So what is so Great about Gilbert, Arizona? My best food friend Eric did a great job of compiling some information about his favorite food spots. I am sure he could have gone on and on forever! I live in Surprise and we always try to one up each other with great places out in “our” side of town. Gilbert is one place, I will admit, is worth the drive! Besides great eateries, the small old town feel and general good attitude make it a wonderful place to visit and bring out of town guests. I hope you all enjoy this post, and drive out to check some of these places out. If you have already visited any of them, please comment on your experiences, I would love to hear them.
Downtown Gilbert – Heritage District
10 places – 40 Plus Stars
Gilbert, Arizona is a town known for fast population growth, low crime, very involved policemen, decent home value, lots of married people, good schools, agriculture, and many, many chain restaurants. Gilbert had just over 5,000 residents in 1980. From 1980 to 2000 they added 100,000 people. From 2000 to 2010 they added another 100,000 . One of them being me. I’ll be a Gilbert resident for 13 years this December 7th. Whenever possible I like to drive through the “downtown” section of Gilbert, even though the speed limit is 25 MPH, there are additional stop lights and it takes longer. It makes me happy to be part of the town that has this area. Downtown Gilbert is 1 street wide and 3 streets long. You can tell the buildings are old and that it actually was the main artery back 40, 50, 80 years ago when it was a small town. It definitely has an old western feel to it. When I first moved to Phoenix in 1992, I played softball in Gilbert at Freestone Park. Even then I liked the suburban feel to it. 8 years later I bought the house I still live in. The few blocks of Downtown, called the Heritage District, has turned into quite the place for some decent food. I try and support these places whenever I can. It’s also convenient for me as I both live and work about 3 miles from all these places. The Gilbert Farmer’s Market is also located here, just a block west of the main drag. For those not close to Gilbert, with a potential Saturday morning to waste, I would highly recommend a trip in the pleasant weather months. Maybe a coffee and a Farmers Market trip with a lunch? That combo on a Saturday is hard to beat.
Starting off in numerical address sequence, I’ve wrote a blurb for each of the places located in The Heritage District. All are locally owned and none are chains. Except for Oregano’s, technically. If you look up any of the popular review sites, you’ll see that all of them rate at least 4 stars. I don’t waste time at places that aren’t good, so you have my word that all of these places below are worth a try.
Romeo’s Euro Café – 207 N. Gilbert Rd. www.eurocafe.com
Back in the early to late 90’s Romeo’s was located in Mesa across the street from a once thriving Fiesta Mall. I would go there occasionally when I had money or a date. Having both at the same time was very rare. Romeo’s is heavily Greek and Mediterranean influenced and the menu choices are vast. The Adobe menu on their website counts 17 pages! The pasta dishes are excellent. Romeo’s was the first place I had arancini. Cooked risotto formed around a few chunks of mozzarella, dipped in egg & bread crumbs and then deep fried until crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. It made such an impression on me that I learned how to make them at home. Another awesome fried appetizer is the feta dill fritters. Same concept as the arancini but this one has gyro meat, feta cheese, dill, spinach and pine nuts. It is a fabulous combo of ingredients. I tricked myself into thinking that the feta dill fritters wouldn’t be such a caloric explosion if I ordered a salad with them. So I did. The balsamic steak salad. Both of them together proved to be a pretty awesome lunch. Romeo’s has a huge selection of home-made desserts on display in the pastry case. They are also serious about coffee with a full espresso bar and a pretty serious wine list. I was forced to sample the pecan bar and the Florentine for this assignment. Romeo’s version of the Florentine is a slim layer of thin almonds just barely held together with a light crunchy coating of caramelly glue, with one side covered in dark chocolate. Not too sweet, not too light, mediumly rich and ultra-delicious. The pecan bar was also superb. The service at lunch was also first rate. The location is tucked away, on the smaller side, and has an intimate yet casual feel to it.
They have wine dinners and different special events so check the website if any of that interests you.
So-Cal Fish Taco Company – 219 N. Gilbert Rd. www.socalfishtacos.com
SoCal just opened in May of this year. The father & son team also owns The Seafood Market at Val Vista & Baseline, just barely in Mesa. Fish taco choices include; cod, tilapia, mahi, blackened grouper, salmon, ahi and shrimp. The cod is fried, the rest of the fish broiled and the shrimp sautéed. They also have fresh mussels and steamed clams. The menu has other non-fish taco choices including chicken, carnitas and carne asada. You can also make any fish a salad or a wrap. The patio is large with many misters and umbrellas. The patio should be a huge draw in the months that are not June, July or August. It always amazes me how many people still eat outside in those months. The inside eating area is relatively small and the entire place is modeled with a surfer fish taco shack vibe, one that you would see on a surfer beach. Hence the name “So-Cal”? Prices for the fish tacos are between $6-8 for 2 tacos & a small amount of rice & beans. Everything is available for take-out as well and they have a decent bottled beer selection. If you’re on the go and need a quicker stop for lunch, have a larger party for the patio during the pleasant months and want to have a few beers, or are just in the mood for seafood & fish tacos, this is a great choice.
