It’s that time of year: March Madness is among us. But what if this year we skipped past the brackets, free throws, yelling at the refs, and team rivalry right to the food. Your bracket will likely be busted long before we get to the elite 8 so to ease the pain here’s our very own elite 8. Behold eight of the best munchie spots in the Phoenix area before you. There is no rivalry, there is no winner, there is only delicious food and the hardworking people that bring you each delectable dish. It was near impossible to crown any kind of winner after trying all these incredible dishes, but it’s not always about winning; sometimes it’s just about knowing you won’t be disappointed. So when your team lets you down in the second round, just smoke a bowl, text some friends and venture out to one of our elite 8 munchie spots. I’d place my bet on any one of these contenders and I’m completely confident they won’t let you down.
Cuisine: West coast baja style Mexican food. Featured Dish: “The Californian” & baja fish tacos Chef’s Favorite: Pescado Borracho aka a whole snapper fried to perfection Open Since: February 2018 Locations: 1-Gilbert Specials: Happy hour everyday 3-6pm, taco Tuesday & Thursday, nacho typical Tuesday ($8 nachos & beer specials) and Margarita Mondays ($4 all day) Website: https://www.pescadoborracho.com/
Pescado Borracho is a mouth-watering little spot tucked away in a shopping center in Gilbert. Its owners Chris and Lauren Glass opened the restaurant just over a year ago right next door to their other restaurant: High Tide Seafood Bar & Grill. That means you get delicious quality seafood, like their crispy octopus taco, in a more casual, laid-back, taco filled environment. I decided to sample two classics: the Baja fish taco and the Californian. The fish taco was a slam dunk: a crispy battered fish filet topped with tomatillo lime crema and cabbage fresca, this fish taco is sure to tickle the taste buds. However, the real hero for me at Pescado Borracho was the Californian: a taco-take on the California style burrito served up with fries this taco has it all. It comes piled with juicy carne asada, french fries, queso chihuahua, crema, onion, cilantro, and PB house hot sauce; it made a great impression on me. The star of the dish was the carne asada; I found myself infatuated with it. Every single bite was tender, juicy, perfectly seasoned, and cooked masterfully. I’ll be the first to tell you I’ve not done a proper tour de taco here in the Phoenix area, but this one definitely sets the bar high for me. They have some stellar non-meat options too like the crispy avocado taco which is served on a cheese crusted tortilla. Best kept secret and a must try when visiting Pescado Borracho: you can swap in the cheese crusted tortilla on any taco if you ask. I recently took my wife there on a Tuesday and we enjoyed a massive pile of nachos and a delicious pitcher of local beer for just twelve bucks. You don’t have to break the bank to treat your favorite person to a lovely night out.
Spoke & Wheel Tavern
Cuisine: American food with a hint of Santa Fe flair Featured Dish: The Spoke & Wheel Burger Chef’s Favorite: Street tacos Open Since: 2012 Locations: 2 – Phoenix & Sedona Specials: Happy hour everyday 11-6 and a reverse happy hour at the bar. Website: http://spokeandwheeltavern.com/
Spoke & Wheel is an awesome little spot in an old building with character oozing from the walls. I loved this spot because as soon as I walked in it felt classy but casual and had a sizeable dog-friendly patio I could easily spend an afternoon enjoying. In addition to their stellar happy hour deals they also have trivia every Tuesday and Saturday, so grab some friends and go have some fun. Alright, let’s get to the best part: the food. After looking the menu over and consulting with the staff I decided to go with the namesake burger, The Spoke & Wheel Burger. These guys do it right from the ground up starting off with fresh daily hand-made patties. Next they pile on chipotle mayo, arugula, tomato, melted cheddar cheese, a drizzle of the house made sweet chili sauce and top it all with a big fat sweet potato waffle fry. My mouth was watering as soon as it came out. The patty was juicy and cooked to perfection; the cheese was melty and delicious; but the peppery tinge from the arugula paired with that sweet chili sauce and a little extra push of sweet from the waffle fry was the perfect balance. This burger was so good that on my way out of the building I decided to turn back and grab one last bite to savor the flavor for the road. I highly suggest checking out Spoke and Wheel Tavern; great atmosphere, fantastic food; you won’t be sorry. Their best kept secret has to be their brunch, Sundays only. Head down to S&W for a bloody mary bar and grub like their green chili pork breakfast bowl. Better yet ride your bike over to Spoke & Wheel and enjoy additional specials as a result. This place is fun, the people are friendly and the food is great. If you’re looking for a solid place to get your munch on, look no further.
