Back in 2006, I wrote a post criticizing the Ahwatukee Foothills News for their Best of Ahwatukee list. The winners in almost all categories were well known chain restaurants, leading me to wonder whether it was the paper pandering to their advertisers, or the case that people in Ahwatukee just had no taste.
You'll understand then why I became completely infuriated when I came across the Arizona Republic's 2008 Reader's and Critic's Choice Awards for Best Dining & Food. While I can say that the critic's awards were all within the realm of possibility (although I find some of the categories odd), the Reader's Choice awards were completely appalling. By an amazing happenstance, Oreganos's Pizza Bistro (no link, their site requires an annoying ActiveX control, which is a possible security hazard) won 11 out of 31 categories. That's right. Not only did they win best pizza, but also best Italian, best sandwich, best dessert, best family owned, best for a first-date, best local treasure, best takeout, best patio dining, best worth the wait and best quick (non-fast) food. How the heck do you win both best quick and best worth the wait? I don't even know where to start with this. If Oregano's had simply won best pizza, I could have lived with that, although I would have personally disagreed. However, winning 11 out of 31 categories, some of them totally ridiculous completely smacks of ballot-stuffing. Come on AZ Republic, wake up! Learn how to run a poll. I've never lived in or visited another major city with such a crappy (and consistently crappy) reader's choice awards.
Just so you can see the full list for yourself, here it is, along with some snarky commentary from me:
- Best Dessert: Oregano's Pizza Bistro - I know people like the pizza cookie, but come on. There are some seriously talented pastry chefs in the valley, and this is the best that people could come up with?
- Best Breakfast: Crackers & Co. - never been there, so I can't argue with this one.
- Best Indian Restaurant: Indian Maharaja Palace - Indian food in the valley is mediocre at best.
- Best Pizza: Oregano's Pizza Bistro - If this is the will of the people, fine. However, there is much better to be found as you can see from the runner-up list.
- Best Neighborhood Mexican: Carolina's Mexican Food - This makes sense.
- Best Bakery: Wicked Witch Bakery - Works for me, although I find the bakery selection in the valley to be seriously lacking.
- Best Family-owned Restaurant: Oregano's Pizza Bistro - it is a family owned restaurant.
- Best Late-Night Eats: Fez - Couldn't agree more. Excellent food all the way through closing.
- Best Place for a First Date: Oregano's Pizza Bistro - if someone took me here for a first date, it would also be the last date.
- Best Salsa: Macayo's - WTF?!!?
- Best Sushi: Ra See best salsa!
- Best Restaurant 'Worth the Wait': Oregano's Pizza Bistro - with long waits both at lunch and on weekends, Oregano's is definitely popular. However, I can't say it's really worth the wait.
- Best Wine Selection: D'Vine Bistro & Wine Bar - Been there and wasn't that impressed. If wine selection is really the criteria, then how could a place like Cowboy Ciao (even though I hate how their wine list is organized), or Kazimierz not win?
- Best Barbecue: Famous Dave's Legendary Pit Bar-B-Que - very hot topic. My pick would be Joe's Real BBQ, but that's just me.
- Best Local Treasure: Oregano's Pizza Bistro - Seriously now. Local treasure? Can you say huh?
- Best Chinese: P. F. Chang's China Bistro - Good Chinese isn't great in the valley, but we do have better than P. F. Chang's, and I don't mean Pei Wei.
- Best Place for Takeout: Oregano's Pizza Bistro - NO!
- Best Non-Chain Hamburger: Zipps Sports Grill - Oh boy. It's a typical bar burger. It isn't bad, but it's by far not the best. Both Delux and Chuckbox should easily have been at the top of the list.
- Best Ice Cream/Frozen Novelty: Maui Wowi - Wowi Maui. Good job.
- Best Middle Eastern Restaurant: Haji-Baba - Very popular and supplies most of the rest of the middle eastern/Mediterranean restaurants in the area.
- Best Italian Restaurant: Oregano's Pizza Bistro - It's a pizza place with a handful of other Italian dishes! There are many, many more Italian restaurants in the valley that are far superior.
- Best Sandwich: Oregano's Pizza Bistro - This is such a broad category. In many other cities they would break this one out. Mention this wind to a dozen of your friends and see how many of them react with "are you kidding me?"
- Best Restaurant to Splurge: Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar - it's definitely $$$, but for the money, I'd rather go to Kai.
- Best Quick (Non-Fast) Food: Oregano's Pizza Bistro - This one defies logic. Considering the long waits that are a staple of Oregano's, I don't see how you can read this one with a straight face. Even when you do finally get a table, it's often a long wait for the food!
- Best Steakhouse: Donovan's Steak & Chop House - I think you'll find a lot of people divided on this one.
- Best Romantic Restaurant: The Melting Pot - Fondue can definitely be romantic, however, for overall atmosphere, there are better choices.
- Best Pub with Grub: Zipps Sports Grill - For the love of all things! Four Peaks, Sonoran, and about ten other places come to mind before I would have ever thought to myself "hey Zipp's!"
- Best Patio Dining: Oregano's Pizza Bistro - The AZ republic actually got this right in their commentary on the win when they wrote "Located all over the Valley, with patios overlooking parking lots, streets and walls, it's hard to say what, exactly, it was about the outdoor dining spaces at the various Oregano's that azcentral.com voters found so alluring."
- Best Health Food Store: Trader Joe's - I love Trader Joe's, and so does everyone else.
- Best Sunday Brunch: T. Cook's - There is talent there, although the execution can be spotty.
- Best Thai Restaurant: Pink Pepper Thai Cuisine - NO WAY IN HELL. Swaddee, Maylee's, Yuppha, and many more should be at the top of this list.
It's hard to get people to take Arizona seriously as a foodie destination when this is the best we can come up with.