SCOTTSDALE, AZ — A 1920s train station cocktail bar, customizable cinnamon rolls, jousting knights and indoor water slides were a few of the many buzzworthy openings around the Valley in 2019.
Here are some of the most notable restaurant, bar, and entertainment openings of the year.
The fast-food joint known for its two-inch-by-two-inch sliders opened its first -- and currently its largest -- restaurant in Arizona. Located within the Salt River's Talking Stick Entertainment District, near the Loop 101 and Via de Ventura near Scottsdale, White Castle's opening day was met with hundreds, if not thousands of people, waiting in hours-long lines to be among the first to try its menu. The eatery has a double-lane drive-thru, a 1,000-square-foot patio, a small store with merchandise, and a booth known as "Cooper's Corner," named after Arizona rocker Alice Cooper, who is also part of White Castle's Cravers Hall of Fame. While it was supposed to be open 24/7, the restaurant has routinely closed during the overnight hours due to demand. It is not yet known when it plans to switch to 24 hours.
IF YOU GO: 9310 East Vía de Ventura, Scottsdale, AZ 85258
Huzzah! Medieval Times opened its 10th castle within the Salt River's Talking Stick Entertainment District near Scottsdale in 2019. The 80,000-square-foot castle is located down the street from White Castle near the Loop 101 and Via de Ventura. The famous dinner theater offers a 2 1/2 hour show with knights, jousting, horse skills, and a four-course meal. The castle also includes a "Hall of Arms" and Torture Museum, where replica torture devices from the era are on display (the museum is an additional cost).
IF YOU GO: 9051 East Via de Ventura, Scottsdale, AZ 85258
Kids can make their own crayon, color on coloring pages, and make wax spin art out of melted crayons at the Crayola Experience, which opened a 20,000-square-foot location near the food court inside Chandler Fashion Center. In all, there are 19 hands-on attractions. Most are included with admission, but a couple require extra costs, such as hunting for gemstones and making a wax-molded hand sculpture.
IF YOU GO: Chandler Fashion Center, 3111 W. Chandler Blvd., Suite 2154, Chandler, AZ 85226
Great Wolf Lodge
Great Wolf Lodge made its debut in Arizona with the opening of a 350-room hotel and 80,000-square-foot indoor water park within the Salt River's Talking Stick Entertainment District, across from Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. The indoor water park has roughly a dozen slides and tube rides, including the "Diamondback Drop," a raft ride exclusive to the Arizona location. It also has a lazy river, wave pool, a play structure with a 1,000-gallon bucket that dumps water every few minutes, and an outdoor pool. Inside, it has a "dry" adventure park with a ropes course, miniature golf, mini bowling, and a number of restaurants and eateries, including Ben and Jerry's, currently the only physical location in the state.
IF YOU GO: 7333 N. Pima Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85258
The Century Grand/Platform 18/Grey Hen Saloon
The team behind UnderTow, an immersive underground tiki-inspired cocktail bar, unveiled their latest technology-driven drinking experience in 2019: The Century Grand. Located near 36th Street and Indian School -- next door to UnderTow -- the concept actually consists of three concepts in one: The Century Grand, a 1920s Art Deco-inspired train station with refined cocktails and food served on Dim Sum-style carts; Platform 18, an intimate cocktail bar designed after a Pullman presidential train car with box seating, dimming lights, sound effects, and screens that show video of a train traveling through the mountains of Colorado; and the Grey Hen Saloon, an in-bar tasting room and store that sells alcohol and the tools to make cocktails at home. Reservations are highly recommended.
IF YOU GO: 3626 E. Indian School Road., Phoenix AZ 85018
Right before the end of the year, Jollibee, a popular Filipino fast-food restaurant chain, opened in Chandler, its first location in Arizona. The restaurant is known for its "Chicken Joy," essentially fried chicken, which can be served in buckets or paired with rice, gravy, spaghetti. Other items include Palabok Fiesta, a Filipino noodle dish with garlic sauce, crushed pork rind, shrimp, and egg, burger steaks, spaghetti, burgers, chicken sandwiches, corned beef, pork sausage, beef tenders, and sweet pork.