The Farmhouse Restaurant – 228 N. Gilbert Rd. www.farmhouseofgilbert.com
The Farmhouse is the East Valley epicenter for breakfast places. Run by a mother & daughter team, they’ve won a ton of awards in the mid 90’s thru the mid 2000s’, prior to any real competition. The quality is still the same after all these years and everything I have ever tried here is good. You have to give props to a business that can be successful for this long, being open from 6AM to 2PM. The Farmhouse poses one huge problem though. It is ALWAYS PACKED! I try really hard to never to have to wait anywhere to eat. Even if this means I have to eat dinner at with the older crown at 5:30PM. Maybe I am the older crowd now? The early dinner strategy obviously doesn’t work at the Farmhouse. I’m not yet old enough for the 6:00AM breakfast on the weekends and hope I never get there. Sadly, this results in me RARELY going to The Farmhouse. I can’t remember the last time I was there. The line on weekend mornings is easily 30-40 deep and waits are lengthy. The restaurant might seat 40. There are also waits on days that are not Saturday or Sunday. Liberty Market (see below) is directly next door, has good food, is a nice alternative, but doesn’t really make a dent in the activity at The Farmhouse. I’m using this CCTOMB assignment to clear the cobwebs and get back to my early Gilbert days and visit The Farmhouse. I decided to go first thing before work on a Friday morning. I arrived at 6:05. 3 tables had folks at them already and I was the 8th person there. I had the spinach, mushroom & cheese omelet with home fries and a side of bacon. The no meat in the omelet was by design, so I could order the bacon. The coffee comes in a big mug and has a nice roasted diner flavor to it. All of it was excellent. Highly recommended. Plan accordingly for waiting or go really early.
Liberty Market – 230 N. Gilbert Rd. www.libertymarket.com
Liberty Market is the third jewel in the Joe’s Family of restaurants. Joe’s Real BBQ and Joe’s Farm Grill being the other two. Place your order at the counter after looking at a printed menu, get a number, sit down and they bring you your food. I can personally vouch for the egg salad, grilled cheese, a Cuban panini, and the Italian. At the top of my list would be the Hollywood Cobb salad & The Rancher. The Hollywood Cobb has a ton of blue cheese crumbles and bacon. I typically only order salads when I am trying to eat better but this one is worth ordering when you’re NOT trying to eat well. The Rancher roast beef is my other go to. It comes with caramelized onions, blue cheese, arugula & horseradish aioli. YUM. They have a pretty awesome wood fired oven here for the pizzas and other items requiring wood fired roasting. Future potential dinner choices that sound awesome are the Apricot Chicken and Flat Iron Steak with Mr. Pibb marinade & chimichurri sauce. They also have a top notch espresso bar that they call E61 and I will be eating breakfast there soon, I predict. On a recent visit I had a meatball panini which was great. It came with a nice dipping sauce of tangy tomato sauce and parmesan. Liberty Market is definitely worth a stop.
Postino East – 302 N. Gilbert Rd. www.postinowinecafe.com
Postino opened their 3rd location here in May of 2012. It is housed in a building that has been 5 different places since 2000. The original Postino opened over in the Arcadia neighborhood in Phoenix in 2001 and was one of the first places that offered more approachable and reasonably priced wines, in a setting that had appetizers and meals that weren’t snooty or expensive. The third Postino location is on Central ave. just north of Camelback. Over the years they have also added a nice list of craft beers for the beer folks as well. Hip and trendy could be words to describe all the Postino locations. I don’t usually seek out hip and trendy so let’s use cool and fashionable instead. All the Postino’s have a cool vibe and some unique décor. They have a ton of outdoor seating, a bocce ball court, lots of glass and glass paned vertical garage doors to create an open air feel for almost the entire restaurant, during the pleasant months of course. Care also goes into their music playlist, which I am a big fan of. A fan in both the selections and the fact that they took the time to make sure all their music is good. Postino’s menu consists of at least a dozen bruschetta choices, 8 paninis and some simpler appetizer choices. Everything is very reasonably priced at under $10 except for the pick 4 bruschetta, which is $14 and easily serves 2 or more. On a recent visit I had the Nine Iron Panini. Grilled chicken breast, crispy bacon, fresh burrata (soft mozz) lettuce, a tomato that tasted like a tomato, and a light Dijon mayo. Think tasty and bacon-y chicken club with a bright & light cheese on a ciabatta bun that’s both crisp and soft. I also had a couple pints of the local San Tan Epicenter Ale which was on tap. San Tan Brewery is a local operation located in downtown Chandler which is also worth going to. The sandwich was great, the beer was great and I chatted with a semi-retired guy from Philly for 30 minutes. I can’t wait to go back. Waits are long here too so plan accordingly. The Postino Group also owns Windsor, Federal Pizza and Churn, all right by each other near Central and Camelback. Joyride Taco House, immediately next door to Postino in Gilbert and immediately below right here, is also theirs.
