Restaurant Mecca

Are we the new hot spot for dining excellence?

Postino-full

How many successful restaurants does it take to for a place be worthy of a “dining mecca” label? There’s no good answer to that but, by unscientific measures — or just by the looks of it — Arcadia and the surrounding areas seem to be on a fast path to mecca-worthiness. The culinary choices continue to grow and get more inventive, and lucky neighborhood diners are more and more tempted to eschew home-cooked meals for the newest dining experience.

With fresh concepts popping up on Camelback and to the north and south of that bustling corridor — combined with Arizona’s restaurant industry being projected to post the largest growth in sales and jobs (as it did in 2014) in the country — the stars (celestial and those used for restaurant ratings) are aligning in Arcadia and adjacent Biltmore, Paradise Valley and Old Town Scottsdale.

Steak 44, the creation of the Mastro brothers who are best-known for building the Mastro’s franchise, dramatically revamped the old Cork ’N Cleaver location at 44th Street and Camelback. This concept, while not out of the norm for a high-end seafood and chop house, is crawling with business executives, sports stars and celebrities and has quickly become a concept to mimic, with private tables, multi-room dining areas and an exclusive bar scene.

Another new concept for the area is Sam Fox’s latest creation on Camelback Road, Flower Child, which emphasizes healthy eating. That concept co-exists and thrives alongside the other many Fox themes in the area, some older, some new. “We get totally inspired by the Arcadia neighborhood and all the really cool buildings and spaces,” says Sam Fox, nationally recognized founder of Fox Restaurant Concepts. “There’s tons of history here, like the old-school hand car wash on 40th Street. We opened North Italia there and were able to preserve that building by turning it into a neighborhood dining destination. Our cold-pressed juice shop, Juby True, is also in a great spot — a small lot off of 39th Street. It’s right in the heart of Arcadia and great to pop in and out of.”

An improving economy is powering the national, state and neighborhood restaurant industry. And here in Arizona, new job creation in food service sales will grow faster than the national average for the 16th year in a row. “I’m thrilled to see all the talent and creativity making its way into this area,” Fox says. “There’s been some great restaurant openings recently that are sure to become Arcadia staples, like the cool hole-in-the-wall Pig’s Meow, the original Postino, and Sip Coffee & Beer on Indian School and 36th Street.”

One of the trailblazers for the Arcadia restaurant boom was Postino, a wine café that opened in the historic Arcadia Post Office building in 2001. Craig DeMarco, who co-owns Postino and its umbrella company Upward Projects, has witnessed the full evolution of the dining scene. What once was largely strip malls and chain restaurants has transformed into dynamic concepts forged by creative restaurateurs for a dining public that has become more sophisticated via the explosion of reality cooking shows and websites obsessing over food.

His company, which is also behind the Central Avenue restaurants Federal Pizza, Joyride Taco House and Windsor, set the stage for community-focused restaurants in the Arcadia area. DeMarco says the Arcadia dining scene has changed “dramatically” since the opening of Postino, which was a trailblazer of the new Arcadia wave, with its adaptive reuse of space before “adaptive reuse” was a household term. “When I was looking at that site [Postino], I must’ve taken over 100 people to see it and I could not get anyone to think it was a good idea,” DeMarco relates.

Those same 100 people might think opening a restaurant in Arcadia is still not a good idea — but now for the opposite reason: There are already too many good restaurants. Despite the success of competitors, DeMarco says, “Postino Arcadia has never been busier. We’re having our best year ever and it’s our 14th year. I’m a firm believer in that all ships rise.”

 

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