Spring is the perfect time to get out of Los Angeles for a weekend. Sure, there’s something tempting about the crisp morning air here, or the occasional warm day that leaves you pining for the beach. But after a long, cold winter, the rest of America is just starting to warm up, which means plenty of travel options. And while California is a west coast land slab of gigantic proportions, you can still escape eastward relatively easily, and tuck into Arizona for a night or two. Since you’re headed there anyway, why not stop off for some of the best pizza that America has to offer?
Pizzeria Bianco is, by all accounts, making the best pizza in the entire United States. Owner Chris Bianco’s Neapolitan-inspired pies come from a hand-built wood-fired oven in the heart of downtown Phoenix, hardly a well-known food destination otherwise. Yet the perfectly charred edges, warm cheese, and fresh ingredients from the outside garden are all considered top-notch, and have helped make Bianco (both the man and the restaurant) a living pizza legend. Best of all, it’s an easy drive from Los Angeles.
Friday, 7 p.m.: Depending on where you’re leaving from, there’s a good chance you’ll struggle through the tail-end of L.A. traffic as you head east on the 10. That’s OK, you’re not going all the way to Phoenix tonight. Instead, stop-and-go your way in Palm Springs for a relaxing night of drinks and bites downtown. Start by unpacking your weekend bag at Alcazar (622 N. Palm Canyon Drive; 760-318-9850), the white-washed boutique hotel along Palm Canyon Drive. There are complimentary bikes available if you’re in the mood for a bit of cross-town trekking, but it’s hard to understand why you’d want to leave when Birba (622 N. Palm Canyon Drive; 760-327-5678) is right next door. The casual Italian-ish spot has been a highlight of downtown Palm Springs for several years, and is a great warm-up for tomorrow’s dough and cheese trip to nirvana. Grab a table or settle in by one of the outdoor fire pits for a relaxing night away from the city. If you’d rather skip all those carbs and grab a drink instead, Fame Tobacconist (155 S. Palm Canyon Drive #3; 760-320-2752) isn’t far down the street and offers plenty of seating for a sit-and-chat type of evening over a glass of wine, bottle of regional craft beer — or even a cigar or two.
Saturday, 10 a.m.: It’s a four-hour drive into Phoenix, which means you’ll need a cup of strong coffee and at least some scrambled eggs to get you in the right mood for the road. Right outside of Alcazar’s front door is Cheeky’s (622 N. Palm Canyon Drive; 760-327-7595), a bright breakfast spot that also does a brisk to-go business. Or, better yet, set the alarm a little earlier and dip over to TRIO (707 N. Palm Canyon Drive; 760-864-3211) for their popular brunch. The fried egg sandwich with smoked bacon is probably exactly what you need to get going, but don’t nibble in their comfortable chairs too long. Pizza awaits.
Saturday, 2 p.m.: Head straight to Pizzeria Bianco (623 E. Adams St.; 602-258-8300), just off of downtown on East Adams Street. Since the four-hour drive from Palm Springs hasn’t deterred you, don’t get discouraged at the line that’s formed out front. This is, after all, America’s best pizza. Hop into the fray and start smelling the bready aromas pushing through the 40-odd seat restaurant. Soon enough, you’ll be inside. If you came with a group (and why wouldn’t you?), send a search party next door to Bar Bianco (623 E. Adams St.; 602-528-3699) for a beer, then trade off when the pint is done. If you’re starved from your time spent crossing the Arizona border, order up a supremely snackable pile of spicy, roasted pecans from the bar. They’re guaranteed to make the line move a little faster (or at least seem that way). Once you’re inside, order to your heart’s content. The Wiseguy, with roasted onion, smoked mozzarella and fennel sausage, is a popular option, as is the traditional Margherita. To taste the quality of Bianco’s own line of canned tomatoes, go for the cheeseless Marinara, which gets dusted with oregano and garlic only.
Saturday, 7 p.m.: Hotel prices are a little higher in Phoenix, given its penchant for conventions and the fact that the only other place to sleep within 75 miles is the desert floor. There are great options along the ridges that outline the city, but you’ll find clean, simple amenities downtown at the Palomar (2 E. Jefferson St.; 602-253-6633). You can smash your group into a suite, or scale down your night with a queen bed and some extra walking around money. Which is perfect, considering the wealth of drinking establishments available to you. The Rose & Crown Pub (628 E. Adams St.; 602-256-0223) is a popular option if you don’t feel like spending the night squeezed into Bar Bianco, but you should probably use your wheels to dip down to Chandler for a night of local taps at The Hungry Monk (1760 W. Chandler Blvd.; 480-963-8000). The converted wing shop now slings double IPAs any time of day, and even offers a wide array of stouts on the rare occasion you catch a late night chill.
Sunday, 8 a.m.: If you can manage to beat the alarm clock, Matt’s Big Breakfast (116 E. Garfield St.; 602-254-1074) will reward you with the hands-down best breakfast in town. Think real maple syrup, sizzling bacon, actual pieces of griddled ham. Otherwise, skip the line and head for Kiss the Cook (4915 W. Glendale Ave.; 623-939-4663), a country joint north of downtown, where a free basket of muffins awaits every new table. After that, it’s time to hit the 10 East, retracing your steps through all points Blythe and beyond. If you feel like making an afternoon out of the journey back, swing off the freeway into Joshua Tree, where rocks and hikes and boundless desert awaits you. Take your time and hike through the valley (don’t forget plenty of potables!). Either way, it’s nice to be back in California, full of pizza and the satisfaction that you’ve had the best slice that this country can offer.