IF YOU GO: 2800 E. Germann Road, Chandler, AZ, 85286
Those looking to grab a meal with some of their favorite superheroes, villains, and animated characters, may want to check out ComicX at Desert Ridge Marketplace. The comic book-themed restaurant has many locations in Mexico and opened its first U.S. location in Phoenix in 2019. Diners will find themselves surrounded with life-sized statues and busts of popular characters, including Hulk, Spider-Man, Batman, and Batgirl. There is a Star Wars-themed lounge upstairs with Darth Vader, R2-D2, and BB-8, and a Harry Potter-themed area in the bar. The menu features American fare, such as burgers, sandwiches, and salads.
IF YOU GO: 21001 N. Tatum Blvd., suite 95, Phoenix AZ 85050
Utah-based FatCats opened their latest entertainment venue in Mesa in 2019, marking their second location in the Valley. The multi-attraction venue has an eight-screen movie theatre, a 20-lane bowling alley, glow golf, arcade games, virtual reality, and a full-service bar. It opened inside a shopping center near the Loop 202 and Recker Road. A third location is being built in Queen Creek and is expected to open before the end of the year.
IF YOU GO: 5846 E. Longbow Parkway, Mesa AZ 85215
Gilbert Regional Park
The first phase of the Town of Gilbert's much-anticipated Regional Park opened near Higley and Queen roads. Spanning 30 acres, of a potential 272 acres, phase one included "The Mountain," a 35-foot three-tiered climbing structure with ropes, slides, and footholds; "The Creek," a smaller climbing area for younger kids; and "The Falls," a 4,000-square-foot splash pad. The park also has swings, a restroom facility, and shaded ramadas. The second phase, which is expected to open in the fall, will consist of 16 pickleball courts, tennis courts, basketball courts, sand volleyball courts, and an events area.
A second park, Desert Sky Park, opened at 6624 S. Power Road. That park featured a ninja-style training course, a large irrigation lake, and four multi-use fields. Earlier in the year, Gilbert also unveiled the renovation of Cactus Yards (formerly Big League Dreams), a sports complex with eight baseball fields that have been designed to look like Major League Baseball stadiums, such as Wrigley Field and Chase Field; an indoor soccer stadium, batting cages, and a concession stand.
IF YOU GO: Gilbert Regional Park, 3005 E. Queen Creek Rd., Gilbert, AZ 85298
Cinnaholic, a dessert concept that offers customized gourmet cinnamon rolls, also made its debut in Arizona. The shop opened near SanTan Village Parkway and Williams Field Road in Gilbert within "At Home"-anchored shopping center. Cinnaholic offers 20 types of flavored frostings and an assortment of toppings, including fruit, brownie bites, and candy. The bakery is vegan, dairy-free, lactose-free, and egg-free.
IF YOU GO: 1887 E Williams Field Rd., suite 103, Gilbert, AZ 85295
Wilderness Brewing Company
Wilderness Brewing Company, a popular brewery in Gilbert, expanded to downtown Phoenix. Located within the Roosevelt Row Arts District, Wilderness opened an indoor-outdoor beer garden-style restaurant with picnic benches, outdoor fire pits, and misters near Roosevelt and Second streets, across from the MonOrchid and The Dressing Room. Whereas the Gilbert location is more of a sit-down dining experience, in Phoenix customers order and pay for their drinks and food at the counter, and then a serve delivers it to their table.
IF YOU GO: 201 E. Roosevelt Street, Phoenix AZ 85004
The Sicilian Baker
Joey Maggiore, founder of Hash Kitchen, launched his dessert concept in 2019 and opened two locations in Chandler and Phoenix. Called The Sicilian Baker, the concept serves customized cannolis with four shell sizes, including the 12-inch "Sicilian" cannolis, and a dozen flavored creams, such as coffee, lemon, strawberry, and Oreo. They also have different Italian pastries and cookies on the menu as well.
IF YOU GO: 15530 N. Tatum Blvd., #140, Phoenix, AZ 85032 (Phoenix), 3151 W. Frye Rd., Chandler, AZ 85226 (Chandler)
SanTan Brewing is known for its beer, but in recent years the Chandler-based brewery has also begun distilling its own spirits. In 2019, SanTan opened Spirit House, a tasting room and cocktail bar next to its brewpub in downtown Chandler, to showcase its spirits and botanicals. Currently, SanTan has a handful of whiskeys, bourbons, gins, vodkas, and a rose.
