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April 18, 2012

The McDowell Project - 44th to 36th

McDowell Dominic Armato

It took a while, but we're finally cruising, here. Perhaps more accurately, I'm trying to cram in as much as possible before the kids are out of school for the summer. I'd love to get to Central before the end of the year and I figure I'd better make it to the 20s by June or it'll never happen.

Eight more blocks in the books...

Tamale, Enchilada, TacoDominic Armato

Adrian's Cocina Mexicana
4310 East - 602-275-1707

Just a couple of months ago, this was Rock 'N Taco. Before that, apparently it was Adrian's. But this Adrian's is unrelated to that Adrian's. Or the Adrian's in Mesa, for that matter. Which is completely not confusing. In any case, Adrian's has an enormous, if predictable, menu that's mostly Sonoran-influenced, with lots of combination platters, the kind of items you might find on combination platters, and a surprising amount of seafood for a place that isn't dedicated to the same. Coctel de Camarones, thin and served with ketchup, hot sauce and crackers, might've been nice if not for the fact that the shrimp were more than a little rubbery. Items like enchiladas, tacos and flautas were... fine.... gooey and often smothered in cheese. Tasty enough, but not enough to elicit excitement, particularly in a niche that's beyond crowded in Phoenix. You could do worse. But you could do a whole lot better, too.

Hot WingsDominic Armato

Buffalo Brown's Wings and Things
4220 East - 602-231-9659

The exterior of Buffalo Brown's doesn't exactly inspire confidence, but while it's undeniably kind of divey, it's considerably more welcoming on the inside. The "things" refers mostly to run of the mill fried accompaniments and variations on burger toppings, with a few other sandwiches thrown in for good measure. But it's clearly about the wings, and the wings are totally worthwhile, if ridiculously oversauced (and kind of hilariously served on Chinese-themed melamine). But they're served at that perfect point with crispy edges, chewy exterior and juicy center, and a request for light sauce does the trick. Sadly (for me), it's a ranch-only establishment, and a cheap ranch at that. And those who dig celery will be disappointed. But if you're in the mood for crisp wings and a cheap beer, it's a worthy stop.

HillibDominic Armato

Blue Ocean
4111 East - 602-275-5800

Here's an odd and inconsistent little joint. I'm pretty comfortable with dives, but this one's pushing it for me. Spartan, sure. Cheap, no problem. Dirty... eeehhhh. Still, every time I've walked in the door some fabulous smells were coming out of the kitchen, and that's what kept me coming back... for a while. On my first pass, I thought there might have really been something here. It's a mostly Somali menu, small enough to be manageable, and the goat I ordered with the intention of making a head-to-head comparison with Juba was quite delicious, tender and delicately seasoned, nicely seared but still moist, served with fluffy cumin-scented rice and a nondescript salad oddly tossed with Thousand Island. But that goat got me excited. Until subsequent visits revealed a lot less life -- dull, tough chunks of meat, all seemingly seared off on the flat top with tomatoes, peppers and onions no matter what the dish. It would seem that that Blue Ocean is a one trick pony, which I'd consider a good thing if the trick were tasty more than once. If I were jonesing for some simple roasted goat, I might head back for the Hillib. Maybe.

Pepperoni PizzaDominic Armato

Pizza Casa
4105 East - 602-267-1555

The challenge with a place like Pizza Casa is figuring out how to write enough that this paragraph gets to the bottom of the photo and doesn't leave a gaping chunk of blank background in the middle of the page. Yes, these are the things I think about sometimes. This is cheap pizza, emphasis on cheap, the kind of place that plays like a national chain (even though it isn't) where you expect to see deals like two large pizzas for $15. Did I mention it's cheap? It tastes cheap. It could be worse. But its cheapness really is its strongest asset. Which is why I don't have much to say. Did we make it to the bottom of the photo? Okay, good. Moving on.

Chicken Boti KabobDominic Armato

1638 N. 40th St. - www.zamzamworldfoods.com

This is a total tragedy. Not the restaurant. I've had a couple of really delicious meals at Z-Grill. But they were so good that I'd planned on making this the first stop on the McDowell Project that would get a post all its own. And then I somehow managed to delete all of my photos except for this one. So even though it gets equal billing visually speaking, know that this one stands head and shoulders above everything else I've posted about on this venture so far. Z-Grill is tucked into the back of Zam Zam World Market, a medium-sized grocery and Halal butcher, and though its street address is on 40th, I've chosen to invoke my "if I can see it from the corner, I can add it at my discretion" rule given that you could chuck a baseball into its parking lot from McDowell. And a good thing too. It's an Indo-Pak joint, and though I've heard it's had consistency issues in the past with different kitchen crews drifting through, recently it's always been the same folks, and always on. Bihari Kabab is tender and tangy, with a smoky scent and some spicy kick. Beef Nihari provides huge cubes of tender beef in a bright red and vibrantly flavored stew that plays almost like a full-flavored, chile spiked gravy. Small vegetable dishes are hearty and bold, but my favorite, though it lacks the aromatic garnishes that typify the dish, is the Goat Haleem, a sludgy-looking bowl of goat meat, wheat, lentils, onions and all kinds of spices, simmered down into a rich paste with incredible depth of flavor. There's much more for which I'm missing the details -- sadly, my photos are my notes -- but suffice it to say that I've had a couple of really delicious meals at Z-Grill over the past few weeks. We'll just ignore the fact that the best stop so far on the McDowell Project isn't technically on McDowell, K?


Keep up the good work. This is a really interesting project. Am looking forward to Stanley's : )

I notice you only posted a website link for Z-Grill. I'm going to assume that's because the rest don't have findable websites? I tried to find sites for Pizza Casa and Buffalo Browns with no success. It continues to boggle my mind that in this day and age there are still restaurants that don't do the minimal effort to even put up a basic website with their address, hours, and menu.

On the nose, Mike. Z-Grill was the only one for which I could locate a website. Given how that area is, I can't say I'm shocked, exactly, but yeah, it does seem like a stretch with a weirdly low web presence.

Good stuff. Surprising how many "ethnic" markets also have a good cage attached/affiliated. To me, the real crim here is a Wings place without Blue. Blue makes the wings.

Ugh. good *cafe*. Some might have cages too, but that's a different discussion.

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