Arizona Restaurant Association President and CEO Steve Chucri has seen the broadening of local palates and growth of the food scene firsthand.
“I always had this kind of running joke that I was born and raised here and for me we had two kinds of food — we had Mexican food and then a different type of Mexican food,” said Chucri, an Arizona native. “Now we have all of these culinary options that really, if you look, Arizona — in many ways because so many people are transplants here — is kind of a melting pot, which you see across the country.”
The Arizona Restaurant Association highlights that diversity with its Fall Arizona Restaurant Week, which returns from Friday, Sept. 17, to Sunday, Sept. 26, with a panoply of restaurants spanning the state — including Peoria — showcasing special menus.
As part of the 10-day event, many local restaurants will introduce three-course prix fixe menus at price points of $33, $44 or $55, the latter a new tier. Each restaurant’s specifics vary, with some offering individual meals and others crafting selections for couples or groups. Some restaurants may offer wine pairing selections at an additional cost. Standard menus won’t be affected.
“Some of your favorite and most well-known restaurants are on sale here in Arizona for 10 days,” Chucri explained. “And it gives people the opportunity to try a restaurant they may not have tried. It creates this enthusiasm about the culinary opportunities here and throughout the Valley that, you know, is exciting to have happen twice a year.”
More than 120 restaurants have signed on so far, with the event’s website allowing patrons to search menus by categories such as cuisine type, location and price, even accounting for vegetarian/gluten-free options and takeout.
Firebirds is offering a $33 dine-in-only three-course meal that kicks off with chicken tortilla soup or soup of the day; BLT, mixed greens or Caesar salad; or lemon whipped feta with roasted tomatoes and grilled focaccia. For the second course, guests will be treated to slow-roasted prime rib; key lime grilled salmon or wood grilled bacon-wrapped filet. To end the meal, choose from chocolate brownie sundae, crème brulee cheesecake squares or carrot cake.
Revolu Modern Taqueria + Bar is serving a three-course meal for $44. Course one is a choice of elote, shaved roasted corn, chipotle aioli and cotija cheese; stuffed jalapenos, cream cheese, cheese blend, seasoned ground beef and wrapped in jalapeno bacon; or short rib flautas, crispy housemade flautas, shaved cabbage and crema, cotija and avocado salsa. The second course features green chile pork, tequila lime shrimp scampi or the taco trio. The dessert choices are churros con chocolate or pina asada, caramelized pineapple, caramel, vanilla bean ice cream and candied pepitas.
“Arizona is becoming more and more of a foodie-type place and venue, and I think what the restaurant week does is try to trumpet that to our guests and patrons around the state,” Chucri said.
Since it was founded 14 years ago, Arizona Restaurant Week has grown from an annual event every fall to a biannual event also hosted in the spring, increasing along the way from roughly two dozen restaurants the first year to now well over 100 per event.
New this year, the Arizona Restaurant Association is raising funds for the HonorHealth Desert Mission endowment to support those who are underprivileged, experiencing homelessness or affected by the pandemic.
Billed as the “Dine In. Help Out.” program, Arizona Restaurant Week is accepting donations through its website and QR codes provided with bills at participating restaurants. Funds will benefit Desert Mission programs and services, such as its food bank, early childhood learning center and adult day program.
“It’s a really unique event that diners have just come to love, and that’s what makes it worthwhile for us,” Chucri explained of the growth of Arizona Restaurant Week.
Due to the pandemic, Chucri acknowledged that the Arizona Restaurant Association was forced to quickly adapt. Moving to takeout options last year is one such way, though the event is now allowing in-person and takeout options. This may vary between restaurants.
“Restaurateurs, fortunately we’re getting back into our regular cycle, which is a good thing,” Chucri noted. “People have missed restaurants, which we’ll always be grateful for, and so we have seen our places fill up quite more than we expected them to.
“And so, you know, we’re still trying to help people — those who still aren’t comfortable to go into a restaurant — to still be able to take out, but at the same time, I think we’ll probably, come next year, we’ll likely just go back to our original platform, which is just dine in the restaurant.”
But first, Chucri has high hopes for this year’s fall event. He recommends people plan ahead and seek out reservations when possible, as demand tends to increase with restaurant week.
“The Spring Restaurant Week went well, actually,” he recalled. “We had a great turnout. … And so we’re optimistic. I mean, we’re getting more and more restaurants every day participating, and I anticipate that to continue.”