Joyride Taco House – 302 N. Gilbert Rd. www.joyridetacohouse.com
Modern & yet retro, bright, stylish, young, energetic, are all words I would use to describe Joyride. It just opened on June 4th and, based on the folks waiting to get in when I drive by, appears to be quite the success. I swung by at lunch and demolished 3 plump tacos. 1 each of Carnitas, Short Rib and Carne Asada. I debated getting the Conchita Pibil (slow roasted Yucatan style pork) but will save that for next time. Each taco has a slightly different set of accompaniments. Tomatillo salsa, fire roasted salsa, cabbage, cilantro, cotija cheese, onion gastrique, were all super fresh and flavorful. I look forward to trying the guajillo pepita and charred habanero salsas. I wished I wasn’t there for lunch during the week because I for sure would have had a cucumber serrano or blood orange margarita, or draft beer. They have 8 beers on draft of which one is Negro Modelo, which I am a fan of. I might stop by on the way home today to just have a beer for this grueling self imposed “assignment”. The overall beer, cocktail and tequila choices they have look to be pretty exciting. I guess what would be expected from this ownership group. Joyride also has the same open air feel that will be awesome during the more pleasant weather months. A nice sized side yard with umbrellas, shade trees and lounge chairs adds to the open feeling. Tacos are priced between $3.50 and $4.25 and 2 are enough for 95% of the normal population. I’ve read lots of positive things on the burritos, tortas and desserts but have only been here once. The dessert I’ll definitely be trying is the “Mo’s Definitely”, which consists of house-made vanilla pudding, caramel sauce, bananas, salted pecans, and a conchinita (think caramel and cinnamon flavored) cookie. YUM.
Joe’s Real BBQ – 301 N. Gilbert Rd. www.joesrealbbq.com
It’s hard to believe that this place has been here for 15 years, and that I’ve been eating here for…15 years. I know there are other quality BBQ places in Phoenix but I believe this one to be the best. I may have surpassed a 100 visits here with all the work lunches and take-outs over the years. Not one time have I ever had a meal there that was less than great. The ribs, sliced brisket, pulled pork and hot link are my faves. The cheesy potatoes and macaroni and cheese are excellent. They make their own root beer which is a little spicy and very delicious. The root beer goes great with the BBQ too. Joe’s is cafeteria style and they do A TON of business. One reason the food is always so fresh, in addition to it just being great, is because they move so much of it there’s no chance for it to sit there. They have 3 huge smokers out back that are worth a peek if you go. The Joe’s story online is pretty cool as well. I find it interesting that Joe was the founder of The Coffee Plantation, which was the Starbucks of the early to mid 90’s in Phoenix and beyond. Yes, there really was a time in Phoenix when there wasn’t Starbucks. Crazy, I know. Check it out the story on the Joe’s site if you have the time. They also own Liberty Market across the street and Joe’s Farm Grill 6 miles away. All 3 places are committed to the food, the service and making sure the customers are happy.
Bergies Coffee Roast House – 309 N. Gilbert Rd. www.bergiescoffee.com
Bergies is a comfy little house with a huge front yard that has a really cool, relaxed vibe to it. Brothers Bruce and Brian are the owners and are involved in the entire process from start to finish. It’s another place that thrives in the pleasant weather months and has plenty of outside seating. Bergies roasts all their beans onsite and sell them by the pound as well. They will even roast beans to custom specifications, if that’s something that interests you. My friend Steph’s favorite beans are the Nicaraguan. If you have a coffee grinder at home and grind your own beans, this is the place to acquire them. They’re super-fresh whole beans that were just roasted and sell for $12.95 a pound. They never sell anything that’s been roasted over 2 weeks ago. You’re guaranteed fresh beans. They also sell quality baked goods from a local baker. The cinnamon roll, chocolate brownie and spice muffin have all been sampled by me with a thumbs up. Bergies is also at the Gilbert Farmers Market, just across the street from their store, every Saturday from 7AM to 11AM. Go to Bergies, you won’t be disappointed.
