Forget all those wannabe lakes that developers dig in the desert. Grab a table beside the real deal at Canyon or Saguaro lakes.
These two big bodies of water on the rocky outskirts of the East Valley each have a restaurant, and Canyon also offers a popular steamboat dinner cruise.
I took the windy, hilly trek to all three, and while the food and service didn’t always wow me, the scenery definitely did.
Just after noon on a 101-degree Friday, I make the trip to Lakeshore Restaurant at Saguaro. Picture windows frame the water/mountain/sky views and make dining inside a better option than the fenced patio.
The heavily misted, fanned and roofed outside seating makes for a very comfortable temperature, but the mesh-metal fencing blocks the lake section of my sight line and has me craning my neck. The smaller, left side of the patio is the spot to be because the short iron bars block less of the view.
I order a barbecue pulled pork sandwich ($8.45) with fries and a slice of homemade mixed berry pie ($3.95). The sandwich is very sloppy Joe-ish but generous in size, with plenty of crispy fries. The huge slice of pie has a thick, dense crust, and the berries are jamlike and don’t appear to be fresh. Everything is pretty good, but my bill is almost 20 bucks with a drink and it took some bouncing around to get a good look at the lake.
Off to Canyon Lake I go. Wow, Highway 88 would be a great place to let loose with a Porsche. My salty Sentra just doesn’t do all the tight, 180-degree turns justice.
The red-and-white Dolly Steamboat offers a two-and-a-half-hour, booze-less dinner cruise on Saturday and Sunday nights. We go on Saturday because it leaves an hour later than Sunday’s 5:30 p.m. departure time.
After dropping $102, my husband and I find our name-tagged table on the bottom level of the boat. We think we've scored with shade, but the lack of breeze and sun blasting through the big windows quickly has us heading upstairs to cool off.
Surprisingly, it’s 100 percent do-it-yourself despite the big ticket price. Dinner is buffet-style, pitchers of ice water are on each table, and if you want coffee, iced tea or lemonade, you have to get it yourself.
We have perfectly grilled bacon-wrapped filet mignon, tender Cajun-spiced chicken breasts, corn off the cob, salad, baked potato, a roll and apple pie. It's all delicious.
The captain keeps Norah Jones and Enya songs rolling while pointing out cool stuff like a desert bighorn sheep silhouetted atop a cliff and a huge pile of fossilized trees in the side of a canyon wall.
The Dolly Steamboat also offers 90-minute nature ($8.50 to $16) and lunch ($29.95) cruises.
LAKESIDE RESTAURANT AND CANTINA
Larger and more thought-out (no view-blockers here) than Saguaro’s restaurant, Lakeside Restaurant and Cantina is also less expensive.
Inside, there’s a small bar with big vertical windows framing the canyon wall less than a football field across the water. Looks like a great place to throw back some beers. The dining room has three different levels, all of which give diners panoramic shots of the shimmering blue water and golden-brown mountains.
The sound of waves lapping against the shore below make the patio a relaxing option, but the section where I am is mister- and fan-free, which leaves me sweltering. The hour it takes to get my Philly cheese-steak, which I ordered around 2:30 p.m. on a slightly busy Father’s Day, doesn’t help matters.
The sandwich ($6.75) could use more of the thinly grilled steak, but it's yummy and comes with lots of hot fries.
Despite the long wait for my food, I think this is probably the place I’ll be back to first. I can’t wait to partake in that brew-with-a-view.
Where: 14011 N. Bush Highway
Hours: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Price: $7 to $20
Info: (480) 984-5311
Dolly Steamboatdinner cruise
Where: 16802 N.E. Highway 88
Hours: 6:30 p.m. Saturdays
5:30 p.m. Sundays
Price: $47.95 plus tax, or $29.95 plus tax for ages 6 to 12
Info: (480) 827-9144
Lakeside Restaurant and Cantina
Where: 16802 N.E. Highway 88
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday
Prices: $6 to $19
Info: (480) 288-8290