PEORIA — We have been vocal that the West Valley’s holy trinity of Cracker Barrel, Olive Garden and Red Robin do not qualify as quality dining experiences, so we attempted – and attempted is a key word here – some different spots on our recent Spring Training trip.
Before we exited the area and moved on to Phoenix, we did find a few spots that are outside the chain restaurant heaven. After posting a snarky tweet about the lack of dining options around the Peoria Sports Complex, Baseball America’s Bill Mitchell recommended Tacos Calafia, one exit south on Loop 101. Bill was right; it is good.
Among their street tacos, the al pastor was particularly good, but they also have nopal and cabeza for the more adventurous among us. In addition to the tacos, we both went for the mulita, two fried corn tortillas with meat and cheese between them – delicious.
Rating: *** A very solid taqueria and a god-send for the West Valley.
The other spot getting talked up around the complex was Leo’s Island BBQ in the endless strip mall just across from the facility on Bell Road. In context, considering the options around it, it’s not bad. Each of us got a plate lunch which consisted of fried shrimp, short ribs, chicken katsu, that came with steamed rice and macaroni salad. We didn’t have enough room for the spam rolls.
It wasn’t bad, just a little salty – but good value for the money.
Rating: ** This is more of a recommendation for people that want to avoid a lunch of salad and breadsticks.
There is only so much you can do in Peoria, so I hit a few spots in Phoenix. The first, which was a pleasant surprise, was the Cornish Pasty Company, which has four locations around the city.
A pasty is a British baked hand pie stuffed with various fillings, but the miners who at them traditionally went with beef and vegetables. The downtown location has as much of an English pub-style vibe as you are going to find in the middle of a desert city, but they have a great draft beer menu to go along with quality food.
I got a Scotch Egg with a Cider as an appetizer, followed by the traditional meat pie.
Rating: **** The top choice on the trip; unique, fun and quality food and portions.
My cousins, who live in the Valley, took me to Tee Pee Mexican Food in Phoenix, which has been around since 1958.
Rating: *** Affordable, fast and always reasonable – it’s best known for tamales, where you have a choice of green corn, roast beef or pork. Their enchiladas are also worth a trip.
Last, fellow MadFriars writer big Mark Wilkins and I sampled Oaxacan cuisine at the Barrio Cafe. It has been featured and listed as one of Phoenix’s “famous” restaurants, but we found the food a little pricey. Still, the tlayuadas- an Oaxacan corn tortilla cross between a quesadilla and pizza were good -particularly with the cochinita sour-orange pork.
Rating: ** Not a bad place to try a different Mexican cuisine – Oaxaca – but there are better options.
To be fair to the restaurant, both Mark and I are large people, so we followed up the meal with a trip to Culvers for a Butter Burger – hey, don’t judge, we are big people.
Andrew Zimmern, the noted food personality, has frequently stated that Culver’s has the best burger of any chain restaurant. In short, after sampling one of the burgers, we disagreed strongly with that assessment and would rank Culver’s well below our California favorite In-N-Out, Whataburger in Texas – but not, in Arizona – and only slightly above the abomination that is Five Guys.