Friday, March 22, 2013

Places I Eat Tournament 2013

Well it’s been a couple years, and my March Madness bracket is crap, so I thought I’d once again roll out a bracket where there are no losers. I’ve got some new contenders and old favorites. This time they’ll battle it out in the respective cities (or neighboring city). I live in the southeast valley so apologizes to Glendale and Scottsdale (especially Uncle Sam’s and Jade Place); I know you have good eats I just don’t make it up that way often. On that note I’d like to throw a shout out to The Burger House in Miami, AZ. If you are passing through try the green chili burrito or the burgers.


With the number of competitors this year I’ve added four play-in games, one for each region. There are no other criteria except I eat there and like it. I seeded them based on my initial reaction and advanced them on further reflection. I am a committee of one, although I probably have given Peder more sway than I ought to have. Although there is only one Places I Eat Champion each of these places are winners.

Real quick we’ll get some housekeeping stuff out of the way. Peppersauce Café, the last tournament champion, isn’t on the list. They closed and reopened under new management and it’s just not the same. Also gone this year are Ono’s, Fry Bread House, Los Reyes de la Torta, LJ’s (also closed and reopened under new management), Rosa’s, Mucho Gusto, La Canasta, Nello’s, Red Devil, Picazzo’s and Old Chicago Pizza. There simply wasn’t room. Los Siento.

We’ll get the play-ins out of the way first.  (here's a blank bracket for those of you playing at home)



Play-in

Mesa Region

No. 8 Midwestern Steakhouse vs. No. 8 Moki’s

Midwestern Steakhouse is a new comer to the list that packs a lot of power. Located to the west end of Midwestern Meats on Greenfield and Main this steakhouse gets its meat directly from its own butcher shop so it’s fresh and delicious. But wait there’s more. Separating the two is a real deal bakery with amazing pies, pastries and donuts. Moki’s, however, has Kalua Pork with Hawaiian Salad. Being that they are both family owned and operated, which I love, and have little chance against the No. 1 seed I went with the family that I know better.

Winner: Moki’s (quick apologize to George’s Gyros, I haven’t tried you yet but I will)

Phoenix Region

No. 8 El Comedor vs. No. 8 China Chili

That match illustrates how insane the Phoenix Region is. El Comedor was a two seed in the Mexican bracket last tournament and I love Mexican food. Now they find themselves in a play-in against China Chili who boasts the orange chicken to which all other orange chicken is compared to. This region is brutal.

Winner: El Comedor (apologizes to Over Easy. The food was great, the owner is delightful and I still need to try the breakfast sausage dipped in waffle batter and fried on a stick like a corn dog. I told you the Phoenix region is packed)

Chandler/Gilbert Region

No. 8 Ocean Blue Caribbean vs. No. 8 Chino Bandido

We’ll make this short and sweet. Chino Bandido with their Chinese/Mexican fusion and a snickerdoodle again a Jamaican food buffet. That’s right kids, A JAMAICAN FOOD BUFFET! Down goes the sombrero clad Panda; down goes the sombrero clad Panda!

Winner: Ocean Blue Caribbean (apologize to Lee’s Sandwiches, I hear good things about you and plan to try you.)

Tempe Region

No. 8 Taco Nazo vs. No. 8 Chompie’s

I know I’ve gone heavy on the newcomers in the play-in games but Chompie’s is only technically a newcomer as they were a glaring omission in the first tournament. A great breakfast place with extensive and unique lunch menu items and a billion kinds of bagels. Taco Nazo comes strong with real deal Mexican food and I’m a sucker for a good torta but this is about redeeming an oversight.

Winner: Chompie’s (wish I had one more spot for Macayo’s, they were in but you’ll read later how they got bounced)



First Round

Mesa Region

No. 1 Culver’s vs. No. 8 Moki’s

This is my favorite fast food-ish type burger place to eat at. I disqualified joints like Fatburgers, Five Guys , Freddie’s and In and Out for being chain restaurants but in a great act of hypocrisy not only allowed Culver’s in but gave them a No. 1 seed. Really it came down to two things. First, Double Butter Burger, repeat Double Butter Burger; and second because they opened one right by my house and I love them for it. So it’s a Wisconsin chain restaurant against the family owned places that I claim to heap my love and support on. In this case I’ll gladly be a hypocrite.

