Food critic shines light on downtown cuisine

Nobuo at Teeter House, Howard Seftel's favorite restaurant near the light rail, serves Japanese snacks and home-style dishes. (Jack Fitzpatrick/DD)

Downtown Phoenix’s dining scene has exploded in the last decade, providing ASU Downtown students options beyond the typical fast food chains.

Howard Seftel, food critic for the Arizona Republic, shared some of his favorite — and least favorite — restaurants near the light rail in a lecture Tuesday night. The event was part of the Discover Phoenix lecture series, a new program that features guest speakers who inform students about the culture of the city.

Seftel started the presentation with his number one pick: Nobuo at Teeter House. Students may not be interested in the $150 10 to 12-course banquet, but this “Japanese tavern,” as Seftel described it, also features inexpensive pork belly buns and a soft crab shell sandwich on a homemade bun.

Close by is the infamous Pizzeria Bianco, dubbed “the best pizza in America” by the New York Times. Almost more famous than its pizza is its history of three-hour waiting lines. New lunch hours, however, make the wait for Pizzeria Bianco more reasonable.

A more practical pizza alternative for college students is Cibo. This nearly 100-year-old bungalow features a wood fired oven that makes delicious pizza — good enough for Seftel to rank as “first rate.”

Seftel also mentioned Matt’s Big Breakfast, which was featured on Food Network’s show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” The critic said the big slabs of ham with the bone in and thick, hearty bacon makes for an unmatched breakfast.

“You’d think pancakes are pancakes, waffles are waffles and syrup is syrup,” Seftel said, explaining the restaurant’s high-quality ingredients. “Well it is not.”

Seftel then continued on to Vitamin T, the local taco bar in CityScape. He said it appears as one of the most attractive from a student’s perspective because three tacos cost only $7. It also has a large salsa bar and, for those 21 and over, ice cold beers and good margaritas at affordable prices.

Thai Elephant and Thai Basil made Seftel’s list of recommended ethnic restaurants. Moira Sushi also made it on the list as the only “real Japanese place” nearby.

Viet Kitchen is also another exotic option on Seftel’s list. The restaurant offers pho soup filled with noodles, meat and broth that leaves students with a full stomach and without a lighter wallet.

Attracted to the diversity the Viet Kitchen offers, journalism freshman Lauren Handley said, “The giant noodle bowl reminds me of a place at home.”

Some restaurants made the list for the wrong reasons. Majerle’s topped Seftel’s list of least favorite restaurants, followed by Bliss/ReBAR and Alice Cooperstown.

New to come to the Phoenix area are The Breakfast Club — another eatery that is expected to do as well as the Scottsdale location, The Strand – fast, casual Italian pizza and pasta, and Silk Sushi – a pan Asian food restaurant.

“You don’t really get the chance to travel outside of a couple blocks,” said Kyle Payne, a freshman journalism student. “This gives you some place to take the family.”

Payne struggles for options that support his college budget but has found 1130 and El Portal add something new to his plate.

College towns will always have places like Hooters and The Tilted Kilt, but Seftel thinks Phoenix has something more.

Before downtown’s redevelopment, Seftel says, he may not have had much to say to students about dining options

“Ten years ago, I would have been out of here 20 minutes ago,” he said.

A backstage tour of the Herberger Theater Center is the next destination for the Discover Phoenix series and will take place Tuesday, Sept. 20.

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