5 Restaurants Worth a Few Hours in the Car

I read a recent article in the New York Times titled, “10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride.” The article was a list of restaurants which the Times writers considered so good as to be worth getting on a plane for. They were found in exotic destinations around the world and often very expensive.

This got me thinking: what restaurants are so good for the money as to be worth driving a few hours from the Colorado River area? We have several good local eateries in the Parker/Havasu area, but where should you eat when you’re out of town? I came up with a few suggestions of places to eat that may make the drive to the Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles/Orange County metro areas worthwhile.

These are my picks, but most of these are rated highly by the critics too. The other criteria was that they couldn’t be prohibitively expensive; the places on this list are not fine dining restaurants, but casual places to eat.

So, here we go:

1. Pizzeria Bianco, 4404 N Central Ave, Phoenix

A nationally-recognized, award-winning restaurant, rated as the best pizza in America by Bon Appétit, the New York Times, Vogue, Rachel Ray and others. Owner Chris Bianco makes the pizza himself from great local ingredients and makes the dough and mozzarella cheese fresh. The bar is next door. The downside: you may wait in line for hours to eat. Although this is the deal breaker for many people, almost everyone who puts in the time at Bianco walks away satisfied.

2. Matt’s Big Breakfast, 801 N 1st St, Phoenix

Quality breakfast and lunch in downtown Phoenix. This is a hole-in-the-wall corner spot with a slightly retro feel, serving up great coffee, made-from-scratch fluffy pancakes, farmer’s market bacon and sausage, toast made from fresh bread with local strawberry preserves, orange juice squeezed only hours before. However, again, you’ll be waiting. At least a dozen people are lining up at any given time for breakfast in the morning. When it gets hotter outside, they serve free lemonade to people on the wait list.

3. Burger Bar, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

Recently, some well-known fine dining chefs have been turning their attention to making gourmet hamburgers (some say this is due to the recession). For burger lovers, though, what could be better than the talents of these top chefs, utilized to perfect their comfort food of choice? Chef Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys is one of the better examples of this, bringing his talents to the Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay. A wide variety of options are available, including some with the finely-marbled Kobe beef (expect to pay a bit more).

4. Tinga Buena, 142, S Brea Ave, Los Angeles

Mexican food with a fresh, modern twist. Try the homemade horchata or pineapple limeade as you enjoy the creative ambience. The elote especial – grilled sweet corn with creamy lime, chili and poblano puree – is a must-have appetizer or side. The tacos have been described by one food critic as “an absolute fiesta in your mouth”; like the short rib taco, with salsa verde, pickled red cabbage, raw tomatillo salsa, papas bravas, queso fresco, and crema. For dessert, ask for the dulce de leche nachos with ice cream.

5. Wood Ranch, Southern California

For barbecue flavor, this small chain of premium BBQ restaurants really hits the mark. At multiple locations like Rancho Santa Margarita, Valencia and Anaheim Hills (just off the 91 Freeway), Wood Ranch takes their slow-roasted all-natural tri tip, pork, chicken and ribs and grills them to order over a mesquite fire. Their shredded onions are a tasty way to start. Bold, smoky BBQ sauce. Buttery bread with a taste of garlic.

Of course, there are many more. If you have one to suggest, please leave a comment below. Maybe this has whet your appetite?


  1. You omitted two of my favorites in Phoenix.
    the George and Dragon Good English food (I think) http://www.georgeanddragonpub.net/

    The best for seafood is the Fish Market. Great!

  2. Thanks Ray! I’ll give that place a try. There’s a British pub in Santa Monica I go to called Ye Olde King’s Head… ah, home away from home!

  3. We went to the Burger Bar last Thursday and it was awesome! Really had a great time and finished it off with a Guiness at the Irish Pub a few doors away! I think its great that Las Vegas is offering so many healthy choices in dining now! Nice report, John!

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