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August 29, 2011

The McDowell Project

The Starting Line Dominic Armato

Here's the starting line. How far this goes, we'll have to wait and see.

There's a project I've been wanting to get started on for about a year, and with both kids now attending school, providing a few precious hours a week to myself, I think the time's come. One of the things that's been a bit of an adjustment in moving to Phoenix is that the old Chowhound spirit of exploration and discovery doesn't seem to be terribly well-represented here. Particularly Even on Chowhound. Or perhaps its practitioners are alive and well and simply don't have a good online home to congregate, get to know each other and trade notes, but that's another rant discussion for another time.

Bottom line is, Phoenix needs foot soldiers. That's always been one of the greatest strengths of participants on food discussion boards. Lots of posters means lots of boots on the ground. And while I've tried to do some digging since arriving here in the valley, I'm determined to be the best foot soldier that I can be. So to that end, it's time to get all methodical on this burg.

Pictured here is the corner of McDowell Road and 52nd Street, facing west. That's the direction I'm headed. I picked it because it's off the beaten path for most diners, and there's an interesting mix of hole in the wall joints that could be promising. And I'm going to stop and eat at every single place that serves food (chains excepted) until... well... I don't really know how far I'm going to take it. But I feel compelled to redouble my efforts when it comes to digging, and this seems like a fun way to go about it. I fully anticipate that many if not most of these joints will be mediocre to awful. But that's how it goes. If I do this for a year and manage to get all the way to Central (I throw that street out arbitrarily), finding only one previously undiscovered or underappreciated shining gem and maybe a couple other solid places, it'll be worth it. Of course, what would make it even more worth it would be if some other folks decided to pick their own streets and jump in. I have these crazy dreams of conjuring up a food nerd army. Just a score of dedicated people could do some serious damage when it comes to exploring. But for the moment, the plan is to do the best I can with what I've got, which is me and a blog. So to recap, here are the rules:

  • I'm starting at the corner of McDowell and 52nd street, heading west.
  • Other than chains and perhaps places without kitchens that only serve snacks or nuke hot dogs or something, I'm stopping in every place that serves food.
  • If I go once and decide it's not worth returning, that's fine. But I have to try something at every stop because you just never know.
  • I won't necessarily post about them precisely in order, so as to give myself some leeway in hitting various places when it's convenient, but nothing will be more than a block out of sequence.
  • If there's something that looks really compelling just around the corner on one of the cross streets, I might hit that too, but that's at my discretion.
  • I'll probably only do full posts on the ones I find particularly interesting, but everything will be covered, even if only as part of a monthly roundup or something.
  • There's no official finish line, but I'm giving this at least a year or to Central, whichever comes first. If I'm having a good time with it, I'll keep going, but that's the minimum commitment.

I don't mean to give the impression that this is now McDowell Doux. I fully intend to continue doing the same kind of posting I've been doing as well. But I think Phoenix needs to do some serious digging, and by god, I'm going to do my part.

Wish me luck!


Cool! I hope you'll report back on the Phoenix board on your findings, as well -- a few intrepid hounds can change the whole tenor of a board.

Love it! Makes me want to try the same in my neighborhood - I do love stumbling upon a hidden gem. But on the flip side, I hate wasting meals when we don't eat out that much. I wonder if that could be one of the reasons for the ho-hum state of the Phoenix board.

Looking forward to your findings and motivation to get out and explore!

I just started reading your blog and while I moved away from Phoenix a few years ago I have 22 years of experience eating in the valley. I’m not sure if you have hit these restaurants yet but here are a handful of suggestions off the top of my head. Most are not super fancy but they are good eats.

Green New American Vegetarian
Cornish Pasty Factory
Havana Café
The Fry Bread House
Chino Bandito
Siamese Cat
4 Peaks (for beer)

Hope that helps at least a bit

As a loyal non-Phoenician reader, I wish you luck, and maybe you can spawn copycat projects elsewhere.

Great concept. In fact there's a couple of streets in my town that invites the same sort of methodical exploration. I may give it a whirl myself.

How old is that photo? Your unleaded gas is forty cents cheaper than ours!

Although I sometimes disagree with your opinions of local restaurants, I think this project is a great idea and I commend you for taking it on. I've long believed that Phoenix has become far too large for anyone, whether amateur blogger or professional critic, to cover in its entirety. I've found that writing a geographically-focused blog has kept me disciplined and focused -- as opposed to feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to begin.

I chose to focus on a rail corridor because doing so blends my enthusiasm for good eating with my transit advoacy. Focusing on an arterial street makes just as much sense, though. McDowell is not as obvious a choice as 16th Street or Dobson Road, but it might work in the same way that Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles worked for Jonathan Gold when he ate his way up and down that street before blogs even existed:


As for foot soldiers, I think there are plenty out there, but most are not posting on Chowhound. Chowhound, like all single-subject message boards, seems rather quaint in the age of social media, and the Chowhound board for Phoenix was established too late to engender the same level of commitment seen in boards for other cities. I feel the same way about some of the independent food-related message boards you've mentioned in other cities. Those that thrive in places like Chicago and Washington DC do so because they were established years ago. I doubt they would be as successful if started in 2011.

I see the situation today in terms of conversations and brief comments on social media with links to more detailed opinion on blogs such as this one or reviews on platforms like Yelp or Urban Spoon. While I appreciate your calls for a food-centric discussion board in Phoenix, I just don't see one thriving here and now -- more due to timing than differences with other cities.

Regardless, I look forward to reading about your McDowell dining experiences. I have half a dozen restaurants along that road I really enjoy. Given the sometimes substantial differences in our tastes, I suspect you'll dislike some of them, but I'm sure your critique will be eloquent regardless of how much we agree or disagree.

Very cool, Dom. This reminds me of two projects of Jonathan Gold's. He once covered the entirety of Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles (http://www.laweekly.com/1998-10-01/news/the-year-i-ate-pico-boulevard/, and did a less arduous 7-Train odyssey in Queens, NY.

Thanks, all.

Yeah, I hope I didn't make it out to be a stunningly original idea. Gold's odyssey is only the most-cited of similar endeavors. But I think the reason it keeps popping up is because it's a valuable exercise. I'm kind of hoping others see that value and jump in rather than just letting me take one for the team, so to speak :-)

Jon... hours before posting!

David... I figured this one would appeal to you :-) You might be right about a board, which is maddening. Social media is fabulous at what it does, but the notion that anything and everything is best served by a social media solution is rather myopic, IMHO. We've got connections. What's missing is conversation, and I want to bring that out somehow. And your post combined with a pair of other recent occurrences actually gave me an idea yesterday that I think is a pretty good one... but one thing at a time :-)

That's a great idea. Awesome starting point. There are some new places along this path that just opened up too - Pizza Casa, Rock-n-Taco, etc... Good timing. There are also some really good hidden gems in here as well. I've been up and down this street 1000 times.

It's been an embarrassingly long time since I've peeked in on SD, and am happily surprised to find you in my hometown! Welcome (belatedly) to the Valley of the Sun! Lots of great eats with new places popping up seemingly daily now, all of which provide you plenty of eating - and reviewing - opportunities.

I'm looking forward to this series!

Dom, you are an inspiration to fathers everywhere. Good luck!

How's the project going? Still chugging away? Need to contribute some way.

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