Oregano’s Pizza Bistro – 328 N. Gilbert Rd. www.oreganos.com
At the 13 location mark in AZ, and a merger with a restaurant acquisition firm in 2008, Oregano’s is a chain. It really is a good chain though. Chicago Thin Crust Pizza is what I grew up on and Oregano’s does a great one. They also do stuffed and pan pizza but I’ve never tried them since the thin crust is too good to pass up. On the sandwich front The Meatball, Big Beef and The Italian Sausage and all legit…and huge. The Hot Wings, believe it or not, are some of the best wings out there. The Big Beefstro Salad is also excellent. Oregano’s also has one dessert. It’s called The Original Pizza Cookie. It’s a half pound of cookie dough (either chocolate chip, peanut butter & chocolate or white chocolate macadamia nut) maybe halfway baked in a pizza pan served with three scoops of vanilla bean ice cream on top. It’s outstanding. Their menu says it serves 2-4 and I would agree. All of the portions here are large and you will most likely be taking something home. The servers also typically have a great personality and sense of humor that adds to the overall good service. The Gilbert location on Friday’s and Saturday’s often has waits of 45 minutes to 2 hours. Even calling an order in for pickup can have a 90 minute to 2 hour wait. Off peak times are obviously key to success to eliminate waiting. Prior to the Gilbert location opening my family and I would often make the short trip to the Tempe and Mesa locations. Based on the wait times and borderline madness, it’s been quite some time since I’ve been to the Gilbert Oregano’s. I have been to the Elliot and Priest one within the last year. An additional reason for the Oregano’s layoff is that I don’t have my old partner in crime to go with me anymore, which then makes me depressed. If you do go, check on the wait times and be prepared for great food. Oregano’s is the only place I haven’t revisited for this assignment. I debated leaving work to go there and have a Pizza Cookie by myself but then I would have to address being an indulgent overeater and I would rather live with my powerful state of denial. Plus, going there and not ordering a thin crust pizza, would just be dumb.
Flancer’s – 610 N. Gilbert Rd. http://www.flancers.com/
Technically not in the Heritage District, it just misses by 2 blocks. Slightly north of the downtown action, Flancer’s opened in 2000 and I’ve been going there since…2000. Their little mascot emblem is a goat wearing sunglasses playing an electric guitar. The place has an eclectic feel and upbeat personality and is decorated in old album covers. “Old Album” may be redundant but I’m going with it anyway. The covers cover a wide variety of artists but most fall under the classic rock or pop category. Frampton, Hendrix, Billy Joel, Journey, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Ramones, AC/DC, The Village People, Blues Brothers, Madness, Dylan and….Don Ho, Sinatra and Louis Prima. Every time I’m in there I always look at the albums and reminisce about playing them. If you’re old enough, you’ll know what I mean. Flancer’s is often involved in local fund raising efforts and annually has a pizza eating contest that benefits The Wounded Warrior Project. In 2011 they raised over $31,000. Pretty impressive.
Flancer’s is my all time leader in appearances. Meaning, I’ve been there more than any other restaurant that doesn’t serve Taco Supremes or Sausage McMuffins. I’m proud to say at least 4 Flancer’s team members know my name. Flancer’s is another place where you can’t go wrong with whatever you choose on the menu. The Philly cheesesteak is the sandwich I’ve ordered there the most. It’s not exactly a replica of an authentic Philly but that doesn’t mean it’s not as good. The Chile Verde Birdie, with avocado, bacon, provolone & green chile mayo is also outstanding. Prickly Pear Chicken and It’s About Thyme (balsamic thyme marinade) are both great as well. I never have ordered a burger but I did have a bite of one once and it was also tasty. I can also vouch for the Awesome Balsam Chicken Salad and Prickly Pear Caesar if you’re in the mood for not a sandwich. They bake their own bread throughout the day and sell it to go. The pizza, which is more of a New York style, is always good. They have a second location in Mesa and are open for lunch and dinner. I once went for lunch and Big Myke was my server. That same night before leaving work I called home to ask my wife what she wanted for dinner, as I knew in advance I was bringing something home. She told me she wanted Flancer’s. Instead of suggesting something else since I had just been there, I quickly agreed. I placed the order over the phone, walked in for pickup and Big Myke was there to greet me again. ‘Hey Eric! Twice in one day! Ties a record!”
If you’re in Gilbert or the surrounding East Valley, or are visiting, eat at one of these local establishments. You will not be disappointed.