A Baby Friendly Week in Arizona: Scottsdale, Phoenix, Tucson

When you tell people that you’re going to Arizona for holiday, you’re met with several reactions: (1) Oh, I hear it’s great for golfing, (2) Oh, I hear the spas are nice, (3) my grandparents live there. Basically no one is all that excited for your trip, and they’re wondering why you didn’t go to LA instead. But Arizona is an underrated destination–there’s a lot of great food to be had, excellent happy hours seem to be the norm, and it’s especially kid friendly. After spending a week here, you’ll be kicking yourself thinking why am I paying $8 for a slice of cake and for my kids to play in a tiny museum when my money could go so much further in Arizona. Here’s a baby friendly itinerary of how we spent a week in Scottsdale, Phoenix and Tucson with the kids. Don’t worry, there are James Beard award winners and Tasting Table/Bon Appetit vetted restaurants in this Arizona itinerary.

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Phoenix Travels: Pizzeria Bianco and Nobuo At Teeter House

24 hours to kill in Phoenix–what would Anthony Bourdain do? Would he spend his precious hours at a local Tex-Mex restaurant, getting plastered on margaritas while chatting with quirky locals? Would he try to find some bizarre regional specialty like cactus fries to maintain his street cred? Would he be so exhausted from his responsibilities as a food critic that he would call it a day at Outback Steakhouse (seemingly implausible, but who knows)?

The answer is none of the above. What Anthony Bourdain would do is head straight to Pizzeria Bianco, voted the best pizzeria in the nation by Bon Appétit and Rachael Ray. Because, of course, cranky old Bourdain totally values Rachael Ray’s pizza recommendations. Except in this case, she is actually on point with her pizza rec–when the James Beard Foundation feels the same way about your favorite pizza place, your opinion probably means something. And after that, he would go to Nobuo at Teeter House, a Japanese restaurant that cooks familiar comfort food favorites with Western flavor infusions. Nobuo is also right across the street from Pizzeria Bianco, allowing you to waste little time on travel and maximizing the 24 hours you have in sampling the best that Phoenix has to offer.

Pizzeria Bianco: I have to admit, I thought that the “best pizza in the nation” claim was a bit dubious. There are so many well-regarded pizzerias all over the country, how could it be possible to narrow that down to a single restaurant in Phoenix, AZ of all places? When I drove up to the parking lot, I saw something that looked like a suburban Alamo-themed restaurant, so naturally my skepticism grew.

To feel things out, we started with an appetizer of wood roasted vegetables and cheese. The vegetables were fresh and flavorful–I really enjoyed the broccoli, sweet potatoes and the red peppers. The platter also came with some Italian salami, manchego cheese, frittata and beans. Pizzeria Bianco certainly passed the initial test of being able to cook basic food well.

wood roasted vegetables and cheese
wood roasted vegetables, cheese and sopressata (salami)

We ordered the traditional margherita with a side of fennel sausage. We figured the simplicity of the margherita would be a good barometer of Pizzeria Bianco’s abilities–there’s simply no room to hide with just the basics of tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil. When the pizza came out, it looked like a contender for best pizza in America. The crust had that nice, bubbly char around the edges, the tomato sauce was a vibrant red, and the creamy melted mozzarella looked enticing.

margherita pizza with fennel sausage
margherita pizza with fennel sausage

And the verdict? I am no pizza expert, but I’ve tried a lot of the famous thin-crust pies–Di Fara, Grimaldi’s, Motorino, etc. The crust at Pizzeria Bianco by far is truly the best crust ever. They would definitely sweep the category for “best crust in the nation.” It was thin and crispy, but sturdy enough to support the wet toppings without getting soggy in the center. Despite being crispy, it still had a chewy, springy quality to it. And despite the simplicity of the ingredients, it was extremely flavorful, comparable to the experience of eating an amazing piece of flatbread. With a crust this good, the pizza was already 90% there to being an incredible pie. I personally think other places might have better toppings, whether due to taste or inventiveness, but Pizzeria Bianco is not far off. I can understand why it won this national award for best pizza. So yes, whether you’re in town for business or passing through en route to the Grand Canyon, you should definitely make a stop here.

Nobuo at Teeter House: Nobuo is literally a few steps away from Pizzeria Bianco. Compared to the mad lunchtime rush at Pizzeria Bianco, the atmosphere at Nobuo is quiet and peaceful. It might be a different story at night, where the restaurant apparently transforms into a “funky izakaya”, but the energy at lunch is extremely tranquil.

The menu features reasonably priced Japanese-American fusion cuisine. The only dish that stays true to traditional roots is the okonomiyaki, but otherwise you’ll find things like tonkatsu sandwiches, Japanese fries and pork belly buns. I usually hate Asian fusion places, as the dark, exotic setting with flashy Buddha statues attracts a crowd more interested in the scene than the food, and the cuisine tends to follow suit. They usually play it safe with spring rolls, spare ribs and fried rice, although they refine these take-out favorites to please the sophisticated clientele. The food isn’t bad, but not all that inventive, and overpriced for what it really is.

Nobuo’s Western accents, however, are ones that are complementary to the existing Asian flavors, and the overall effect is an interesting and memorable one. We ordered the grapefruit and hamachi, the okonomiyaki and the panko-fried soft shell crab sandwich. The refreshing grapefruit and hamachi successfully married the flavors of traditional sashimi with a ceviche. The fresh hamachi was pre-marinaded in soy sauce, but rather than being too salty, the citrus flavors from the grapefruit and yuzu prevailed. The avocado brought some rich depth to the hamachi, and the ginger provided a nice kick. The plain, umami flavors of the sashimi were in harmonious opposition to the zesty ceviche influences. The soft shell crab, despite being fried, wasn’t too heavy or oily, and the bread crumbs were light enough to let the crab’s delicate flavors shine through. I personally think it would have been better conceived as a standalone dish as opposed to a sandwich; the focaccia style bread was a bit thick and unnecessary.

grapefruit & hamachi
grapefruit & hamachi

panko-fried soft shell crab sandwich
panko-fried soft shell crab sandwich

okonomiyaki
okonomiyaki

 

The okonomiyaki stood out for being even better than ones I’ve tried at traditional izakayas in the East Village, the main driver being quality. I don’t think there was anything special about the pan-frying technique, although the pancake was perfectly crispy, especially around the edges. But the seafood and pork ingredients were extremely fresh and generous in size, a sharp contrast to the haphazard pieces that fill one made in a hurried, street-food environment. And I appreciated how the pancake wasn’t doused in heavy sauce, and you could still taste the batter and the meat underneath the mayo and okonomiyaki gravy. It might seem unusual rounding out a layover in Phoenix with Japanese food, but the inventive fusion flavors and the thoughtful preparation make Nobuo at Teeter House a worthwhile detour.


Pizzeria Bianco
623 E Adams St
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(602) 258-8300
http://www.pizzeriabianco.com/

Nobuo at Teeter House
622 E Adams St
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(602) 254-0600
http://nobuofukuda.com/