The Unvegan

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Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame 2017
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‘Mac and Cheese’

Mac and More at Cold Beers and Cheeseburgers

What lies beneath?

I went into Cold Beers and Cheeseburgers expecting to get some cold beer and a cheeseburger. And pretty immediately, I knew this would not be the case. It started with a delay to my beer because they were out of what I wanted. That was fine, because places run out of beer all the time and so I went ahead and ordered a new one. But then, I was told that it was Monday and that meant $12 build your own mac and cheese with basically whatever the hell you want in it.

Eating a Dinosaur at Naked BBQ

I dig dinos.

There are certain aspects of the Phoenix area that are tough to get used to. Not in the sense that they are bad in any way, just that they are different. You see, I spent much of my life thinking that good food is a pretty rare find in a strip mall or as a standalone building in the parking lot of a strip mall. But, when a city is basically all strip malls, the good food simply has to be there. Thus, while my expectations of BBQ spots are generally a bit less pristine than a strip mall, I couldn’t pass up the chance to check out Naked BBQ in Scottsdale.

All the Meats at Bootleggers BBQ

Just one look.

It’s hard to make BBQ trendy. It is inherently something that people have very specific expectations for, and anything “new” and good is almost always a minor tweak that makes a real difference. So where can innovation come from? Booze. At least that’s what Bootleggers BBQ in Phoenix was thinking, offering a pretty snazzy modern divey bar that also serves up BBQ. It’s like a gastropub meets a BBQ spot and I was eager to see how the meat would hold up.

Drowning in Sweet Magnolia Smokehouse

Wet.

Like in LA, food trucks are a thing in the Phoenix area. And it makes much more sense here because everything is so damn spread out. Pasadena spoiled me. But I digress. The good news is that my office is all about bringing food trucks in every month (not for free, of course) to mix things up and to keep us from driving literal miles to the nearest food. This last time, it was Sweet Magnolia Smokehouse, serving up BBQ.

Mac and ‘Cue at Blue Tractor BBQ

Too much good stuff.

It would have been much more convenient to go to Blue Tractor BBQ in Ann Arbor. After all, I seem to get there about once a year. The trouble is that every time I’m there I can’t help but stop at Zingerman’s, with an occasional other restaurant thrown in once every blue (or maize) moon. Instead, I went to the location a number of hours further away in Traverse City, Michigan, not far from Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Ribs and Eggs at Ice House BBQ

All charred up.

At 8 miles around, Mackinac Island is known for a few things. A beautiful hotel, horses, bikes and even some food. That food is fudge, so I’ll not bother with writing about how Murray’s Fudge is the best, but the island is not without other restaurants catering to the throngs of tourists that make their way and need something to eat. On this visit, we left the main drag and found Ice House BBQ.

Damn Near Perfection at Tokyo Fried Chicken

Bears and chicken.

You don’t really associate Japan with fried chicken. I mean, sure, if you’ve spent enough time in Japan or with Japanese food you have undoubtedly discovered karaage and more, but those aren’t exactly Earth-shattering compared to the fried chicken of the American South or even the fried chicken of Japan’s neighbor buddy (kind of), Korea. But Tokyo Fried Chicken in Monterey Park is doing its best to change that perception.┬áSo when it came down to choosing new restaurants or eating at old favorites before making the move to Phoenix, Tokyo Fried Chicken is where I found myself eating my last reviewable meal as a resident of Southern California (at least for now!).

Exotic Tube Meats at Biker Jim’s Gourmet Sausages

Fried mac, sausage, can’t lose.

Could there be a more inviting name for a sausage spot than Bike Jim’s Gourmet Dogs? You’d be hard-pressed to find one, but that only partly explains the rise of this brick and mortar that began as a simple (and yet gourmet) hot dog cart. I went to the location in downtown Denver and struggled to find the right sausage for me.

Fried and Cheesed at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken

Perfection in red checkers.
Perfection in red checkers.

Probably the best thing about The South is its food. And what’s even better is when that food leaves The South for the rest of the world. Such is Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, which has made its way to Los Angeles. Of course, some might say Los Angeles is south, but it sure isn’t The South, which make’s Gus’s all the more lovely in it’s little corner adjacent to Koreatown (fine, Crenshaw).

Plattered Up at Zeke’s Smokehouse

All the things, please.
All the things, please.

What is Montrose? For the first 6+ years I lived in LA I probably would have answered that it is some sort of mythical creature composed of combining a mongoose with an albatross. The fact is that it is neither. Instead, it is a town up near Pasadena, built into the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. And in that town is a restaurant called Zeke’s Smokehouse.