I recently went to Arizona for White Sox spring training. I was pumped. I had never gone before and couldn’t wait. Two of my cousins were going with me and one of my uncles that I hadn’t seen in a while decided to fly out from the east coast to meet up with us. The weather was almost in the 80’s. Life seemed good. Almost too good…
After landing in Phoenix my cousins and I immediately went to meet up with my uncle who was staying in Scottsdale. He took us to Breakfast Club, a typical but decent breakfast diner. It was just nice to sit outside, enjoy coffee and bacon and eggs served up with sunshine and a cloudless sky. After that we went to the field in Glendale for the Sox game (they lost), had some Chicago style hotdogs (thankfully Vienna beef was there and not some sketchy stadium fake hotdogs), and just sat back and relaxed with a stadium of other Chicagoans fleeing from winter (not even kidding, half of Chicago was there; our plane was all people going to the game and already dressed in their Sox and Cubs gear). So far so good!
After the game we headed back to Scottsdale to get dinner with my uncle. He is a HUGE sports fan so he took us to Don and Charlie’s, a sports oriented steak house owned by former Rogers Park residents. The restaurant looked like a museum and every inch of wall space was covered with sports memorabilia. Willie Mays was sitting by the entrance signing autographs. The place was awesome. And we didn’t have a reservation.
So of course we couldn’t get a seat. With spring training in session, Willie Mays hanging out, and this typically being a tourist stop getting a seat any of the days we were there was out of the question. I feel almost guilty for saying this since my uncle loves Don and Charlie’s, but I’m actually a little glad we couldn’t get a table. The menu looks ok but it’s your typical steak house menu (think shrimp cocktail, French onion soup, roasted chicken, steaks, etc) and typical steak house prices. Pricy + boring isn’t really my thing, but by the time we left Don and Charlie’s every other restaurant in the area was completely packed. We ended up eating at a chain restaurant, Yard House, which was ok food (typical bar food leaning more towards trendy cuisine, think truffle fries, sliders, Cuban sandwiches, short rib tacos, etc) but a pretty decent beer list. Oddly enough I think I preferred eating at Yard House since it was a bit off the main streets and kind of hidden which made it a bit quieter than the rest of the places nearby.
Day two led us back to Scottsdale for the Giants vs Brewers game. Breakfast Club for breakfast again was a good way to start the day. Food at the Giants stadium was lacking though, the highlight being the kettle corn. Also almost all the stands were cash only which I wish I had known before I went, so drinks were kept to a minimum to save what little cash I had on me for the rest of the trip. After the game we walked around and went to some of the shops, then got food at a very generic, bland Mexican restaurant. I’ll stick with tacos from Atotnilco’s on 57th and Kedzie, La Haciendita on 47th and Kedzie, or Tacos Erendira on 32nd and Halsted. Much better quality food and no college kids on spring break who are two beers away from needing their stomachs pumped.
Day three we ate at the airport and held out for real food until we got home. I contemplated how to turn my blog idea for where to eat in Arizona into something new. All I kept coming back to was how much I hate being in touristy areas because it is almost impossible to find good food for prices that won’t drain your bank account. It’s not just Arizona either. In Toronto we wandered for an hour in Chinatown until finding the perfect little hidden joint next to a grocery store with freshly killed chickens hanging in the window and scaring away everyone but the locals. In Boston the tourists either eat at chain restaurants or the overly pricey places on Newberry Street. In Amsterdam tourists stick to around Central Station or Dam Square, both boasting frites or Argentinian steak houses but no authentic Dutch cuisine.
Chicago is sadly in the same boat. At Navy Pier our tourists can enjoy Margaritaville or Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. When pulling up chicagotraveler.com two out of six recommended restaurants to eat at near the pier are at Trump Tower (Terrace and Sixteen) and let’s face it, who can afford to eat at places like that for several days in a row? While enjoying the Mag Mile tourists can grab a bite at Michael Jordan’s steak house, Ghirardelli Chocolates, Cheesecake Factory, or Billy Goat Tavern (which they can also get at Navy Pier) or a bunch of other places that are priced in the $26-$30 range. While hanging out near Grant Park tourists are bombarded by chain restaurants (Café Baci) or mediocre sushi (Hot Wok Cool Sushi) or decent but pricy places (Terzo Piano, but to be fair I had one of the best lamb sliders I have ever eaten in my life there). Even in River North in the midst of some of the best restaurants in the city you still see people heading towards the familiar tourist traps: Weber Grill, Ed Debevics, Rainforest Café, Hard Rock café, etc. Which leads to another question: do tourists actually want to eat well?
Think about it for a minute. How do these places stay open? Do tourists actually not mind eating at mediocre restaurants that only serve what they are familiar with? Are they ok with paying exorbitant prices for things that may be a little out of the ordinary or slightly more upscale than what they are used to? Is it possible that, when in an unfamiliar location, they cling to chain restaurants or typical menus to give us a sense of stability and comfort? Or are they just too lazy to venture off the beaten path or do serious research about eating at their destination? Are they too scared to ask the locals where to eat or are the locals giving them bogus answers to keep the best restaurants to themselves?
If anyone has the answers let me know. Until then, I am going to try to stay clear of the tourist traps and keep researching to ensure that I don’t have any more Scottsdale experiences. I get cranky when I’m deprived of good food