Winner: Culver’s

No. 2 Famous Dave’s vs. No. 7 Moreno’s 

Again another chain restaurant and Dave’s was a two seed last time as well, but for a new and wonderful reason. Pineapple Rage Boneless Buffalo Wings. Try them…immediately. I’m fond of burgers, which will be made apparent by this tournament, and Famous Dave has good burgers too but get the two meal combo plate with ribs and Pineapple Rage Boneless Buffalo Wings. You won’t be disappointed. Moreno’s I love the Sonoran Hot Dog and your street tacos are off the chain but you don’t stand a chance against the Pineapple Rage.  Plus you get a free ice cream with fireworks on your birthday!

Winner: Famous Dave’s

No. 3 Lenny’s vs. No. 6 Gyro House

Gyro House opened off Val Vista and Southern in a place where so many businesses have failed but I pray they won’t. This is a real deal mom and pop place, or however you say mom and pop in Greek. The owners are welcoming and friendly and the gyros are outstanding. Seriously, please please give them a try so they stay open. I really wish I could advance them but my children just wouldn’t understand. Lenny’s is my kid’s favorite local restaurant. They have really good food at very reasonable prices and the atmosphere is cool too. Also to wash down your burger they have 99 cent root beer floats, so that’s nice.

Winner: Lenny’s

No. 4 Costa Vida vs. No. 5 Papa Kelsey’s

In its day Papa Kelsey’s would have carried this matchup and most definitely been a higher seed. Opened as a family owned place out of Idaho this pizza and sandwich shop was the bomb-diggity. In high school it was my favorite place and not just because it was staffed with cute girls (one of which I married). The pizza was nothing to write home about but the bread on their subs, made on premise, was unreal. It is under new management and although they use the same bread recipe they’ve outsourced the baking so it’s not the same, plus there’s a bunch of tattooed dudes with ear piercings now instead of a girl I was interested in marrying. Still the Italian combo, one of my all-time favorite sandwiches, is still worth a try. Costa Vida is a Tex-Mex burrito place that actually not only has a salad that I will eat but one that I enjoy with a name that seems to be an oxymoron to me, Pork Salad. Putting aside nostalgia this wasn’t even close.

Winner: Costa Vida

Phoenix Region

No. 1 Carolina’s vs. No. 8 El Comedor

The Phoenix Region is a murderer’s row line up. Last time these two met was to decide who would represent the Mexican food region and this time they’re a first round match up. It almost makes me want to cry. Comedor is a great sit down restaurant and you can order virtually anything of the menu and you won’t be disappointed but Carolina’s is, well, magnífico! I’m salivating at just the thought of eating there. Whatever they throw together and wrap in those delicious and award winning tortillas I’ll eat…happily and thankfully. Muchos gracious, I like it muy mucho.

Winner: Carolina’s

No. 2 Lo Lo’s Chicken and Waffles vs. No. 7 Lin’s

I love a good buffet. I love Chinese food. The problem is most buffets are mediocre, and that’s especially true with Chinese buffets, so when I find a good one I rejoice. Lin’s is a really good Chinese buffet. They’ve check all the boxes for what you are looking for to satisfy your Chinese food cravings. But they ain’t fried chicken and waffles. The savory and sweet treat that is southern comfort food. You can’t beat it. Their fried chicken is top shelf and when combined it with their sumptuous sides you can’t go wrong. If you aren’t down with the waffles, seriously though don’t knock it till you try it, they’ve got a cornbread muffin bigger than my fist and Kool Aid options for days and days. I don’t know how to say sorry in Chinese.

Winner: Lo Lo’s Chicken and Waffles

No. 3 TexAZ Grill vs. No. 6 Original Hamburger Works

Another brutal matchup. Original Hamburger Works is not a good hamburger place, it’s a great hamburger place. They cook them up fresh on an open flame. If you are a burger enthusiast this place has got to be on your list. When I worked in Phoenix I went there regularly. TexAZ Grill has a phenomenal Chicken Fried Chicken plate with mash potatoes and gravy and a melt in your mouth biscuit. That alone would be enough but when Peder and I went there the owner came out to visit for a minute. I told him how much I loved the food, especially the pecan pie that I was eating at the time (which is tremendous by the way), he went in the back and told the lady who makes the pies; she promptly brought me out another piece on the house because she was happy I liked it. All things being equal, free pecan pie puts you over the top.

Winner: TexAZ Grill

No. 4 BBQ Company vs. No 5 Matt’s Big Breakfast

BBQ Company is great for so many reasons. The food, first and foremost, and then there’s the fact that they’ve got an all you can eat BBQ buffet once or twice a month. This isn’t any BBQ either, it’s premium stuff. Did I mention it’s all you can eat? Even on the regular days you will find outstanding choices like the wing and rib tip combo and, the only other salad on earth I enjoy, the Crispy Chicken Salad. Matt’s Big Breakfast really brings it too. They have off the hook breakfast items. Seriously, we were there for lunch and ordered a burger and a Reuben sandwich, which were both excellent, and saw some of the breakfast offerings coming out of the kitchen and had to order them as well; and eat them with our lunch. Don’t judge me; you would have done the same. Wish I could put them both through but there can be only one.