Cuisine: Homemade Mexican with a twist Featured Dish: Festival Taco Chef’s Favorite: Short Rib & Cornbread Enchilada Open Since: 2013 Locations: 3 – Phoenix, Arcadia, Tempe (coming soon) Specials: Bison (while supplies last) Website: https://www.gadzooksaz.com/
Gadzooks is a true standout in an ever-expanding sea of fast-casual mexican dining options. If you don’t know bout Gadzooks, think Chipotle style, but for enchiladas, and unfathomably better than that same old boring burrito you always order. It was incredibly difficult to decide what to get, so if you’re easily overwhelmed in the wake of endless amazing choices, ask the staff. I looked to Cody, the general manager, for assistance and he certainly steered me right. I went with a couple of festival tacos and of course I had to try a couple of their famous enchiladas. The festival taco; grab a napkin to catch the drool that’s about to run from your mouth while I break it down for you: a half corn/half flour tortilla filled with tomatillo chicken and their spicy cornbread, topped with jalapeno ranch, honey vinegar slaw and cotija cheese. Yes, you read that right, cornbread in tacos! You may be a skeptic of that notion but stop in and try one; I promise they’ll change your mind on that. These tacos were off the chain; I’ve never had anything like them, so unique and full of perfectly balanced flavors. Savory meets tangy meets spicy meets crunchy meets a hint of sweet—this taco is a one-way ticket to Flavortown; this dish is as delicious as Guy Fieri is boisterous. I didn’t think the tacos could be beat, but then came the enchiladas and I found out exactly why Gadzooks is famous for them. One braised bison enchilada and one spinach mushroom enchilada in the same dish, fired in their signature oven, topped with a beautifully fried egg and a heap of pickled onions. Honestly it’s hard to do it justice here; please, just go try it so you can understand my newfound obsession with this spot. The best kept secret here has to be splitting portions. I split my portion on both enchiladas, I added the cornbread to the bison and their spicy pepperjack potatoes to the spinach mushroom; it was the perfect combination. If you’re a meat eater I highly recommend the bison x cornbread mix, but I found myself truly longing for the flavors of the incredibly vegetarian options they offer. No matter what you get I promise you’ll leave full and happy.
Cuisine: Fried Chicken & Shakes Featured Dish: Tatchos and Chicken Fingers Chef’s Favorite: Pimento Crunch Sandwich Open Since: 1/20/2019 Locations: 2 – Tempe & Paradise Valley Specials: Happy Hour milkshakes 3-5 everyday & 50% off for first responders Website: https://www.eatpdq.com/
PDQ was a real dark horse for me; I honestly hadn’t heard of them before but it was suggested to me by a Cannabis Cactus reader so we had to give it a go. PDQ is a fresh, never frozen fast food joint serving up North Carolina inspired dishes. They started in Florida, expanded to a handful of other states, and now Arizona houses their two westernmost locations. I met up with John, the Operating Director, who served me up their most bodacious munchie combo totchos and chicken tenders. The totchos truly embodied the heart of a great munchie: tater tots and fritos piled with bacon, ranch, cheese, and chives. One bite and a symphony of salty, savory, gooey notes erupted on my tongue with the fritos and chives contrasting with a nice crisp crunch; these bad boys are dangerous. It didn’t take long for the smell of those chicken tenders to find its way to my nostrils effectively turning my attention to the PDQ staple. You may be thinking a chicken strip is a chicken strip, what’s the big deal? Wrong, my friend, all chicken strips are not created equal. Have you ever had a chicken strip where the breading really isn’t crunchy and seems to have absorbed so much oil that it oozes grease with every bite? Not so great, right? That’s not how they roll at PDQ. The chicken was coated in a flavorful breading adorned with complimentary spices and fired up in fresh clean soybean oil, leaving these tenders with a clean crisp outer layer that won’t leave grease running down your chin. The real kicker though has to be the sauces: seven different sauces made in-house. Forget the ketchup or the ranch and pass me the sweet sriracha or the buffalo & blue from PDQ please. I really loved getting to chat with John, his heart for the customers was evident in how he ran his restaurant. I really love the discount for first responders and in an age of processed food and profit margins I’m pleased to see a spot that still puts fresh ingredients and customer satisfaction first. If chicken isn’t your cup of tea check out the zucchini fries which are the perfect companion to any of their delicious sauces. If you find yourself at PDQ and your sweet tooth starts acting up, try one of their fantastic hand-spun milkshakes which is sure to satisfy.
