Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Lil Bit about Arizona

When it comes to living in Arizona I go through phases. There are times that I can't wait to venture out and try something new and others when I think that we are really lucky to live here. Lately it seems that I have been in "really lucky to live here" mode; and I recognize this because as I'm driving down the street I notably appreciate the most often blue sky as it contrasts with our flourishing landscapes. I relish the picturesque views and the overall friendliness of the local residents. I am thankful for the cost of living and the affordability of my kids chosen activities and when I talk to non-Arizonians I find myself promoting the state and all that it has to offer.

Luis and I moved to Arizona VERY unexpectedly. We had been living in Orlando for about two and a half years and we were finding it extremely difficult to make trips home to Puerto Vallarta since that wasn't a place that people were really travelling to from Florida and we started thinking about moving West. I called my friend Hollie, who had moved to Phoenix at the same time that we had moved to Orlando. Hollie had been attending Thunderbird (Graduate school for Global Management) and as a side project, she and two friends decided to open a coffeehouse. (I refer to my list of 100 things ~ # 82. Hollie Castro is the most ambitious person I know; and I think she is truly awe inspiring.) The year was 1996 and Starbucks hadn't come to town yet; so their business was doing quite well (they were voted Best Coffeehouse & Best Cup of Coffee, by both the "New Times" and "Arizona Republic" shortly after opening) and as upon her graduation in December Hollie was moving to Italy to work for GE and her partner Julie was moving to Houston, this was going to leave her partner Bobbi looking for a manager. I thought that managing a coffeehouse would be a welcome change from being a social worker so Hollie told me to call Bobbi. After speaking to Bobbi for a half hour, I got the job and Luis and I moved to Phoenix, sight unseen.

People always ask if I miss New York and the truth is that I miss my friends ands I miss the food but that's about it. I LOVE food! And though you could probably guess that just by looking at me, I firmly believe that not ALL overweight people LOVE food. Some are just overweight because they eat (whatever) to fill a void, or because they have poor metabolisms, or don't exercise enough, or because they eat the wrong foods; I however, LOVE food. I love to watch Food Network shows of all kinds
(especially $40 a Day.) I like to read restaurant reviews and menus even if I know that it is for a restaurant that I will never go to. When I'm in a hotel, one of the first things that I do is read about the local eateries and whenever Rachel K is going to a new restaurant she always emails me the menu so I can check it out; because we share a love of food.
Now, because I love food, you have to understand that moving from New York to any other state presents a culinary culture shock like no other. Upon the transition from NY to Florida I recognized the absence of the "Mom and Pop"

