muted and instead they play upbeat music at a good level. Enough to entertain you if you’re there by yourself, yet quiet enough to have a good conversation with your fellow diners.

The waitress brought over our slice and salad as I filled up our glass at the beverage station. A nice kid-friendly feature here: along with the all you can drink refills, Fratelli has orange and lemon slices for your beer or iced tea. My daughter loves to snack on a few of the orange slices as her appetizer every time we’re here.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Fratelli's side salad"]Fratellis side salad[/caption]

I sat back down and we started munching down. The salad was not your typical quickie pizza joint salad. It was a fresh, crisp mix of spring greens topped with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, shredded carrots, and croutons. Served with ranch dressing on the side.
I couldn’t take more than two bites of it,though, before I turned my attention to the pizza.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Fratelli's cheese pizza slice"]Fratellis cheese pizza slice[/caption]

It was the size of two normal slices. The cheese was super-gooey with just the right amount of sauce. The dough is home made and hand tossed then baked in a stone deck oven. Perfect if you like New York-style thin crust, which I do. My daughter likes to add a little Parmesan on her part of the pizza. Luckily, Fratelli has that plus red peppers, Tabasco sauce, and garlic salt at the table to add on as you wish. Another kid-friendly feature at Fratelli, everything is served on non-breakable dishes – plastic salad plates and metal pans for the pizza.

Fratelli has more than slices on the menu, though it doesn’t go all crazy like some places with too many choices. Just the right amount of options to satisfy their base crowd: college students from Northern Arizona University, which is just down the street. Everything I’ve had before here has been good. If you’re not in the mood for pizza, I’d recommend the Giant Calzone ($8.50). I like the Veggie. My husband likes the Your Creation, which gives you the option of adding four toppings of your choice to the mozzarella. Note: if you like sauce on the inside, ask for it. Otherwise it’s just served on the side.

Fratelli Pizza has been voted the best of Flagstaff for the last six of the last seven years. I too think it’s the best pizza parlor in town. Whether you’re looking for a great pizza and beer joint or a night out with the family, avoid the chains and head to this small pizzeria. You’ll have a great time with its welcoming atmosphere and leave with a great taste in your mouth and a satisfied stomach.

More Fratelli photos HERE.

The Search for Flagstaff’s Top Dog

By Angele Sionna

Hot Dogs Tested:
Primo’s Hot Dogs
, 113 S San Francisco St
Mountain Top Dogs, 113 E. Birch (Hot Dog Stand on Northwest corner of Birch and San Francisco)
Route 66 Dog Haus, 1302 E. Route 66

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
Primo’s Hot Dogs >>>>> = always great, unique, and flavorful no matter where you're from
Mountain Top Dogs >>> = good, but not great
Route 66 Dog Haus >> = mixed bag, can be good but can be bad, can’t count on it

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
Primo’s Hot Dogs xxxxx= you'll love it
Mountain Top Dogs xxxxx= you'll love it
Route 66 Dog Haus x= if the food's good enough, still worth going, otherwise forget it

Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
Primo’s Hot Dogs = $ (Under $10)
Mountain Top Dogs = $ (Under $10)
Route 66 Dog Haus = $ (Under $10)

Value (what you get for your money)
Primo’s =
***** superb - lots of quality/taste for what you pay
Mountain Top Dogs = **** worth it - you won’t be disappointed with what you get for your money
Route 66 Dog Haus = *** fair -you get what you pay for, not in a bad way

With empty stomachs and a brown bag filled with two sodas, a water, and Poore Brother’s chips, my daughter, husband, and I loaded into the car on a mission: find the best dog in town. The stops on this two-mile road trip: Primo’s Hot Dogs, Mountain Top Dogs, and Route 66 Dog Haus. All three are known as the best in Flagstaff. But we wanted to know which was superior. To even the playing field, we opted to order the same “standard” all-beef hot dog at each location topped with mustard, ketchup, relish, and onions.