Cuisine: Hong Kong style egg waffles & Tea Featured Dish: The Purple Crow Chef’s Favorite: Green Serpent Open Since: Officially opened 2 months ago Locations: 1-Mesa Specials: Specials released on Instagram, follow @genbuwaffles for more info
Genbu Waffles might truly be the best kept secret in the Valley; these guys aren’t just doing something unique, they’re killing it. Genbu is owned by Matthew and Alex, two young entrepreneurs with a passion for food, talent to spare, and a mission to expose Valley foodies to new cultural dining experiences. Enter the bubble waffle, a popular street food found in Hong Kong and the foundation of every dish at Genbu. The bubbles almost serve as a sort of perforation and it’s easy to cut a portion of the waffle off to enjoy with each bite. These guys aren’t just solving the fundamental flaws of the brittle waffle cone you once knew, they’re bringing BIG and unique flavors. I decided to try the Purple Crow — ube waffle, vanilla ice cream, coconut flakes, two cookies n’ cream pocky sticks, topped with ube sweetened condensed milk and a cube of homemade flan. Their inspiration for this dish comes from the popular Filipino dessert halo halo; a dish which features ube, a brightly colored purple yam as it’s staple ingredient. The entire process of watching the Purple Crow come together was mesmerizing; between the waffle making process and the bright purple accents. The flavors complimented each other so incredibly well it’s easy to overlook the complexity of the dish. Matthew and Alex spent six months perfecting the consistency and complimentary flavors of their recipes before premiering their waffles at the Phoenix Night Market in April of 2018. You can absolutely taste the heart, soul, and meticulous attention to detail in every dish. I had to take a second to remember I was eating a yam based waffle with ice cream and flan in it, and loving it, to really appreciate the absolute mastery of their craft. With my waffle came a glass of tea, I didn’t expect much from it, and quite frankly I’m not sure what their secret is, but it was the best tea I’ve ever had, ever, from anywhere. These guys really impressed me with their creativity and tenacity, but even more I just can’t get over their intentionality which permeates everything they do. So much so that you’ll find it in the smallest details, like the cube of flan on top of the Purple Crow; an old family recipe passed down to Alex from his grandmother. Heck, they even take a firm stance on their milk; ask about the ube milk they make using Danzeisen milk from Laveen, AZ. Apparently Danzeisen has an unbeatable creamy texture which they credit with really taking their ube milk to the next level. I will definitely be headed back to Genbu Waffles soon and I’d be so bold as to say if you don’t give Genbu a try you’re making a big mistake.
