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16. Get on board the flavor train
Episode 1621st November 2022 • Storylines • Valley Metro
00:00:00 00:22:22

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In this episode Brittany and Maddie work up an appetite talking with David Bickford, the writer of the PHX Rail Food blog, about the hundreds of restaurants along the light rail he’s reviewed over the years. Then, we speak to riders in Phoenix about their favorite places to eat off the light rail.

Transcripts

Brittany:

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of your daily commute?

Madeline:

or how transportation impacts the community you call home?

Brittany:

Maybe you want to explore outside your community and don't know where to start.

Madeline:

Well, you're in luck because this is where you hop on.

Brittany:

I'm Brittany Hoffman...

Madeline:

And I'm Madeline Phipps.

Brittany:

We work in Communications for Valley Metro, and together we'll discover all the ways that public transit enhances lives across the cities we serve.

Madeline:

And we might even make some new friends along the way.

Brittany:

Welcome to Storylines.

Hey Maddie.

Madeline:

Hey, Brittany!

Brittany:

Do you know what's right around the corner?

Madeline:

Thanksgiving, I believe.

Brittany:

Oh yeah. And what's our favorite topic to talk about at Thanksgiving dinner?

Madeline:

Tips for how to not bring up politics with your family members during the meal.

Brittany:

You got it. And we're definitely not talking politics here. We're talking food!

Madeline:

Oh, that's right. The other major thing that we talk about at Thanksgiving,

Brittany:

Oh yeah. And we get lots of food. There's all the fixings. And guess what else has lots of food options, Maddie.

Madeline:

You tell me.

Brittany:

Traveling through the light rail corridor! You have options in Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa to choose from. The possibilities are endless!

Madeline:

And don't forget the streetcar! So there's even more rail adjacent food in Tempe to check out too.

Brittany:

All of this talk about food is making me very hungry.

Madeline:

okay. Well you're about to get even hungrier because we are talking with one of the OG food bloggers here in the Phoenix area, he has been riding light rail since it opened and combining that with his love of food too. So let's hear from our special guest.

David:

Hi, my name is David Bickford and my real job is as the director of a college library. But the reason we're talking today is because as a hobby, in my spare time, I write a blog called PHX Rail Food, which is a guide to good eating along the light rail and streetcar lines in Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa.

And you can find that at P-H-X Rail, R-A-I-L-food.com.

Brittany:

Awesome. So how often and where do you use transit?

David:

I use it weekdays as part of my commute. Usually it's a mixed mode commute involving some bike riding some distance and light rail the rest of the way into my office downtown. On weekends, as a family, we'll sometimes use it to go to events in downtown Phoenix or downtown Tempe, where it's often the most efficient way to get places.

Madeline:

All right, so moving over to the blog. How did you decide to start this blog? What inspired you to have this project?

David:

nd that we have to go back to:

I wanted to sort of have my own angle and not copy everyone else, and I thought, how can I combine an interest in rail transit and urban vitality with an interest in food? And I said, well, this project, this massive public works project, is pretty far along and it's gonna open soon, why not see if I can synthesize the two.

And so here I am 15 years later and I'm a stubborn person and I haven't stopped.

Madeline:

Wow, that's quite an accomplishment. So you've actually been blogging alongside the light rail as it's grown up in the Valley.

David:

Yeah, and it has varied in its intensity. There have been times when, life has just gotten busy and I've had to go a month or two without even giving it a thought. There are other times when I've been able to keep up a pretty good cadence of posting one review per week, which is kind of the ideal I shoot for.

I know because it's a hobby rather than a job that I can take a break, come back to it as needed, but I've never wanted to walk away from it entirely.

Brittany:

That's so good to hear because there are plenty of more places for you to explore. As you know, the landscape of food ever changes and our expanding system will obviously include more food in the future. So how did you decide on food? You said you're in a food community, so what really piqued your interest?