First up: Primo’s Hot Dogs, just south of the tracks downtown. Boasting Chicago-style dogs. Our hopes were really high. We used to live in Chicago and ate many a dog there. It would be hard to satisfy us.
Primo’s is a true hole in the wall joint. The door boasts seating for 1,000, four at a time. When you walk inside, you see what they mean. Four wooden bar stools line the wall on the right, a big menu board on the left.

I walked up to the counter and ordered the Easy Dog (mustard, relish, and onions) plus ketchup for $3 plus tax. It looked good. The bright green relish contrasted nicely with the crispy, diced white onion... with a little vivid red and yellow of the ketchup and mustard ever so slightly poking thru. It was pretty. So much so that it could be mistaken for a fake dog. But not too pretty to dive right in.

The ingredients were fresh. You could tell the bread was made today. The dog itself was plump, juicy, and flavorful. Just as it should be. Not soggy or dripping. The perfect proportion of toppings, bun, and dog. It exceeded the high expectations of our taste buds.

And vegetarians take note, Primo’s doesn’t want you to miss out on its goodness. They serve smart brand veggie dogs with any toppings for about the same price. In all, Primo’s has 14 types of hot dogs and sausages plus meat lover’s sandwiches and nachos. Enough choices to make everyone in the family happy and perfect for grabbing and going on a picnic on your way to the Grand Canyon if you’re just passing thru town. If you’re a local, Primo’s satisfies taste buds into the wee hours. They have hours late enough to pick up after the bars close for the college kids at Northern Arizona University down the street.
Primo’s may be a hole in the wall, but at least it has walls. Mountain Top Dogs, however, does not. It’s a true hot dog stand at the corner of Birch and San Francisco downtown about half a mile up the street from Primo’s. Only open when the weather’s good and run by the owner, Mountain Top Dogs is in a great location for tourists and business folks for lunch. Across the street is the old courthouse with a nicely manicured lawn and benches. Perfect for grabbing a seat and munching down a dog, which is what we did.

At Mountain Top Dogs, the hot dogs are flame grilled right in front of you. It’s the only one of the three places we tried that cooked the dogs on an open flame. Nice touch. It’s also the only place where you add your own toppings. That’s something that makes this stop fun for the kids. We loaded up our dogs and plopped down under a tree in the grass across the street.

The dog was a little less flavorful and not as thick as the one we had a Primo’s minutes before, but we liked the smoky flavor that comes from the grilling. The condiments were standard, just like the ones you’d have at a back yard cookout at home. But you can taste the personal touch and care of the owner in every bite.

My daughter loved her dog and sitting in the grass to eat it. (Grass being something we don’t have a lot of up here in northern Arizona.) But it’s a good thing we had baby wipes in the car. Not surprisingly, she got enough mustard and ketchup all over herself to need six of them and we forgot to pick up napkins at the hot dog stand. Still, she finished the whole thing lickity-split... something that doesn’t happen often with this picky little eater.

Mountain Top Dog has a handful of dog and sausage choices ranging from $2 for a standard hot dog up to five for a hand bacon-wrapped and grilled quarter pound dog. A claim to fame for Mountain Top. And you can upgrade to a combo for a buck and a half more. The prices are definitely a plus for families!

On to our final stop. The Route 66 Dog Haus is about a mile and a half east of downtown. It’s a little outside of the tourist hub and in a louder location with lots of cars quickly whizzing by, but we’d read good things about this place. We were anxious try it out and had saved enough room to have one more dog split between us.

The Dog Haus is housed in a red A-frame building. It looks like it could be one of those old buildings that the Wienerschnitzel fast food chain uses. You can walk up and place your order or drive thru. And I do mean drive thru. Cars pull up to the window in the center of the building. A novelty that catches kids eyes. Seating is limited to a few cement tables with umbrellas. Though with it being on the busy Route 66, it’s not very inviting or safe for small children.

We chose to drive thru and had to wait ten minutes for about three cars to get their orders in front of us. Too long in my opinion. With gas costing what it does these days, I opted to turn the car off instead of idling for so long.

When it was our turn to order, the woman on the other end of the speaker seemed to know less about the menu then I did. I decided to try fries with our dog and wondered how much larger the large was. To that she replied, “The large has more fries.” Oh, thanks. No help there. I went for the small with our all beef hot dog and the same toppings as the other places. But I was already feeling iffy about this one.

