Sunday, February 15, 2015

Paper Plate Buildings

In this short blog-post by Witold Rybczynski, the 41-year old brutalist FBI building in Washington, D.C. is being proposed for a land swap -- and destined for the scrap heap. Witold talks about how we need to take a look at the long-term uses of our buildings, know that most buildings will not have a single-use in their lifetimes. He makes some good comments on the idea that the "form follows function" design leads to single-purpose buildings that are much easier to tear down and build something new, rather than retrofitting and repurposing the building. I think of the many warehouse and office buildings we saw when we traveled to Buffalo and Minneapolis this past year, how these hundred-year old buildings are repurposed from warehouses to offices, lofts, hotels and more. This re-use of old buildings offers a number of valuable services to the community. The first (maybe the most important) is probably the least measurable -- the feel of having a continuity in our urban form -- in how our streets feel over time. The others are probably best left to economists and sustainability wonks -- not using new materials and saving on embodied energy costs, saving space in our landfills, and other reasons. Jane Jacobs talked about this in her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities -- and the Washington Post recently had an article about their importance as well. In newer cities, like Mesa and the rest of the Valley, the preservation of these old buildings (what hasn't been lost already) and the forward thinking of buildings as having a multi-use lifestyle is doubly important. Perhaps we can learn from our past and build long-lasting buildings that will live beyond any single use.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Top 10 Ethnic Restaurants Along the Mesa Light Rail

As we celebrate the coming light rail into Mesa, I thought about all the great international restaurants along the corridor in Mesa. I tried to come up with a list of just ten great ethnic restaurants that are, or will soon be, within walking distance of a light rail station. Right now, only Sycamore is taking trains, but you can take the Main Street LINK -- which stops about where all the light rail stations will be -- to all of these restaurants.

  1. UnPhoGettable - Sycamore Station - Mekong Plaza - 66 South Dobson Road, Suite 138
A bowl of delicious pho from UnPhoGhettable. Photo: Ryan Winkle
Stop in to the casual UnPhoGhettable in the east side of Mekong, and you’ll encounter a huge selection of delicious, steaming bowls of pho and noodle dishes, including many vegetarian options. The spring rolls are wonderful, including both fried and rice paper versions. Lunch and Dinner are the obvious answers here, but a 9am breakfast of a big bowl of pho shouldn’t be out of the question!
Hours: Daily: 9:00am to 8:00pm.

  1. Thai Spices - Sycamore Station - Mekong Plaza - 66 S Dobson Rd Suite 133
Right next door to UnPHoGettable, is the delectable Thai Spices. Great appetizers, noodle and rice dishes and a full complement of entrees. Don’t miss the Basil Shiitake Mushroom, curry or Thai Eggplant, or if you’re in the mood some great Tom Yum or Tom Ka soup. Also not to miss are the great happy hour specials (priced from $2.50) with Thai Spices’ full bar (beer, sake bombers, Thai-Tea-Tinis, Thai Mint Juleps, to name a few). Many vegetarian options are available.
Hours: daily from 11:00am to 9:30pm // happy hour 4:30-7pm weekdays, 3-7pm weekends. Full bar.

  1. Wholly Grill - Filipino - Sycamore Station - Inside Mekong Plaza - 66 Dobson Road, Suite 125
A hidden gem at Mekong is the food court located on the west side. There are a number of small food-court style restaurants, but the stand-out for me is Wholly Grill, a filipino restaurant serving a great variety of BBQ and other items. I can’t seem to make it much past the Lechon Kawali (fried pork belly, served with white rice), but there are also skewers of BBQ chicken, pork and beef, liempo, garlic shrimp, as well as fish options. The macaroni salad is just right in that pacific island style, as well as their grilled eggplant salad and atchara (pickled green papaya).
Hours: 11am - 8pm Tuesday - Saturday, Sunday 11-3pm, closed Mondays
  1. Asian Cafe Express - Sycamore Station - 1911 W Main St
It doesn’t look like much, but A.C.E. is probably one of the brightest jewels in the valley’s crown of chinese food, this Hong Kong style restaurant boasts one of the largest menus I have ever seen -- and I have not even begun to try a good sampling. They offer both an “arizona” menu as well as a traditional menu. From the Arizona menu, the pepper beef is absolutely delicious and the orange chicken leaves Panda Express in the dust, and the price is cheaper as well, but the real gems are in the traditional menu. Lots of great options for the meek or adventurous at heart. Numerous lunch specials, generous servings and amazing Hong Kong style Chinese make A.C.E. a standout.
Hours: Daily 11am to 9pm, (9:30pm Friday and Saturday)
  1. La Tiendita Cafe - Colombian Restaurant - Country Club Station - 456 W Main St
Possibly the only Columbian restaurant in the Valley, La Tiendita does not disappoint! Fresh arepas, empanadas, juicy roasted chicken and a breakfast to die for. The lunch special of a quarter-chicken and rice for $5.99 is a great deal. La Tiendita also boasts a full bar for those wishing to get into the World Cup mood. And of course, in the spirit of its name, La Tiendita has a small store of Columbian candy and other goods.
Hours: Monday - Thursday, 9am - 8pm, Friday & Saturday: 9am - 9pm, Sunday: 10am - 7pm. Full bar.

  1. George’s Gyros - Country Club Station - 205 N. Country Club Drive
A Mesa staple for good old gyros & french fries and all the other delicious pita sandwiches. Inexplicably, this Greek restaurant also has a large selection of italian sandwiches and pastas -- of which I’ve never made it past the falafel or the gyro, but if the rest of their food is to be used as a gauge, it will be delicious! George’s also boasts a full bar and a happy hour from 3-6pm Monday through Friday.
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11am to 8pm, Closed Sundays. Full bar.

  1. Mango’s Mexican Cafe - Country Club Station - 44 W Main St
Mango's Tacos al Pastor plate  (image from Mango's)
A Mesa Main Street favorite for fresh Mexican food. Their shrimp burrito and fish tacos are delicious, as is the veggie burrito. They have a full selection of Mexican food favorites. The line during the lunch rush can get a bit long, but arrive a little before or after for a faster meal. Mango’s has also started to serve street tacos on certain Fridays from 8-11pm -- check their Facebook for more information.
Hours: Monday 10AM to 4PM, Tuesday - Friday 10AM to 8PM, Saturday 10AM to 7PM

  1. Nunthaporn’s Thai Cuisine - Center Street Station - 17 W Main St
I’d like to place Nunthaporn’s as one of the best Thai restaurants in the valley -- if not number 1, then at least in the top three. Everything I’ve tried here is fabulous, from the Evil Jungle Princess to the Masaman Curry and all the other soups, curries, noodle and rice dishes. Their lunch special is very reasonable at $8 for a choice of one of 25 meals served with your choice of tofu, chicken, beef, pork, tilapia or shrimp with a cup of soup and an eggroll. Nunthaporn’s is also a great stop before a show at the Arts Center.
Hours: Monday - Friday, 11-3pm for lunch and Monday - Thursday 4:30 - 8:30pm and Friday and Saturday 4:30 - 9pm, closed on Sundays. Beer and Wine.

  1. The Pernil Torta from RE. (image from Republica Empanada)
    Republica Empanada - Center or Mesa Drive Station - 204 E 1st Ave
You can’t discount the amazingly delicious empanadas, with their crispy, flaky crust and absolutely delectable fillings -- from vegetarian favorites like achiote potato, black bean and cheese to the savory delights of the Cubana, pernil or boricua to the new creations of jalapeno popper, greek or buffalo chicken empanadas -- you can’t go wrong -- but if you want to go absolutely right, try the Pernil Torta -- slow roasted pork with all the toppings, served with a side of pommes frites with just the right amount of fennel. Oh, there’s a vegetarian version of the torta -- with plantains, avocado and black beans that’s also quite delightful. While you’re at it -- save room for dessert empanadas like the Ruiz’s Pieces - nutella and peanut butter. Yum. Beer and wine are served, as well as the rightly named “Bomb Margarita” -- because it’s the bomb.
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11am to 9pm. Monday and Tuesday is $20 flight night - four empanadas and four beers (or a bottle of wine). Beer, wine and margaritas.
  1. El Asadero - Tacos al Carbon - Mesa Drive Station - 720 E Main St
Looking for some of the best street tacos in the valley, but it’s not 2am Friday night? Check out El Asadero with all of your favorite street eats -- from carne asada, al pastor (my favorite), lengua, cabeza, chicken, tripas, barbacoa, desebrada, and milanesa -- as well as fish. Everything tastes fresh -- as does the salsa from the salsa bar. They do tacos the right way (each with two small corn tortillas, just as Centeotl intended!) as well as delicious burritos and enchiladas.
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 8am to 11pm, Friday and Saturday, 8am to 12pm.

Bonus Bites: In honor of the next leg of light rail to Gilbert Road, here’s one more great restaurant to check out:

Millie’s Puerto Rican Cafe - Stapley Station - 1616 E Main St
On my list to try is Millie’s -- I’ve heard from many friends and coworkers that this is definitely not a place to miss. Their suggestion? The pasteles (sort of an El Salvadorian take on a tamale, made from mashed plantains and filled with veggies and meat) with a side of rice and beans, the cuban, grilled cheese or steak sandwiches -- and of course, Millie is know far and wide as the "flan lady," so those are a must.
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 11am to 8pm Cash Only.

