6003 N. 16th St., Phoenix
The marquee sign on the side of the building says it loud and clear: “Over 812,890 Chicken Fried Steaks Served!” (By the time you read this, that number will have jumped by perhaps a thousand.) If there were a local hall of fame for the dish, this Valley favorite would win, forks down. Since 1985, the steakhouse has packed fans into its small, scrappy dining area lined with Texas paraphernalia on every inch of the walls and ceiling. Some come for the Texas beers, some for the friendly banter of the longtime servers and bartenders, some to see their friends – other regulars – dining at neighboring booths. But all come for the masterpiece chicken-fried steak. As owner Steve Freidkin notes, “There are certain things we wouldn’t divulge for love or money,” and that means the recipe for the house specialty of a choice of tenderized beef steak, boneless chicken breast or boneless pork loin chop, double dipped, fried, and swimming in cream gravy. You can get this belly-buster served as two monster pieces of meat with mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, a buttermilk biscuit and a salad, or for Sunday brunch with sunny side eggs and Creole potatoes.
10600 E. Crescent Moon Dr.
(Four Seasons Resort), Scottsdale
This new “canteen” in the posh Four Seasons resort aims to do things differently, from the clever railroad decor to the inventive menu that’s like a cross-country road trip through the main streets of America and the historic days of Route 66. OK, so it was a long time ago that the country teemed with buffalo, but executive chef Jesse Hansen tips his toque to the idea, with his signature chicken-fried buffalo. The meat comes from Durham Ranch in Wyoming, and it won the chef’s heart because “buffalo is lean, high in protein, and has a bit more ‘meat’ flavor,” he says. In fact, it’s so lean the chef has to cook it less time than beef since it tends to dry out faster. Any lower-calorie benefits are blissfully stomped flat, however, as the meat is tenderized with a mallet, breaded to order in seasoned flour and buttermilk, fried, then ladled with rich mushroom red-eye gravy spiked with locally-based Press coffee, and plunked over buttermilk mashed potatoes.
8706 W. Thunderbird Rd., Peoria
(plus three other Valley locations)
The first Dillon’s opened in 1999 in Peoria and was such a hit that the family-owned eatery has since expanded to three more locations including the Wildlife World Zoo in Litchfield Park. The theme is K.C.-style barbecue, but because so much goodness falls under that culinary mantle, we can choose all kinds of things from the lengthy menu, even a prickly pear peach salad. But what gets us truly purring is the chicken-fried food. The cooks obviously love the skillet and fryer, using them for fried chicken, chicken-fried pickles, chicken-fried jalapeños, chicken-fried mushrooms, chicken-fried catfish and yes, chicken-fried steak. The beef is tender and toothsome, freshly battered, deep fried then doused with thick creamy gravy and partnered with coleslaw and mashed potatoes. For the chicken, it’s the same idea, featuring a huge, boneless breast. If you have any qualms about licking your plate clean, worry not – the crowds of regular customers around you are doing the same thing, soaking up the homey atmosphere of the house-style Peoria eatery. Just be careful as you dive into those fried pickles – as the menu warns, the juicy beauties are blistering hot.
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