David:

Well it's as basic as I enjoy eating, and I particularly enjoy trying new foods. I mean, one of the other reasons that I started the blog was I found that my wife and I were tending to go to the same favorite restaurants over and over again, and they were great places, but I wanted to sort of prod myself to be a little more adventurous, to get out of my comfort zone, try some new places, some new types of food.

d he had this project back in:

And so I thought that's kind of the way to give yourself a means of trying a lot of things, to just kind of say, I want to go from end to end along a certain corridor. In this case, it's rail transit rather than a street, but it's a similar idea.

Madeline:

So, of course the light rail travels within the Valley, but specifically in Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa. Are there certain characteristics that you've noticed about the restaurants in those different cities?

David:

I have, and they've changed over the 15 years. So thinking about when I started, in downtown Phoenix, It was a lot of places that catered to the weekday lunch crowd. They were open maybe from 11 to three. They served really good food, and then they were completely dark nights and weekends. In Tempe, it was more international, more diverse, along Apache Boulevard in particular with lots of Middle Eastern and Asian restaurants. And then in Mesa, you were just beginning to see the first signs of that Asian district around Dobson Road beginning to emerge.

little later, I think around:

Brittany:

You have obviously, seen so much change throughout the Valley. What's the biggest surprise that you've seen throughout the corridor?

David:

I think I never expected that downtown Mesa would have as many breweries and kind of beer and cocktail oriented places as it has now. I think that there are a lot of stereotypes about Mesa in terms of being, you know, very conservative or sort of dry town, and it's still a very family friendly place, I mean, I like to take my kids to the museums in downtown Mesa, but it also has a nightlife scene now too, which is and sort of adult beverages, and it's really nice.

Madeline:

If you had family or friends come visit from out of town, is there somewhere you would take them for like the quintessential, "take the light rail to a restaurant" experience?

David:

Yeah, it sort of depends on what I know, the taste and the interests of the people to be. But, but let's say that they're... they've never been to Phoenix and they want a bit of Phoenix history. You know, you could go to the Stockyards, which is by the 50th Street/Washington Station, or Durant's near Encanto/Central Station because those are both these steakhouses that have been around for decades and all sorts of deal making has gone on within their walls. There's all sorts of history on the walls, different pictures, different photographs of events over the years. So that might be a good way to situate them in the history of Phoenix.

Then if I wanted to give them a little contrast to say, that was then and this is now, this is the present of what a dynamic and diverse metropolitan area we've become, then I might say let's go over to, West Mesa and go someplace in the Asian district. Like there's a restaurant, Shaanxi, it's on the northeast corner I believe, of Dobson and Maine, near the Sycamore station. And there you get this regional Chinese food or even the food court in the H Mart supermarket on the other side of Main Street there with a lot of different Korean foods.

So that would show kind of a more modern emphasis. And, and the final thing I'd add is if we can talk about future rail corridors under construction, I'd definitely say go down to South Phoenix and go to some of the places there that reflect the strong Hispanic traditions in food that exist in our city.

Brittany:

You kind of touched on it a little bit earlier. Some of your inspirations on, you know, where you find ideas to go to these different restaurants, but do you have like a list you're ready to attack and go visit all these places? Or is it more spur the moment? How do you decide which ones you're gonna cover?

David:

So, In the same kind of wonky fashion that I blog about all this, I also maintain all these lists on Google Maps. All these like want to go lists and they're segmented. So I'll have one for South Central, I'll have one for the Capitol, I'll have one for Mesa Asian District, one for Tempe, et cetera, one for 19th Ave.

And that helps me keep track of places that I have not tried but I want to try at some point. How I act on those lists, I, you know, it's not always systematic. It may be opportunity, it may be am I doing something in that part of town and I have a free hour for lunch, and I'll look and say, okay, on that list, what two or three places are nearby and take advantage of that.

But definitely keeping lists, working through them, that is how I keep myself going.

Madeline:

So do you have any idea how many restaurants you've covered and written about in 15 years?

David:

So currently posted on the site, there are just over 200, I believe it's 209 as of this moment. However, keeping in mind that some places are no longer around or have completely changed what they are, and so I may have deleted prior posts and replaced them with new ones. I'd say actually written over the years, it would be at least 300, maybe 400.

You know, it's a larger number, and then some of the older ones fall off are replaced by newer ones. It's currently at about just over 200.

