Armadillo Grill possesses that “Cheers” vibe—and that’s just how owner Brenda Lambrecht likes it.
“The number of friends, couples that have come out of The Dillo—that’s what people call us—is amazing,” she says. “We have a lot of regulars. One group comes in every Thursday night. They met each other here about 15 years ago, and they became friends.”
The Dillo has been boasting this “everybody-knows-your-name” vibe for nearly 20 years.
“I was a GM for Keg restaurants in Vancouver, British Columbia,” Lambrecht says. “I grew up there. I came here in 1996 with a business partner to open our own restaurant. We wanted to be a neighborhood bar and grill with good food—a comfortable place where you don’t have to dress up to go out to dinner.”
After five years, her partner wanted to move on, so Lambrecht bought him out, and today is sole owner and manager. Then 13 years ago, Lambrecht put in off-track betting owned and operated by Turf Paradise, and took over space that had been a legal office next door. Now it’s a spiffy dining area, separated from the bar by a wall of windows.
The main room boasts a large bar, tables, pool tables and TVs—lots of them—44 high-definition screens in fact. That’s one reason The Dillo was voted the No. 1 place to watch a Cardinals game by Thrillist, an online magazine.
A companionable buzz permeates the bar, especially when the Cardinals are playing, but for quiet conversation, try the side room. There’s also an outdoor dining area for cooler months.
As you drive up, however, don’t let your opinion rest on the restaurant’s unassuming exterior. It’s hardly eye-catching.
“I hear that a lot,” Lambrecht says. “I need to put a big sign up that says ‘Do not judge a book by its cover—come on in.’”
The Dillo features an eclectic menu with the usual bar food—burgers, wings, fried pickles, pasta, tacos, enchiladas, mac and cheese, meatloaf and gluten-free selections.
But wait, as they say on TV, there’s more: Thai chicken skewers with house-made peanut sauce; seven banded armadillo salad, the grill’s version of a Cobb salad, with cheddar, bacon, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, olives and cucumbers; a chicken and brie sandwich on focaccia; and seared tuna and salmon.
All the food is made to order, Lambrecht says. “The onion rings are an onion when you order them. We slice, batter and fry them fresh.”
Whatever you do, don’t miss the papadillos, a house specialty made with mashed potatoes, bacon, cheddar and chives rolled into balls and coated with panko crumbs then fried and served with ranch dipping sauce. They remind us of arancini, an Italian standard made with rice formed into balls, rolled in crumbs and fried. They make the perfect companion to football and beer.
The bar focuses on craft beer and cocktails. “We have people come in who are into the cocktail scene, and we have some mixology drinks but on the whole we’re more traditional,” Lambrecht says.
“We’re switching up our menu in January, and there will be a whole new happy hour,” Lambrecht says. One thing you can count on though: they’ll still have those papadillos.
Lambrecht is working out the new menu with chef Azael Becerra. “He started as a line cook in 1998, I think he was 17 at the time,” she says. “He moved up to sous chef and then chef. He does pretty much everything for the kitchen.”
Lambrecht gives her long-time team members, like Lambrecht, credit for Armadillo Grill’s success. Other long-time staffers include her second in command with 12 years, and a couple of her bartenders who have been around 10 years.
“It’s been a rollercoaster, but we’ve succeeded by hiring good people, having great food, and keeping a positive attitude,” she says.
It’s notable that the bar feels comfortable and welcoming to lone women customers—and Lambrecht likes that, too. “They feel safe coming to the bar, or to have a bite to eat. They don’t feel out of place, and that’s important.”
Address: 1904 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix
Phone: (602) 287-0700
– Marjorie Rice, The Entertainer! Magazine / Edited for Phoenix.org