style restaurants and the non-existence of Diners ( I refer to my list #7 ~I totally miss New York Diners. Seriously, if there is anyone with some restaurant savvy, and you're looking to strike it rich ~ move to Arizona and open a Good, Old Fashioned, everything from Omelets to Crab stuffed flounder diner, and you will make a Gold Mine.) Aahh the Diner; where you could go any time of the day or night and ALWAYS get anything on the menu. The Diner, with its rotating cake cases with slices as big as your head. The Diner, where I first learned to love french fries and brown gravy and first tasted Baklava (that one was for you Judy; who ALWAYS asked EVERY waiter or waitress at WHICHEVER Diner; "How's the Baklava?") The Diner, where I spent countless hours after a school concert, or having a family dinner or an early morning snack after leaving a club. Aahh the Diner - choices were unlimited and yet I always got the same couple of things ~ BUT alas the chain was the thing in Orlando and the home cooked meals from Italian restaurants were no where to be found. The lack of dining diversity in Orlando somewhat prepared me for the gastronomic deficiency that I first encountered in Phoenix; the land of "Erto." Yes, the Phoenix area is overrun by 24 hour Mexican drive thru joints that frequently have a name that end in "erto." We have Filiberto's, Heriberto's, Hilberto's,Humberto's, Poliberto's Roberto's, and Roliberto's, (just to name a few,) and I'm sure there must be a Berto's too. Now Michelle K has been living in Phoenix a lot longer than me and she had informed me that Erto means meat of the cat; but I have developed my own theory. I hadn't had much exposure to Mexican food prior to moving to Phoenix, and YES, I know that I am married to a Mexican man; but his mom's cooking is not the type of fare that be offered in a Mexican restaurant; although it is DELICIOUS! No, growing up in New City, the only encounter that I had with Mexican food was Tacos at Jack In the Box (a few towns over; ) AND that Jack closed down within a few years. No Mexican food was not prevalent in Rockland County in the 70's and 80's and I offer further proof by explaining that in the 8th grade my Spanish teacher actually planned a field trip to the one and only Mexican restaurant in the county. Now I ask you, if Mexican food was commonplace would our class have been taking a field trip there? Probably not; but I digress...
The "Erto's" are not exactly purveyor's of Mexican cuisine; they are sellers of what I have come to call "ASS BURRITO." Yes, you read that right. Now you can decide for yourself what type of ass I am referring to; but basically I dubbed the popular Carne Asada burrito (from ANY of the "Erto's) ass burrito because it is meat that is typically overcooked and void of taste, (in my opinion) and subsequently not only did the Carne Asada burrito come to be know as ass burrito in my house, but now ALL of the "Erto's" are just generically and affectionately referred to as ass burrito; so, ass burrito is now not only a meal, but a place; or several places. "Aahh, the diner;" she said longingly...
Ass burrito is extremely popular in Phoenix and especially with my family. I honestly think that Luis could eat EVERY meal there and my kids would be righ tbehind him because they love the Quesadillas and beans.
A couple of months ago a brand new Filiberto's was getting ready to open in my neighborhood and to say that Luis and Nicky were waiting for the opening with baited breath would not be an understatement; so the day that I drove by and saw the balloons outside, I knew EXACTLY what we were having for dinner. I told my guys that Filiberto's had opened and they literally could not get there quick enough and because I am the Queen of FAIR; I will admit that the ass burrito was actually good. It had flavor and everything. Now does this mean that I'm a fan? Absolutely NOT, but I will give credit where credit is due and I will eat it out of necessity, although I order a shredded beef taco salad without beans and NOT a Carne Asada anything. Well, last week Luis was at work and time had gotten away from me, so I went to the A.B drive thru. I got the food home and discovered that I now had an additional reason to call them ass burrito because although my receipt said "a pint of beans" these payasos (Spanish word for clowns) sent me home with a pint of rice. Now I ask you, what choice did I have? I loaded the kids into the car and went back to A.B. I requested my beans and asked that they remake my order because I didn't want the kids to eat cold Quesadilla; AND I am now boycotting Filiberto's (not like that's such a hardship for me really.)

Now, although my disclaimers usually appear at the beginning of a post, let me say this: There is A LOT of fabulous food in Phoenix despite the excess of the "Erto's" and if you're visiting, even those are worth a try. A lot has changed food wise since we moved her 12 and a half years ago and the choices now abound. I hope to see ya here sometime because it really is a beautiful place to visit, a great place to live and a wonderful place to eat.
Till next time...


Anonymous said...

I can't believe you lef out the legendary RUMANIAN STEAK!!! LOL! That lovely, greasy slab of pseudo-beef complete with one crispy onion ring speared to the top with a frilly toothpick!! Now that was QUALITY NY diner fare!!

Navin R Johnson

Rachel said...

Oh, I love a diner...onion omelets at 3 AM, sigh. This post was a real walk down memory lane! Thanks for the reminder.

No diners here either in socal, but we do have one restaurant that's close...Nichols in Marina Del Rey. Remind me to take you next time!

PC said...

I had the same problem when I lived out there; no diners, no good pizza, no good Chinese food and no decent bagels. It was terrible. Now that I am in CT, I still have that problem, what they call diners, not what we grew up with. Oh those french fries and gravy. You brought back many memories.

I do miss the sunsets and the starry nights.

Michelle said...

"Purveyors of the finest ass in town..." nope not a strip joint - it's Filiberto's!! You hit the nail on the head about culinary culture shock. I have YET to find a decent cheeseteak (but have gained 80 lbs trying) in Arizona and miss the diners and all night cheesesteakeries in Philly. Not to mention the Italian bakeries (Bread? what's THAT? People here buy bread in Fry's!) and pizza places that serve stromboli the RIGHT way, no sauce and certainly no freakin' ricotta!! WHy do all the Italian places out here think it authenticates a dish if you heap a pile o' ricotta on it??? You really got it right sistah. AMEN!!!!! Oh and you made me laugh till meat of the cat came out my nose.