When we finally got to the window. The cashier had the wrong total and was confused. When I asked how much the hot dog by itself cost, she said, “I don’t know we just raised the prices. I don’t eat hot dogs anyway.” Not reassuring. The total ended up being $4.03. The dog itself, according to the receipt, was $2.35 plus tax. We exchanged money for the food and drove off to eat in the parking lot to chow down.

We opened up the bag and the hot dog packaging, to find ingredients oozing all over the place. The bun was super-soaked and soggy. I was not expecting much when I bit in at this point. It did not have the beauty of the first dog or the flame-broiled smell of the second. I took a bite and was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t as good as the first two, but it tasted much better than it looked. You could tell that this one was just thrown together by people who don’t take much pride in their work. There was too much of the overly sweet onions and relish... ironically making this drive-thru joint the only place where the dog isn’t driver friendly.

With the sogginess of our dog and down right bad service, the Dog Haus is now in our doghouse. We may go back to try their breakfast burritos, which are supposed to be great. But, we heard all that before. That’s for another time and another article.

Overall, the mini road trip to Flagstaff’s most acclaimed hot dog spots proved that Primo’s lived up to its name. It’s the priciest dog, but it’s also the best one. We’ll definitely be stopping back in next time we’re in the mood for a classic Chicago experience. Mountain Top Dogs comes in at a solid second in taste but it’s probably the best of the three places we tried to take the family for dogs.

For more photos from these hotdog joints, go HERE.

June 6, 2008

Big Foot Bar-B-Q

By Angele Sionna
Basement of the Old Town Shops, downtown Flagstaff at Leroux & Birch
Menu at: bigfootbbq.com

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>>>= good, but not great

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
xxxx= comfortable

Price
(what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
$$= $10

Value
(what you get for your money)
*** fair - you get what you pay for, not in a bad way

The first time we ate at Big Foot Bar-B-Q was when we moved to Flagstaff from Dallas, Texas two years ago. Coming from the state with arguably the best barbeque in the world, my first impressions of Big Foot were not good. I don’t know if my tastes or standards for barbeque have changed or I just started ordering better entrees, but I really like grabbing lunch there now.

Big Foot has been rated the best barbeque restaurant in Flagstaff for five years running. But truth be told, they really have no competition. (The closest competitor is a relatively new joint, Pig in a Poke BBQ, just north of town.)

Big Foot boasts on its menu that their “truck stop creations” are “influenced, inspired and outright stolen from some of the most auspicious gas stations across the south.” I’ve eaten at many of those gas stations they compare their grub too (my fav being the original Rudy’s BBQ in Austin, Texas which is really at a working gas station) and Big Foot doesn’t come close. But it’s hard to live up the flavors of fresh, slow-smoked-on-an-open-flame meats at a true Texas legend. Still, Big Foot is decent and has the best barbeque I’ve had in Arizona.

The best things at Big Foot are the sides. In fact, I don’t think I’ve tasted better onion rings or fries anywhere in town and they could definitely give some of the sides at real southern joints a run for their money. And speaking of fries they have several kinds, regular, garlic, and sweet potato, all of which are fantastic. The onion rings have the perfect salty-sweet combo of flavors and melt in your mouth. And the fried okra is good too. It’s a good thing their meat platters are served with your choice of any two sides! And you can also get a “veggie” platter of three sides for just $5, though it will definitely increase the size of your thighs.

Their brisket and ribs are a little too dry for my liking and the sauce is sweet and tangy but average yet the flavors make for a good meal if you’re in the mood for some barbequing. Make sure to order the sliced brisket platter ($10) and not the pulled meat, which is really more like a “sloppy joe” scooped out pre-mixed with too much sauce and not attractive looking at all.

My personal favorite on the menu is the Fried Chicken Salad ($8). It consists of fresh and crispy romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, croutons, toasted pecans, fried chicken breast strips, and fried okra. I order it with their creamy ranch dressing. There is something about the way those flavors all blend together that really make me crave going to Big Foot every so often. It may not be the healthiest salad in town but it is the best one hands down.