Grand Avenue Pizza Company
Cuisine: Pizza, house made desserts & salads Featured Dish: Butter Chicken Pizza Chef’s Favorite: Rotating specialty pizza Open Since: 2014 Locations: 1 – Phoenix Specials: Weekly rotating specialty pizza Website: http://www.grandavenuepizzacompany.com/
Grand Avenue Pizza knows who they are, and all the other pizza shops are a little jealous. From it’s exterior, this little corner spot might easily be overlooked, but once inside I was amazed at how unique it is. The walls are covered in custom artwork and fun paintings depicting aliens enjoying a slice. Space is limited inside, but the patio is a lovely accommodating space for you and some friends to enjoy a pie. The vibe inside is vibrant—it’s a small crew hustling to crank out pies as fast as they can—there was an undeniable rhythm and cohesion to how the staff worked together. A sort of incredibly organized chaos amidst what seemed to be a never ending stream of phone orders and patrons in one minute and out the next with a steaming hot slice of their favorite pizza. I spoke with Carson, the owner, who informed me Grand Avenue has been slinging slices to hungry customers for 5 years with a new rotating speciality pizza every week. Naturally, I had to try the speciality, which was their Butter Chicken Pizza—a pie inspired by an Indian dish by the name of Murgh Makhani, aka butter chicken. A vibrantly colored slice served up with tomato-cashew sauce, shredded mozzarella, red bell peppers, fresh red onion, ripe pineapple, and the true hero of the dish, saffron-yogurt marinated chicken thigh with a sprinkle of fresh cilantro to top it off. The chicken thigh was a real star for me on this dish, but the nutty undertones and slight spice of the tomato-cashew sauce was the perfect partner for the perfectly marinated chicken. The crunch of the peppers and onion added some fantastic texture while the fresh bite of the cilantro and pineapple finished quite nicely on the tongue. But, the most important part of any pie, the foundation to build flavors upon, is the crust. I judge a pizza by it’s crust and quite ruthlessly at that, because If you can’t get the building blocks right, can you really create a great pizza? Grand Avenue certainly passed the crust test for me with flying colors, it was so good in fact, as I finished my slice, I considered going back in and ordering a whole pie just to get more of that crust. Crunchy but not hard, soft but not doughy, filled with flavor but not competing with the toppings, it’s clear the masterminds in the kitchen at Grand Ave know how to build a pizza right. The fan favorite is the classic pepperoni, and after my initial experience, I’ll certainly be making the trip back to get a slice of the classic. Carson was even kind enough to give me the inside scoop on a secret menu option; the only item not on the menu, their combo, brilliantly named “ménage a za”, which is a two slice and a drink combo. Since it’s not found on the menu you’ve got to ask for it by name to get this stellar deal for just seven bucks. There is a lot of good pizza in the Valley, but Grand Avenue Pizza confidently stands tall in a see of ‘za with solid classics and creative concoctions sure to satisfy even the gnarliest case of the munchies.
The American Poutine Co.
Cuisine: Poutine & its accoutrements Featured Dish: Buffalo Chicken Deluxe Chef’s Favorite: Buffalo Chicken or BBQ Pork Open Since: 2014 Locations: 3-Gilbert & 2 Food Trucks Specials: Rotating Poutine Website: http://www.americanpoutine.com/
Anyone else a sucker for a great food truck? What exactly is the measure of a great truck? I believe the answer to that question reaches beyond the menu. In a sector of the food service industry with unconventional hours, tremendous demand, vehicle upkeep, and a slew of other challenges the potential turnover rate for a food truck business is high. A great food truck doesn’t just serve great food, they stand the test of time. The American Poutine Co. has been brining poutine to the Valley for five years. Starting their business in an old used truck with no A/C, husband and wife owners Brenden and Mareka plus their whole crew are no strangers to feeling the heat of food trucking—literally. Now American Poutine has two poutine trucks, a physical location in Gilbert, and an additional dessert truck. You can download The American Poutine Co. app or check their social media to find out where their trucks will be. Now, let’s unpack the poutine. In case you’re not familiar with it, poutine is a Canadian dish that consists of french fries, cheese curds, and hot gravy over top; and it’s delicious. The American Poutine Co.specializes in classic poutine but they’ve expanded their menu to