Winner: BBQ Company

Chandler/Gilbert Region

No. 1 Joe’s Farm Grill vs. No. 8 Ocean Blue Caribbean

Without a doubt the biggest travesty of the last tournament was making Joe’s Farm Grill an eight seed with a first round match up against the eventual champ. That has been rectified. The Bacon Blue Burger is my new death row meal. Their onion rings and shakes are amazing as well. I want to try more on their menu because it looks great but I can’t get past my Bacon Blue. Plus on my birthday it’s free! Sorry Jamaican buffet, you know I love you.

Winner: Joe’s Farm Grill

No. 2 Crazy’s vs. No. 7 The Farmhouse

It probably wasn’t fair to throw Gilbert and Chandler together because honestly Gilbert is going to hand it to Chandler in this thing. Crazy’s is a top notch Chinese buffet but The Farmhouse makes me feel like I’m being raised on a farm and treated to the all-American downhome cook’n that accompanies such a lifestyle. Plus, GIANT CINNAMON ROLLS!!

Winner: The Farmhouse
No. 3 Biscuits vs. No. 6 Hot Pots

This region has TWO Jamaican food restaurants. No way they both go out in the first round, right? Wrong! Biscuits is a newcomer in every sense of the word, both in this tournament and in the fact that I first tried them this month. I didn’t even order their delicious dry aged smoked bacon, my wife thankfully let me try a piece of hers, and I wasn’t disappointed. I got their chicken fried chicken with eggs, hash browns and an amazing buttery flaky biscuit. Best breakfast I’ve had in a while. I should pretend I’m more conflicted about this but I can’t.

Winner: Biscuits

No. 4 The Keg vs. No. 5 Café Rio

Another birthday treat, if you sign up for their birthday club you get a coupon for a free entrée of up to $25 at The Keg. That’s the best birthday deal I’ve ever heard of. The food is great too. At the Gilbert location they have a Prime Burger that quite literally melts in your mouth. Why it is not on the menu at the Tempe location baffles me and probably cost them this match up. Café Rio is another pork burrito juggernaut with a nice Pork Salad as well. Probably in deference to my friend Matt, and because The Keg no longer offers a piece of carrot cake the size of my head, I’ll go with delicious sweet pork.

Winner: Café Rio

Tempe Region

No. 1 YC’s vs. No. 8 Chompie’s

Like most top seed v bottom seed match ups this one is a blowout. Nothing against Chompie’s but YC’s is king. They lost a heartbreaker in the title game last year and have done nothing to deserve losing their No. 1 ranking, except for raising their prices to ridiculous levels. For those who missed the last tourney I’ll give you my sauce recipe again. 4 scoops YC’s sauce, 3 scoops Orange, ½ scoop ginger, 1 scoop garlic, 1 scoop sesame oil and ½ vinegar. You’re welcome.

Winner: YC’s

No. 2 The Chuckbox vs. No. 7 Lucille’s

This is a quote from the last tourney “The Chuckbox just does it right. The menu is small but the choices are mighty. Cooked on an open flame with a grill seasoned by years of yummy. Get the Big Juan with cheese and a side of onion rings and just enjoy the ride.” I submit to you that nothing has changed. Great spot, great burger. Lucille’s is a nice BBQ restaurant in Tempe Marketplace. I like the food a lot but the real reason they are on the list is honey apple butter with biscuits before your meal and a warm wet towel after. It’s splendid but not enough to get past a great burger cooked on an open flame.

Winner: The Chuckbox

No. 3 Oregano’s vs. No. 6 Venezia’s

Venezia’s is a New York style pizza by the slice joint, although ordering an entire pizza to go isn’t a bad call either. It’s pizza the way it ought to taste. Oregano’s is always packed and with good reason. They’ve got good pizza, pasta and oven baked sandwiches (my favorite is the turkey). Oh and they have waffle fries. I can’t explain it but somehow in this case their popularity works against them. It just does.

Winner: Venezia’s

No. 4 Spinato’s vs. No.5 Four Peaks Brewery

I woke up in a cold sweat last night when I realized a neglected to add Four Peaks Brewery to the list. I rectified that this morning, bumping Macayo’s and dropping Lucille’s to a seven seed. Trust me, their French fries alone warrant the move. It’s easy to forget about Four Peaks because it’s impossible to find unless you know where you are going. I’d even rank them higher is their Shrimp Po’ Boy was a regular menus item and not just an occasional special. (Seriously, add it to the menu already!) Spinato’s is a family owned Italian place with outstanding thin crust pizza. Ask for the half Chicago half pepperoni and sausage pizza extra crispy. You can thank me the next time you see me. Their sandwiches are good too but not Shrimp Po’ Boy good.