Brittany:

What's next on your list, or which ones are you looking forward to?

David:

Well, I've gotten kind of interested in African food, which is a type of food that is traditionally underrepresented in the United States in general and in Phoenix in particular. Obviously we have strong African traditions in different American regional cuisines. That's just the legacy of hundreds of years of slavery and the impact that that had on food.

But actual food that is a representation of what would be cooked in Africa today, there are two places. For example, there's one at Park Central, a place called West Hut, which serves food from Ghana, I believe. And then up on 19th Avenue there's a place called Authentic Liberian Cuisine. So I have very little experience with authentic African food, and I'm just now beginning to explore that and enjoy that.

So I hope to emerge from that a little more knowledgable.

Madeline:

Have you ever had a bad meal at a restaurant, and if so, would you still review it or would you just not post that?

David:

So, because I'm not doing this with a budget provided by a newspaper or some media organization, I'm, I'm paying for my own food and that provides the main rationale why I would not post a scathing review, because if I go once or twice and it's terrible, I'm not gonna go the third and the fourth time needed to get a complete picture and describe it accurately. I'm just gonna bail on it. I'm just gonna say that's not for me. I'm not gonna come back. Maybe I'll try again in a few years and see if it's any better.

So I do sometimes write where I think there are strengths and weaknesses on a menu. Like, this place does this well, but not really this other part of the menu, and you can skip that. I will say that. But if an experience isn't an overall net positive for me, then I'm probably not going to keep going back enough times to write something thorough enough to be worthy of posting. Plus, I'm an optimistic type of guy, so I don't like to say mean things, you know?

Madeline:

That's fair.

Brittany:

Well, and I was gonna say, what a nice, like, pleasant way to promote them and your experiences as well, because there are some times where you go to a restaurant and they have something that's so amazing and you wanna go back every time, but everything else you're just like, eh, I could skip it. So, what a positive outlook.

Madeline:

Is there anything else that you wanted to add or share about this project?

David:

The one thing I'd share is that, you know, certainly I know people who are enthusiastic transit users. I know people who don't use it at all. People have a variety of opinions on light rail and light rail expansion. I think what is important to remember is that any place that, whether you hear about it from me or from any other source, if it sounds good, go there.

No matter how you go, even if you're driving your big SUV, go. Because those places are adding to the vitality of our city by being in a sort of urban development corridor, which is what light rail represents above and beyond its role as a transportation medium. And it's also, it's a place just to sort of a common ground where the city comes together at different places.

So I think that if it's not convenient for you to take the train to a particular restaurant, but you hear about it and you want to go there any other way, ride your bike, drive your car, whatever works. I think it's still worth exploring.

Brittany:

Maddie, David said it so perfectly. Downtown Mesa is popping now. Before light rail, it was a little hum and drum. And now light rail has brought so much vitality to that area, including all the breweries, cocktails, and new hot places that you wanna try food.

Madeline:

Okay. So do you have a favorite restaurant in Downtown Mesa that you wanna tell me about?

Brittany:

Of course I do, Maddie. It's called Worth Takeaway, and one of my favorite things about it is they also use local places in the Valley to get some of their materials. All of their dishes include at least one local company to support that meal. So it's a great collaboration between shopping small, staying local, and of course it's delicious food.

Madeline:

That's actually really similar to my favorite restaurant on the light rail. I just went there actually with my family to celebrate my birthday a couple weeks ago. Percepshen, which is on Central Ave, is just a little bit south of Camelback, but they change up their menu almost every week. All of their food is sourced from local Arizona growers or butchers, and the desserts are to die for. So I would highly recommend them.

Brittany:

Desserts, you've got me hooked. I'm in!

Madeline:

Coming up after the break, we're gonna hear from some of our riders about their favorite spots to hit up along a light rail corridor.

Peter C:

Are you considering a job move? Want to join an organization that supports our local communities? Join the team at Valley Metro by going to valleymetro.org/careers.