IF YOU GO: 8 S. San Marcos Place, suite 106, Chandler, AZ 85225
The Chicago restaurant known for its Italian beef sandwiches, Chicago-style hot dogs, and cake shakes opened a third location in the Valley, and its first in the West Valley. Portilllo's opened a 9,000-square-foot restaurant near Interstate 10 and 107th Avenue in Avondale. Later in the year, the City of Glendale announced that Portillo's had filed plans to open a location near Arrowhead Towne Center (Portillo's has not confirmed nor announced its plans).
IF YOU GO: 10331 West McDowell Rd., Avondale AZ 85392
Phoenix Sky Harbor Terminal 3 - South Concourse
At the beginning of January 2019, the newly-renovated South Concourse at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport's John S. McCain III Terminal 3 opened. Aside from new gates, waiting areas, and USB ports at nearly every seat, a number of restaurants and stores opened inside the terminal. Restaurants include The Parlor, SanTan Brewing, Mustache Pretzels, Panera, and Habit Burger. The North Concourse, which will bring an additional 10 gates to the terminal, is expected to open early this year. An exact opening date has not yet been announced. A spokesperson confirmed to ABC15 late last year that PHX Beer Co., Ajo Al's, Scramble, and Starbucks would be part of the North Concourse.
IF YOU GO: Terminal 3, Sky Harbor Airport, 3400 E. Sky Harbor Blvd, Phoenix, AZ 85034
Downtown Phoenix Fry's
After months and months of construction and anticipation, Fry's opened its 67,000-square-foot grocery store in downtown Phoenix. It is located at the corner of First and Jefferson streets near CityScape and Talking Stick Resort Arena. The grocery store has a Starbucks, Chompie's, a pharmacy, deli, sushi station, online ordering, and curbside pick-up.
IF YOU GO: 100 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix, AZ 85004
Ross Simon, the founder of Bitter and Twisted Cocktail Bar in downtown Phoenix, and Aaron DeFeo, who previously worked as a mixologist at Tucson's Casino del Sol resort, teamed up to reinvent the typical hotel bar. Located on the fourth floor of the Residence Inn/Courtyard by Marriott, the duo opened Little Rituals, an upscale cocktail lounge that overlooks downtown Phoenix.
IF YOU GO: Residence Inn/Courtyard by Marriott Phoenix Downtown, 132 S. Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004
With Toca Madera, a little taste of Hollywood opened in Scottsdale. Based in Los Angeles, the upscale, modern Mexican restaurant opened outside Scottsdale Fashion Square's so-called luxury wing near Ocean 44. The 8,000-square-foot restaurant has an edgy vibe with an open-air courtyard, trees, booths, tables, and a bar. It joins Tocaya Organica and Zinque, two concepts that also opened outside the luxury wing. Nobu and Farmhouse are expected to open sometime this year.
IF YOU GO: 4736 N. Goldwater Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway
After years of debate and construction, the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway opened at the very end of the year. The 22-mile extension connects the East Valley and the West Valley, from the Loop 202 and Pecos Road in Ahwatukee to Interstate 10, near 59th Avenue, in the West Valley.
OTHER OPENINGS TO KNOW ABOUT:
- Fate Brewing Co. (formerly McFate) reverted back to its original name and opened a new location in Tempe.
- Churroholic, a design-it-yourself churro concept, opened locations in Tempe and Glendale.
- KTR, an indoor playground with BMX and skateboard ramps and rails, tumbling, and trampolines, opened near Scottsdale.
- Topo, a street-side snack stand with a large gopher on top of it, opened in downtown Gilbert. It is the latest concept from Joe Johnston. Topo serves soft-serve ice cream, burritos, and elote.
- Lumberjaxes opened a second ax-throwing venue at Westgate Entertainment District in Glendale. Urban Axes made its debut opening a venue within the Warehouse District in downtown Phoenix.
- Philly Pretzel Factory opened a location in Goodyear.
- Spinato's closed its original Tempe location and reopened a larger location down the street.
- Restauranteur Sam Fox opened Culinary Dropout in downtown Gilbert. Fox also sold his company to The Cheesecake Factory, but remains in charge of its day-to-day operations.
- 12 West Brewing, which debuted at Barnone in Gilbert, expanded to downtown Mesa with a taproom, bar, and full-service restaurant.