Locals and tourists wait for hours outside a nationally renowned pizzeria, forming a line of 50 people, with a three hour wait, that stretches through a downtown historic park.
Take a quick guess: What city is this?
New York? Try again.
Downtown Phoenix’s Pizzeria Bianco, featured in the New York Times and on Oprah, is one of several Phoenix pizza joints gradually convincing people that this sprawling, golf course-laden desert city actually has some culture.
If you haven’t been inside Pizzeria Bianco’s rustic 1929 building and tasted the Rosa pizza, a Parmigiano Reggiano masterpiece liberally coated with red onions and Arizona pistachios, try it now. It’s a rite of passage for true Phoenicians. Chris and Marco Bianco regularly attract celebrities to their restaurant but treat their everyday customers as well as they treated Diane Sawyer when she visited.
But one great restaurant doesn’t make a great city. Phoenix has a diverse line-up of pizzerias that offer top-notch food. For those not interested in Pizzeria Bianco’s rustic charm, maybe a youthful, artsy approach will show off the city’s cuisine.
Cibo Urban Wine Cafe and Pizzeria offers just that. Set in a renovated 1913 bungalow, Cibo does away with the traditional pretenses of Italian restaurants. It provides an original, creative atmosphere and the best food possible — several options of both Pizze Rosse (with tomato sauce) and Pizze Bianche (without tomato sauce), along with a variety of salads, wines and desserts.
Only a restaurant with a backyard and twinkling lights in the trees could truly fulfill Phoenix’s potential. In one of the country’s sunniest cities, Cibo’s expanse of outdoor seating is more than just a bonus — it’s an expression of Phoenix’s identity.
Phoenix isn’t solely an elitist pizza city, though. A friendly, affordable, family-run business, Pino’s Pizza al Centro in midtown is the kind of place where you can meet Pino himself. The melting cheese is mouth-watering, and the waiters are sure to draw a smile. The Quattro Formaggi pizza, with a medley of mild and sharp cheeses with a bitter aftertaste, deserves a try.
Pizza also happens to be the center of Phoenix’s downtown nightlife. At Hanny’s, where a sleek, modern interior complements international-style 1940s architecture, and a dimly lit DJ booth emerges from behind a second-floor sliding door, pizza is the main event. The Prosciutto e Mela pizza, with prosciutto, fontina cheese and apple slices, is one of the city’s most original pizzas.
So why does Phoenix have the reputation of a cultural wasteland? Why are cacti one of the city’s most talked-about features?
Phoenix’s excuses have been its downfall. Not only does the rest of the country ignore the city’s culture, but its residents do, too.
It starts with youth. Labeling Phoenix as a young city is an excuse to ignore its identity. This city does have culture, it does have history and it does have a lot of which to be proud. Some of the local pizzerias have been here for decades; some are new, but they’re all part of a custom that makes Phoenix a great city.
Some people would rather go to Domino’s than to Pizzeria Bianco, or to Starbucks than to Royal at the Market, or to Panda Express than to Nobuo at Teeter House. That’s their problem. But don’t say Phoenix doesn’t have the options.
The truth is, Phoenix is not a new city but an old one with new people, and those people don’t always familiarize themselves with the local traditions. If everyone ignores those traditions enough, they disappear entirely, emptying the city, and the downtown area, of everything that makes it unique.
So whether you came here for the weather, for ASU or for the business opportunities, forget about what you thought you knew about Phoenix. Forget the cacti and the golf courses, and explore the city’s layered culture. Admire the local art, relax at the local cafes and study the local museums. And finish it off with a slice of pizza.
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