Alex:

If you see something, say something. Valley Metro Rail has a security and safety app called Alert VM, where you can report issues directly to dispatch and receive service notifications. Download it now from the Google Play or the Apple App store. For more information, visit valleymetro.org/alertvm.

Peter C:

Everyone has the right to feel safe on Valley Metro Bus, rail, street, car, and paratransit services. That's why we developed the Respect the Ride program. Learn all about it at valleymetro.org/respecttheride, all one word.

Brittany:

You already heard Maddie and i's favorite restaurants along the rail line. So what do our riders think of taking rail to different restaurants? Let's hear from them at their favorite places to check out.

Seth:

My name is Seth.

Peter C:

Do you have any favorite place to eat on the light rail?

Seth:

I like Chico Malo.

Peter C:

Any favorite dishes from there?

Seth:

The shrimp tostadas.

Peter:

My name is Peter.

Peter C:

So do you have any places you like to eat off light rail?

Peter:

Fair Trade Cafe. They have good coffee and good ice cream.

Rocky:

Rocky, Rocky Hudson. I like the IHOP down On the Central there.

Peter C:

Any pancakes or particular dishes you like to grab from the IHOP?

Rocky:

Eggs and bacon. Eggs and bacon.

Sabrina:

My name's Sabrina. There's a lot of great places to eat. I'm a biggie for breakfasty type morning stuff. I like to go over to, um, slightly off the beaten path at Crazy Jim's. Off of, it's just like Fourth and Washington. Kinda kitty corner from the finished courthouse.

I like their pancakes in the mornings and if I go over for lunch, they make some really good foods over there. Their burgers are really good. They have fish tacos.

Kathleen:

Kathleen Murca. I just tried it to come from my house to work, so I have to been to Serafina. But I don't think I've been anywhere else downtown. I've only been doing this for two months, so as I expand, I'll probably find some place.

Douglas:

Douglas.

Peter C:

And is there any place you'd like to eat around the light rail?

Douglas:

Yeah, the Wingstop over there on 7th Avenue.

Peter C:

What wings do you like to grab from there?

Douglas:

Mango habanero, bone-in, all drums.

David:

David. I mainly use it for work, to and from work, but I know there are plenty of places that stop. Sometimes I stop up at 3rd and Jefferson to walk over to Kettle Black, which is a pub, which is a real nice place. Good food, good drinks, their fish and chips is great and they pour really good Guinness, so that's, that's important.

Ryan:

Oh, my name's Ryan Engel. Right here in downtown Phoenix is a place right over here called Thai Basil. And they have some really awesome Tha i food, I like to go there.

And there's another one up here the street, Durant's. I go there every once in a while. They have a cut of steak called the Delmonico. And it's kind of one of the only places you can get it in the Valley. The Thai basil I end up liking in the, the Tom Ka and the, um, drunken noodles, what it's called. Pad Thai Noodles.

Sterling:

Sterling Worley. I like Lenny's. Lenny's is good. They have good food, burgers and hot dogs and stuff like that. That's good.

Alero:

Alero Mill.

Peter C:

And what are your favorite place to eat while off the light rail?

Alero:

Fez. And when I go downtown to, I guess I would say all the restaurants near the arena.

Peter C:

Is there any favorite dishes you like to grab from there?

Alero:

Hamburger, fries, sometimes steaks.

Peter C:

Can't go wrong with that. Thank you very much.

Brittany:

You were right Maddie. All this talk about food has made me even more hungry. Now I need to choose which place on the rail line I'm gonna go get my next lunch.

Madeline:

AM to:

Brittany:

Well, that sounds like a jolly holiday to me, and if there's gonna be food, count me in. That's all for this episode of Storylines, but don't forget to subscribe. That way you never miss an episode. And when you do, don't forget to rate and review us as well.

Madeline:

For Valley Metro, I'm Madeline.

Brittany:

I'm Brittany.

Madeline:

Thanks for riding with us.

Brittany:

We'll meet you at the next stop.

Madeline:

Storylines is produced by Peter Corkery, Alex Tsotsos and Dane Ryals. Taylor Dunn is the executive producer. I'm Madeline Phipps with Brittany Hoffman. Thanks for listening.

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