Sunday, October 18, 2009

Local Joints--No Chains for Better Dining Adventure

There are no surprises with chain establishments, but what fun is that?

Growing up we didn't eat out much, so when we did it was kind of a big deal. When my kids were little we ate at home during the week, but frequently had Friday dinners out someplace—usually Mexican food (what do you expect, we live in Phoenix!). This was sort of a treat as well and going someplace fancy was a real bonus.

Now, it seems that whole balance has been reversed. I'm embarrassed to confess that as empty-nesters we eat out as many (or more) nights as we stay in. I'm an OK cook but just never got the bug that many women (and men) get to follow Rachel Ray's recipes or be an Emeril-type chef at home. I grill a lot, make the old standards like meatloaf and pasta dishes and once in a while try something adventurous. It's fine, but the effort-to-enjoyment ratio (no matter how wonderful the outcome) just never seems to balance out. Maybe you get total satisfaction and it's worth every minute; not me.

Also, my husband loves to go out for dinner. Maybe my cooking is even worse than I know, but I think it's more that he doesn't like me to have to put such effort into something that is done and gone in just a few minutes. Then there's always the cleanup and that delays one, or both of us from sitting down and enjoying our evening together.

The problem now lies in finding new options. We like to stay close to home, especially midweek, and don't want to drop loads of cash, so seeking out places that fill these requirements is a challenge.

My husband really likes Applebee's for a midweek meal. He likes their steaks and riblets and I don't mind some of their salads. But chain restaurants are not my first choice, although we do love our buddies at Carrabba's. I'm not even remotely a food snob, I just enjoy the uniqueness of little neighborhood places. Getting to know (and be known by) the proprietors and servers makes it feel homey and comfortable, like grandma's kitchen or Cheers. The freedom they have to top off your glass of wine or refill your soup without "ringing it up" makes it feel more like a family affair than a transaction.

My local favorites include Skip and Jan's Sports Bar, Ruffino's Italian Cuisine, Sign of the Whale, Arrivederci Ristorante and CK's Tavern and Grill. The newest addition to my list is Casey Moore's. The food is tasty, comes out fast and the company is good at these spots. The owners and servers always treat frequent diners like friends instead of clients. And, as Bob Barker would say, "The price is right."

Wherever you are, surely you have a few favorites of your own. Tell us where and why you like them. I'll be in Boston this week...any great hole-in-the-wall joints to suggest? Comment below.
Diane Markins


Kara Jensen said...


Check out Babaloo's on Desert Foothills Parkway and Chandler. The owner is the son of a past client of mine and the family is wonderful and the Cuban food excellent!

Robin said...

Spicy Pickle on Ray & the 101 has tasty toasted paninis and my daughter loves the pizzas! Chandler AZ

Anonymous said...

Girlfriend...Come to Black Canyon City only if you are brave! We have a place that is painted bright yellow! Make sure to get your shots and bring your passport.

Anonymous said...

Rocky's Crown Pub in San Diego has the BEST burgers you'll ever eat! Nothing else on the menu and no minors, but ahhh, so good!

Dawn Rutledge said...

I absolutely LOVE Casey Moore's. It's been said it "looks like a bar but tastes like a restaurant". You have great taste!!

Another great mom and pop (or pop, brother, and son in this case) is Trio's Italian Restaurant in Ahwatukee. Awesome food at great prices, and the service is fantastic. Talk about treating you like family! It's one of our favorites. Give it a try!

Ally Johnson said...

I live in San Antonio so there are plenty of Mexican restaurants here. One of my favorite little dives is on hwy 281 North heading out of town. It's called Picadillo and hugs a chevron station on one side and a dry cleaners on the other. They have authentic Mexican food, it's cheap, and delicious!

Anonymous said...

I live in Flagstaff where there are a lot of restaurants but not many that fulfill the requirements of one that could be considered good for regular visits and reasonably priced. I think here you mainly get one or the other! "Brandy's" restaurant in Flagstaff is known for it's breakfasts but it's real treasure is their dinners. It was featured on "Diners, Drive Ins and Dives" last year. It is a cut above and reasonable as well. My son, who is majoring in Culinary Nutrition in Denver and is a definate food snob, and I discovered a place there that I absolutely love. It is called "Encore". It's located in the front ticketing area of an old theater. The rest of the building and attached to the restaurant is a bookstore called "The Tattered Cover". It's a great place to have a wonderful meal then browse the books. Lastly one of my favorite places on the planet is Kauai, Hawaii and I love Puka Dogs, yes they are hot dogs but nothing like I've experienced before. They have a website and I've even ordered (at great expense because of the weight) their sauses which are heavenly.

SirFloyden said...

Ivar's on the Seattle waterfront is one of the best places in town. Great classic seafood at a cheap price. Happy hour Monday thru Friday from open to close is hard to beat. Also Cafe Flora is a must visit but not if you are looking for some meat.

Diane Markins said...

We had so much fun in Boston...and much of it was eating and drinking! A couple of our favs: Intermission (little bar in Theater District that has GREAT burgers) and Masa (close to South End) for fabulous tapas, an amazing green chili burger wrapped in pastry and lots of truly unique margaritas created by Greg. My favorite was one with habanero chilis muddled in! Oh yeah, the seafood was good and the leaves were really pretty too.