include a variety of enticing loaded fry options. I decided to go with the buffalo chicken deluxe; when it’s the owners favorite, you know it’s the right choice. This munchie starts with hand cut french fries double fried; next they pile it high with cheese curds, breaded fried chicken, buffalo sauce, shredded cheddar, tomatoes, chives, and a drizzle of blue cheese. The double fried french fries are a real winner; without the extra fry the gravy and/or sauces tend to soak through the fries making them soggy. I loved that this wasn’t the case at American Poutine. The chicken was delicious, the buffalo sauce struck a perfect balance of heat and vinegary tang, and the rest of the toppings really rounded out this featured dish nicely. I had to get their classic poutine while I was there too; you can provide every option imaginable but still nothing beats fries + cheese curds + gravy. Thank you for this great gift, Canada. The brown gravy has a briney savory richness to it and melts nicely into the cheese curd layer. There’s not much more to say about poutine; it’s a tantalizing triumvirate of munchie goodness. 99.9% of my go-to munchies involve french fries, cheese, or gravy, so for me this is basically heaven. If you don’t like those three things, you might be crazy, but you should still give The American Poutine Co. a chance to show you the light. The best kept secret might just be their dessert fries and better yet their cinnamon sugar fries which aren’t on the menu, but you can still order up a batch of spuds rolled in cinnamon sugar and topped with a cream cheese icing. Last but not least, if a good seasonal dish is your kryptonite, then mark your calendar for November when American Poutine dishes out their Thanksgiving-inspired loaded fries topped with turkey, stuffing, cheese, gravy and cranberry. Loaded fries are a quintessential munchie and no one does it better than The American Poutine Co.
Willie’s Taco Joint
Cuisine: Scratch Mexican Featured Dish: Chicken Verde Nachos Chef’s Favorite: The Big Fatty Burrito Open Since: 2015 Locations: 1 – Phoenix Specials: Lunch M-F 11am-2pm, Cinco de Drinko the 5th of every month, Taco tuesday specials Website: http://www.williestacojoint.com/
We here at the Cannabis Cactus love Willie’s Taco Joint and can’t imagine a rundown of the best munchies around without Willie’s on the list! Willie’s is good food and big fun every time. The atmosphere, the bright colors, and the vibrant downtown location of Willie’s make it the perfect spot to meet up with friends for a bite or grab some grub after a downtown event. Willie’s has a deep menu of can’t-go-wrong options, but for this one I had to highlight the chicken verde nachos. Layered with their house-made corn chips, Chile Verde chicken, melted Oaxaca cheese, beans, jalapeños, Guac, cilantro, and sour cream, this dish is considered an appetizer and is perfect for sharing, or you can make a meal out of this delicious mound of nachos. I’m a huge chile verde fan and Willie’s has some of the best I’ve ever tasted. The chicken is juicy and cooked incredibly, the level of heat is just enough to dance on the tongue but doesn’t overwhelm the dish and the house corn chips are stellar. They are stiff, they are crunchy, they are the perfect vehicle to deliver a heaping portion of toppings (without producing a soggy chip) right to your mouth. Now I was raised in the Midwest and have what my wife affectionately calls a “baby mouth” when it comes to spice, so at first glance I found the jalapenos a bit daunting. I’m so glad I left them on; they were the perfect addition to add in every couple of bites; they didn’t have an overwhelming heat for me and added a lot to this munchie. But Willie’s doesn’t just want to be your favorite taco place, they want to be your favorite spot to drink and they certainly won me over with their Cinco de Drinko. On the 5th of every month come to Willie’s to get your drink on with house margs to coronas and more all just five dollars. If you haven’t been to Willie’s Taco Joint do yourself a favor and head down there asap; just the smell of this joint will give you the munchies!
One final note, we want to thank everyone who participated in this story with us. We got to meet so many kind and passionate people serving our local community and doing what they love; it was so cool. Beyond that they’ve all been kind enough to offer, exclusively to Cannabis Cactus readers, these stellar deals. So clip your coupons and head to each spot during this month to try them for yourself. Post a photo on social of yourself getting your munch on and hashtag #cannabiscactus and #munchiemadness for a chance to win cool prizes!
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