Story and photos by Rachel Verbits, May 2017 Issue.
If spring had an official cuisine, we estimate that it would be light, fresh and vibrant. Add in an al fresco dining experience set to the sound of waves crashing and a cocktail as the sun sets over the ocean and you have a picture perfect dining experience for this time of year.
And while most of that scenario isn’t attainable here in Arizona, our palate led us to the next best thing: Phoenix, meet Buck & Rider.
Anchored on the southwest corner of Camelback Road and 44th Street, with an impressive view of Camelback Mountain, this ocean-centric restaurant has been offering the best quality – and variety – of seafood the briny deep has to offer since the fall of 2015.
As for the elements of spring, visitors are greeted by a garden of colorful flowers in bloom and lush greenery that provides both ambiance and a backdrop for anyone dining on the perfect patio.
Then, upon entering, the desert seems to melt away as you find yourself in a building inspired by a swanky beach town along the Australian Coast. Dive deeper into the restaurant to discover the centerpiece, and main attraction, of Buck & Rider: Abby’s Oyster Bar. Here, seemingly endless amounts of lobster, crab and, of course, oysters are chilled over ice and ready to be shucked.
Then, there’s the raw bar menu. Separate from the main menu, this menu changes daily (yes, daily!) and is stamped with the day’s date to reflect the fresh selections customers can choose from. And by fresh, I mean to say the absolute freshest seafood you can get in Phoenix. Buck & Rider has its offerings flown in every morning from around the world, and served the same day. So fresh, that there isn’t even a freezer on the premises.
Featuring a selection of seasonal raw oysters, such shellfish as jumbo gulf shrimp and Alaskan king crab and an assortment of sushi rolls, the raw bar was the perfect first stop on my maiden voyage.
As much of a seafood lover as I am, I’m embarrassed to say that I had never had raw oysters before this visit. But, looking at the surrounding tables, it was clear that they were not to be passed up. Luckily, Buck & Rider has options ranging from mild to extra briny, making this a perfect place for “raw” beginners and experts alike.
My oysters, which arrived perfectly shucked and served over ice with hot sauce, cocktail sauce and horseradish. The Buck & Rider oyster was crisp, moderately briny and even a little bit sweet. And, perfect for an oyster newbies, the Mer Blue was mildly briny, easy to eat and absolutely addicting.
If you’re not quite ready to go raw, the deviled crab dip makes for an equally delicious seafood starter. As the house signature dish is a creamy concoction of crabmeat and potatoes, served with watermelon radish, Belgian endive, and “everything” crackers for dipping. There’s a healthy dose of jalapeño mixed in too, so I planned ahead and paired it with a Tequila Sunrise.
Of course, this isn’t the Tequila Sunrise you likely sipped on your last vacation. Here, the unique take on a familiar drink includes blanco tequila, roasted pineapple, citrus, coconut water, house made hibiscus tea, and these spring-y flavors come together in a heavenly combination. The taste of silver tequila is complemented by the naturally sweet fruit and fragrant tea, is a combination that’s rightfully hailed as a customer favorite.
Starters and cocktails were easy enough, but it was time to cast my net in deeper waters.
The main menu boasts an impressive variety of surf and turf combinations, from such selections as USDA Prime cuts of ribeye, New York strip and filet mignon, which can be ordered alone or served with your favorite seafood accompaniment. From pan-seared scallops and sushi grade white fish ceviche to sea bass sandwiches and grilled salmon, it will be quite some time before any true seafood fan runs out of new combinations to try.
In my opinion, lobster is a must-have component to any sea faring experience. So the mini Lobster Roll “Nik Niks” was the next selection I made. Lightly dressed cold-water lobster is layered on top of toasted, buttered rolls for a deconstructed, picture-perfect meal. These petite puffs of heaven are great for sharing as an appetizer, too.
I’m a “save-the-best-for-last” kind of foodie, and for good reason. Once I dug into the pan-roasted PEI mussels nothing else mattered. In fact, I’ve been thinking of them ever since. Steamed to perfection, the mussels are served swimming in a chorizo and white broth with thick slices of rustic sourdough to soak up every drop of goodness. The mussels are light while the broth is hearty, creating the perfect balance.
Buck & Rider is riding the wave of success. Aside from the award-winning food (named Best Seafood Restaurant 2016 by Phoenix New Times), the best part is that they “guarantee by going the extra mile, you will enjoy a bounty of seafood that cannot be found anywhere else in the Southwest.”
But don’t take our word for it, sea for yourself!
Buck & Rider
4225 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix
11 a.m.-10 p.m., Mon-Thurs
11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri
10 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat
10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun