It was a pretty convincing recruitment pitch, conducted at the very first (and hopefully not the last) Ignite Food (part of the popular Ignite Phoenix events) in March 2012. Dominic Armato, whom I had met just prior to the event (while he was cooking up a killer gumbo for a Mardi Gras party at a friend’s house), stood before the audience and launched into his impassioned plea to join his “Food Nerd Army.” (You can view the video here.)
“The only thing better than eating at a fabulous restaurant is doing it with a whole crowd of people who are just as obsessed about it as you are,” explained Armato, who is also known for his Skillet Doux blog. “And when that obsession is shared, that’s when the amazing stuff starts to happen!” At the core of his cajoling was the desire to create a “food community,” not just a database full of opinions, but rather an involved group of like-minded individuals who get together, research, talk to each other, learn from each other, and, most importantly, eat with each other. “There are so many places languishing in obscurity because people don’t want to drive an extra 10 minutes, or because they’re hidden in a strip mall,” pointed out Armato. “You’ve got to get the word out when you find people who are doing it right—you’ve got to scream it from the rooftops. If the mainstream isn’t supporting the good stuff, you have to force the good stuff into the mainstream!”
And so, just a month later, PHXfoodnerds.com was born. Patterned after the LTH Forum in Chicago (Armato’s home turf), which is nearly 12,000 members strong, the PHXfoodnerd forum has a similar purpose: to create a place where Phoenix’s “food nerds” (Armato dislikes the term “foodie”) can come to discuss, get to know each other, and generally build the kind of community that will help everyone get the most out of Phoenix’s food scene and spend more time eating great food—and doing this with people who share the same passion.
Just days ago, after a nomination and discussion period, PHXfoodnerds presented their inaugural FNA (Food Nerd Approved) recipients, recognizing 19 Phoenix-area establishments that have captured the love and admiration of the PHXfoodnerds community, based on the deliciousness of their offerings, their exceptional character, and the extent to which they’ve generated excitement and discussion on the forum. Is it a “Best Of” list? No. As Armato puts it, “This is not simply an empirical measure of excellence, but rather it denotes on a very personal level the places that have captured the adoration of this community of Phoenix-based food enthusiasts.”
The list ranges from well-known and revered establishments like FnB and ShinBay to the more obscure but equally delightful places like Café Ga Hyang and Chou’s Kitchen … and everything in between. And this isn’t just about restaurants: Phoenix Knife House—a favorite of area professional chefs and home cooks alike—also made the inaugural list.
Although not on the same par as the Chicago forum (which, to be fair, has been in existence since around 2004), PHXfoodnerds has nearly 300 members in less than one year of existence and is growing daily. Members are from all walks of life—perhaps working in the industry, writing about it, or just having a general love of good food. To become a member, all you have to do is register—that’s it. Trust me, it’s worth it for the food porn alone! You can just lurk and observe, of course, but to get the most out of the forum, start chiming in on the discussions, start one yourself, or attend one of the many get-togethers (revolving around eating, naturally!).
You, too, can be a member of the Food Nerd Army!