Other Mesa Rail ethnic restaurants of note:
Margarita’s Grill - Center St Station - 10 W Main St
Mekong Sandwiches (Bahn Mi) - Sycamore Station - 66 S Dobson Rd
Pedrito’s Mexican Food - Country Club Station - 311 W Main St

Do you have more to add or did I miss your favorite restaurant along the light rail? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Contradiction of Mesa #1

This is a special guest post from downtown resident Jaime Glasser.

Last night was amazing and illustrated the sometimes contradictory personality of my home town.
On the same night, Main Street was closed for Motorcycles On Main a gathering of thousands of motorcycles enthusiasts:

 This festival had music, pop up bars and lots and lots of motorcycles as you see. Many leather clad bikers were having a great time listening to some great rock and roll by a band called Broken Toys:

Then, to the East on Main separated by Macdonald Street was part of the CycloMesa Unchained Bicycle Festival. This had been going on all day at the Mesa Convention Center and included Criterium Bicycle Races. The Criterium consists of very fast paced laps around a closed course track about two blocks around that had been set up with barricaded portions of Main Street, 1st Street, Center and Macdonald streets. The races started at noon and continued until about 8:30 PM:
The CycloMesa Unchained bicycle festival includes vendors and exhibits at the Mesa Convention Center on Center and University easy walking distance of Main Street and continues today on Main Street with a kids Bicycle Rodeo lots of extreme bicycle sports demos a fun ride for the whole family and culminates with the Tour de Mesa a 70 mile road race.
Last night at the finish line of the Criterium races were a crowd of bicycle enthusiasts dressed in spandex and mostly young and fit.

A young R&B band called Eye Candy was wrapping up after playing on the new Shadow Walk stage on the plaza in front of the Mesa Arts Center for four hours. The lead singer, Vaughn Willis was engaging and in good humor despite the fact only about five of us were in attendance once the bicycle races had concluded and most of the crowd had left. He played "one more" at my request.

While he was playing, behind him suddenly the doors of the Mesa Arts Center opened and thousands of people began spilling out. The sold out John Legend concert was over. Within seconds, hundreds of people stopped to enjoy Ear Candy's music! It was amazing. Buoyed by the new crowd's enthusiasm they played about four more songs including Pharrell Williams "Happy". My friend Cindy Ornstein, Arts and Cultural Director for the City of Mesa and I danced away to the music of an amazing band in front of the Mesa Arts Center the cultural gem of the Phoenix Metro area on a perfect night in Downtown Mesa.

As we danced I hoped that more people would realize what a potentially amazing place my home town is. Where else on one night could you mingle with  both a motorcycle and bicycle festival, go see a top-10 performer at an incredible arts venue and dance afterwards to a great local band on a perfect night?

I hope the light rail which will be constructed right down Main Street and completed in the next year and a half would allow more people to discover Mesa as a destination for arts and culture and see what they are missing. Maybe too us locals will appreciate our town and come down to Downtown Mesa and take advantage to all it has to offer.

Jaime Glasser takes artistic photographs with her iPhone as well as teaches classes on how to use mobile devices for art. She is a downtown Mesa resident and can usually be found, iPhone in hand, stalking Main Street for that perfect shot. - The Art of Iphoneography Jaime Glasser

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


One cool little project that was done downtown is the Find It In Mesa (#finditinmesa) campaign. They worked with Google and a downtown Mesa photographer to create Inside Views of businesses, which means you can click through to each business and view their interiors.

This was also done in conjunction with the LocalFirst Arizona Small Wonders map, which is available at shops downtown!

Check it out at

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

New Blog at Blooming Rock

I've got the writing bug again, so be sure to keep your eye out here for some new blog materials!

Until then, check out my new blog at Blooming Rock about the Artspace survey! And while you're at it, make sure you take 5-minutes and take the Artspace survey yourself!

Is there anything that you would like to me investigate or write about?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Light Rail is Coming!

Yesterday, Metro threw a big shindig for the City and its citizens to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Light Rail Extension that will finally bring light rail to Mesa’s downtown. There was a great turnout from the community, as well as city staff, who came to listen to live music, enjoy coffee and breakfast from local businesses and listen to valley leaders and Mesa elected officials talk about the imminent light rail extension. (As an aside, you’d be interested to know that it was Sam (of Lo-Fi Coffee)’s first full roast for his shop -- he’s apprenticing with his roaster, Randy -- absolutely delicious coffee, Sam: Thank you).
Local dignitaries, including Steve Banta, Councilmember Dennis Kavanaugh, and Mayor Scott Smith ceremonially break ground on the light rail extension into Downtown Mesa. Photo by David Crummey.
Standing on the eve of utility-relocation and construction of the extension, it’s good to think about what Light Rail can bring to West Mesa. The permanence of light rail gives assurance to developers and lenders that routes aren’t going to change overnight and that the City and community has made a significant investment in infrastructure for the long-run and will continue to fund its operation.

One of the most important aspects of light rail is how it affects the walkability of a neighborhood. Walkable communities are more convenient, reduce time spent in the car and increase the amount of time available for community activities. In fact, a recent study showed that walkable communities are more desirable to residents and have higher land values. By increasing connectivity and by building high-quality Transit Oriented Development, we can make our neighborhoods more walkable -- which is especially important here in West Mesa -- in the so-called “First Suburbs” that have missed out on redevelopment opportunities and the hubbub of the last few decades.

More important, though, is the connection of neighbors and neighborhoods. Of the increased sense of community found in walkable neighborhoods. This is the real benefit of transit and walkable communities. There have also been studies that correlate increased time commuting with loss of a person’s availability to volunteer -- Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, pegged this at 10% loss of community involvement for every 10 minutes of daily commute.
Is light rail the final answer? The cure for all that ails West Mesa? Absolutely not. Even Portland, that oh-so-magical wonderland that everyone points to as the end-all be-all of transit has under-performing transit stations. Light rail is no more and no less than an opportunity. An opportunity for us as a community to guide the development we want; development with the clear purpose of improving our neighborhoods and our way of life. To do this, we need clear, unequivocal -- and mandatory -- development standards (much like those in the soon-to-be approved as optional Form Based Code and other regulations that mandate a walkable form and require enough residents and ground-floor activity to bring light rail to its greatest potential.

Mesa has all the right tools at her disposal. Form Based Code that can easily be adapted to all the station areas, a council and mayor that seem to understand what it will take to create a vibrant and sustainable economy, and $200 million in public investment, right down Main Street.
As a side note, I’d like to give a shout-out to Metro and their thoughtful staff in making sure that they utilize local vendors for these events so that we’re not just paying lip-service to the idea of buying local. All of the food and drinks for the event were provided by local businesses, including Lo-Fi Coffee, Pedrito’s Mexican Cafe, Inside the Bungalow and Grandma’s Kitchen. The chairs, tables and tent were also provided by a business in the future light rail corridor.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Jane Jacobs Walk

This weekend we bring Jane Jacobs Walk back to the valley and especially back to Mesa. Jane Jacobs Walk celebrates our neighborhoods and communities by taking a walk to look at our cities through Jane Jacobs' eyes.

Jane Jacobs (1916 - 2006) was a writer and activist who came to be considered by many as one of the most important urban thinkers of the past century. She was not a trained planner or architect, in fact, she never received a college degree. Instead, she garnered her insight on urban economies and urban form by watching how people use the city from her walk-up in the West Village of New York. Her first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), fundamentally changed the way we think about cities. Her voice continues to reverberate across the country and globe. In fact, her insights in Death and Life still ring true today. Jacobs called for walkable communities, a mix of uses (and time of use) on the street, short blocks, and diversity of building ages and types to increase the economic viability and safety of neighborhoods. What were, at the time, radical ideas, are now almost considered common sense today.

Last year we had our first walk in Mesa, moving through neighborhoods and down Main street, walking, talking, sharing, connecting with neighbors and looking at the downtown area in a different light. This weekend we do it again.

There are two Jane Jacobs Walks scheduled for Mesa. The first, on Saturday, is hosted by Metro and will take participants by bus and walking along the coming light rail route, to the Mesa Arts Center. The walk will include artists, city and Metro officials to answer your questions about the station designs, transit-oriented development and more. Afterward, participants will return to the Sycamore & Main station to head to Tempe to take a look at their imminent modern streetcar project.

Sunday, I will host a walk starting at Lo-Fi Coffee. We will make a "walking audit" -- take a look at the connections, strengths, opportunities and possibilities both north and south of Main street and about the opportunities that are coming with the imminent Light Rail.
When we return at the end of the walk, we will discuss, draw and write our ideas down to share.

But before that, on Friday night around 7pm, come socialize at Il Vinaio, talk about the Downtown, Jane Jacobs, or whatever other urban topic comes about. Enjoy a great glass of wine, beer or root beer and excellent, compelling and provocative conversation as we kick off the Jane Jacobs Walk weekend. 

Remember, Jane Jacobs Walks are, more than anything, walking conversations. Bring your hats, your water and your minds. Come to share, come to listen, come to see Mesa . . . and Stringtown, rise.

For specific details about these or other Jane Jacobs Walks in the Valley or around the country, please check out