Winner: Four Peaks Brewery



The Sweet, and in some cases spicy, Sixteen

Mesa Region

No. 1 Culver’s vs. No. 4 Costa Vida

Hasta la vista Costa Vida. Double Butter Burger!! Oh and they have frozen custard and cheese curds. Yummy.

Winner: Culver’s

No. 3 Lenny’s vs. No. 2 Famous Dave’s

My love for my children and the need to validate my proclaimed love of local establishments versus chains if enough to get Lenny’s by my new obsession with Pineapple Rage.

Winner: Lenny’s

Phoenix Region

No. 1 Carolina’s vs. No. 4 BBQ Company

Honestly the competition for each of these two was closer in their first round matchups. Chicken chimichanga! Oh, or cheesy tortilla…or chorizo potato burrito…okay really anything they serve.

Winner: Carolina’s

No. 2 Lo Lo’s vs. No. 3 TexAZ Grill

It comes down to Chicken Fried Chicken versus Fried Chicken. Waffles versus mashed potatoes. Biscuits versus cornbread. I don’t want to pick. I’m just going to close my eyes and point.

Winner: Lo Lo’s Chicken and Waffles

Chandler/Gilbert Region

No. 1 Joe’s Farm Grill vs. No. 4 Café Rio

Won’t even waste your time. I’d have to be in a special kind of a mood to pick Café Rio over Bacon Blue.

Winner: Joe’s Farm Grill

No. 3 Biscuits vs. No. 7 The Farmhouse

I gave serious consideration to doing a breakfast region in large part because of for these two restaurants. Sorry cinnamon rolls I’m going with biscuits from Biscuits.

Winner: Biscuits

Tempe Region

No. 1 YC’s vs. No. 5 Four Peaks Brewery

Although I think I could eat YC’s every day, their price hike put a bad taste in my mouth. A taste I’m hoping to wash away when the Shrimp Po’ Boy makes the everyday menu (hint hint Four Peaks!)

Winner: Four Peaks Brewery

No. 2 The Chuckbox vs. No. 6 Venezia’s

I’m calling this the Tom Blodgett match up, as he called me on the carpet last time for robbing each of these fine establishments. Either way I’m sure I’ll disappoint him again so I’m going with the Big Juan.

Winner: The Chuckbox



The Great Ate…I mean Eight

The Mesa Region

No. 1 Culver’s vs. No. 3 Lenny’s

Hey my kids love the butter burger as well so they’ll get over it.

Winner: Culver’s

Phoenix Region

No. 1 Carolina’s vs. No. 2 Lo Lo’s

This is like asking me to pick between my two favorite adopted ethnic children. It’s not fair. Darn you Phoenix, darn you and your delicious choices!

Winner: Lo Lo’s Chicken and Waffles

Chandler/Gilbert Region

No. 1 Joe’s Farm Grill vs. No. 3 Biscuits

Fine, I’m cheap so I’m giving the edge to the one who gives me free lunch on my birthday. (You hear that Biscuits? You need a birthday club. Really that goes for all the places on this list)

Winner: Joe’s Farm Grill

Tempe Region

No. 2 The Chuckbox vs. No. 5 Four Peaks Brewery

Big Juan? Po’ Boy? Big Juan? Po’ Boy? Let’s see, well I can get the Big Juan any day I want it. So there you have it.

Winner: The Chuckbox



The Final Four

No. 1 Culver’s vs. No. 2 Lo Lo’s

With three burgers in the final four the Double Butter Burger has stiff competition while Lo Lo’s stands alone with deep fried greasy goodness.

Winner: Lo Lo’s Chicken and Waffles

No. 1 Joe’s Farm Grill vs. No. 2 The Chuckbox

You know how to make a great burger into a greater burger? BACON!

Winner: Joe’s Farm Grill



Championship

No. 1 Joe’s Farm Grill vs. No. 2 Lo Lo’s

Last time I decided that since the cuisines were so different that when it came out of regionals I’d pick whichever one I’d choose to eat if I could only eat at one place every day for the rest of my life. If I did that in this case the rest of my life would not be that long. With that in mind I’m going to go with the one that would shorten my life the fastest but bring me the greatest joy in the brief time I had left.

Champion: Lo Lo’s Chicken and Waffles


Let’s hear it. What did I miss? What did I get wrong?

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