By Elsa Hortareas

Arizona Restaurant Week is returning this fall, armed with to-go options for those uncomfortable with the dine-in experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Set for September 18 to September 27, the week features 80 restaurants offering three-course meals for $33 or $44.

The Arizona Restaurant Association founded the event 12 years ago under the guidance of Chief Executive Officer Steve Chucri. The Spring Restaurant Week followed.

“Fall Restaurant Week has its own special place, because that is what we led off with,” Chucri says. “It’s the two best times of the year where restaurants are on sale.”

Some restaurants also offer a cocktail event or wine pairing at an additional cost.

“Fall Restaurant Week has all types of shapes and sizes as it relates to whatever the diner may or may not want,” Chucri says.

The association’s website has a full list of restaurants and their associated specials. Visit arizonarestaurantweek.com.

Gary Lasko’s Stockyard Steakhouse has participating since the beginning. At 9,000 square feet, the legendary restaurant is the perfect place to socially distance. The staff wears masks and the food runners don gloves, too. “Captain COVID” is a busser whose only job is to disinfect the restaurant.

“We were in masks before the mask mandate,” Lasko says.

Stockyard Steakhouse is offering a soup (soup, tenderloin chili or steak soup), salad, entree (8-ounce filet mignon, a 12-ounce prime rib of beef or a skillet salmon) and one side for $44. For dessert, Stockyards offers pecan pie, chocolate mousse or a sour cream cheesecake.

The pandemic makes the restaurant business tough, but Lasko’s spirits are high.

“This is not going to take us down. We are committed to preserving this institution,” Lasko says.

John Banquil owns Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill. The restaurant has been participating for five years. Its special is $44 for two people: an appetizer (like crispy calamari, cream sweet tacos or chicken lettuce wraps), soup or Caesar salad, and an entree (new wave pad thai, sizzling platters or Ling’s signature meatloaf with red wine mushroom gravy, wasabi mashed potatoes and Szechuan green beans).

Banquil describes the restaurant as modern Asian cuisine with an American flare. Traditional Asian ingredients and techniques are used in nontraditional ways.

Banquil’s goal is to have fun with the guests. After all, “we don’t really take ourselves too seriously.”

Mark Smith’s Honey Bears BBQ will offer a wide selection of barbecue items for $33. He founded Honey Bears BBQ in college. First as a catering business in his apartment and then a brick-and-mortar store.

“Barbecue is good if you sit in and eat it, but it’s also good if you take it home. It’s also good the next day. So, I’m in a win-win situation,” Smith says.

Arizona Restaurant Week, Friday, September 18, to Sunday, September 27, arizonarestaurantweek.com.

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