Not to be missed is their truly southern style sweet tea. It’s perfectly sweetened just like grandma used to make back home. Also on the drink menu keeping with their trailer trash inspired motif is Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

The atmosphere is really casual and relaxed, maybe a bit too much for some folks’ likings. I wouldn’t take my neat freak grandmother there for instance, but my kids love it. And so do I. You never feel rushed and you leave feeling happy and full, definitely adding to the charm!
Bigfoot is located in the basement of the Old Town Shops in the heart of historic downtown Flagstaff. Only a wire fence separates it from the Aveda salon and clothing store that share the basement. The décor is fun and laid back. It’s a total white trash motif, complete with inflatable beer racing cars hanging from the ceiling, rusted car doors lying around, and guns, hubcaps, deer heads, and cowhides attached to the walls. And feel free to dump the peanut shells on the floor. Its part of the down home decoration.
You stand in line to place your order at the counter before taking a seat and you’re given an old license plate to mark your order number so they can find your table. Seating is at long picnic-style tables with vinyl tablecloths and miss-matched chairs. They have a “Kids Korral” for the young tikes to entertain themselves while you wait for your food to be served, complete with a TV and old toys. They also have a little bar/lunch counter if you come in on your lunch break by yourself or just want to have a beer. Speaking of lunch, on weekdays this place keeps really busy, but the wait for your order to be ready isn’t ever too long.

The manager is always friendly and tries to make customers happy. But I have to say to watch your order total, as the cashier has gotten it wrong in their favor on several different occasions. Also, the menu lists tea and soft drinks as costing only a buck, but we got charged $1.50 at today’s visit. The cashier also charged us for sides separate instead of coming with the brisket platter, but corrected it after we asked about the total. If this hadn’t happened on several other visits I would have just thought it a fluke, but I mention it because it seems routine. They do make it right when you ask though, sometimes will even throw something in for free or give you an upgrade to make up for it.

All in all, I’d recommend Big Foot to both tourists and locals alike. Its in a great location, has a fun atmosphere, and is priced about the same as most other casual eateries in Flagstaff. The food is consistently good, though not great. Still, it’s a place my family regularly requests to go.

June 5, 2008

Tokyo Sushi

by Arikka Fullmer

725 E 3300 S
Salt Lake City, UT
menu at: TokyoSushi

The Food
(taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>>>> = a favorite, can count on it being good every time
The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
x
xx = good but could be improved
Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
$$= $10
Value (what you get for your money)
**** =
Worth It -You won't be disapointed with what you get for the $$

Tokyo Sushi in Salt Lake City is sandwiched between a car wash and a strip mall. Not your ideal, atmospheric location. But this raw fish joint is very Mom and Pop.
No frills here. The walls are bland but the food isn’t! The specials menu was delivered to us on two wrinkled pieces of paper, hand written. The ‘printed’ menu had typical Japanese dishes and a wide variety of sushi options. What Tokyo lacks in atmosphere they make up for in friendly service and great prices.
Our group was made up of four ladies. Yes ladies night! We started with two orders of edamame, served hot and salty just like I love it. The Pearl sake was smooth and kept my hungry hands busy while we waited for our orders to be crafted.
I’m not a sushi expert so I’ve never had the option of mango before! I got the LA roll, yellow tail, spicy chili and mango! My favorite and priced right at $8. Other tasty rolls were as low as $4! We all loved the firecraker roll. I was up for new adventures so I ordered my first roll with scallops....boring!
My only other complaint, the caved in booth seat with a spring in my butt not in my step. As the Saturday night rush trickled in I realized Tokyo Sushi relies on their eclectic and devote customers to provide the atmosphere. No need for stylish wood carvings or bamboo displays when you've got mullet man, frenching euro couple, and us of course! As for that handwritten menu...who cares when it delivered the best roll of the night.
In the end I was pleasantly stuffed from three rolls, edamame and sake for a total of $25. You don’t have to be a sushi snob to know that’s a deal.

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