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Welcome to Dining Guides, an intermittent series on the many dining hubs around the greater Phoenix area and what they have to offer. Breakfast to happy hour, quick coffee to sit-down dining, we break down some of our favorite places in each neighborhood. Today, we want to zero in on downtown Tempe.
Tempe is a town that overflows with drinking and dining options. Transportation options, too: You can walk, bike, scoot, drive, rideshare, bus, Orbit, or take the light rail to your meal or coffee date. Along Mill Avenue and University Drive, it all adds up to a bustling atmosphere and lots of top-notch people watching — and one of the Valley’s top destinations for restaurants and bars. Here’s what we recommend.
King Coffee in Tempe.
1020 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
There’s something about this pint-sized cafe that we just adore. King Coffee certainly has all the hallmarks of a casual college-town cafe (artwork made by some dude’s friend? Hand-drawn posters for local house shows? Yes and yes). But contrary to the classic college coffee shop ethos, King doesn’t slack when it comes to quality. King Coffee’s staff do good work with beans from local roaster Cortez Coffee.
Cartel Coffee Lab
810 South Ash Avenue, Tempe
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., the downtown Tempe location of Cartel Coffee Lab has a usual customer base of students, creatives, and Tempe locals with a laptop (usually). This spot offers espresso, filter drip, and other coffee creations, plus tea, pastries, and some high ceilings.
Breakfast plates are famously huge at Harlow’s Cafe.
1021 West University Drive, Tempe
At its heart, Harlow’s Cafe is a place to indulge in a big, old-fashioned breakfast. It’s the place to go for a dish like Eggs Maximilian, which looks and tastes like something a bored and ravenous teenager whipped up in the kitchen on a Saturday morning. It features a thick flour tortilla layered with homemade hash browns and a buttery, wobbly mound of freshly beaten eggs. It’s embedded with mild hunks of green chile, doused in fresh salsa, and crowned with a big scoop of sour cream.
310 South Mill Avenue, Suite A101, Tempe
Whether you prefer OG waffles or their adventurous, red velvet cousins, Daily Jam has the best in Arizona — according to the Food Network, anyhow. Breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., so don’t sweat it if you prefer to sleep in. Pick from simple items like yogurt and granola, variations on eggs Benedict, chilaquiles with fresh corn tortillas, lots of omelets, and sautes — like sautéed potatoes topped with grilled vegetables and two “almost hard” fried eggs.
Desert Roots Kitchen
414 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
The list of food styles for Tempe’s Desert Roots Kitchen reads like a global grocery list: American, Asian fusion, Brazilian, Caribbean, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Thai, etc. But the breakfast (and lunch) spot mostly prides itself on healthy, fresh fare with an emphasis on local ingredients. With an affordable menu that changes daily, diners can expect dishes such as mixed bean wraps, tropical couscous, watermelon kiwi gazpacho, whole-wheat dill pasta, and minted pea crostinis as well as smoothies, mocha almond bars, and coffee.
Original Chop Shop
222 East University Drive, Tempe
The “chop” portion in the name of this healthy eats spot refers not so much to meats (although it has them), but to its handling of vegetables. At Original Chop Shop, carrots, kale, cucumbers, and the like are pressed into juices, placed into bowls, and packed into sandwiches and wraps for a quick or relaxing breakfast on the patio.
Brunch, lunch, and “$5 till 5.”
615 South College Avenue, Tempe
A wine café may not seem like the obvious choice for brunch, but the sunny (and dog friendly, and people watching friendly) patio of the Postino Annex creates an ideal atmosphere for brunch — plus fellow a.m. wine drinkers’ll no doubt surround you. Soak up your morning drinking with brunch menu items like the Farm Scramble, Country Toast, or B.E.L.T. — a breakfast panini on ciabatta with sugar-cured smoked bacon, scrambled eggs, Dijonnaise, lettuce, and tomato. And beers and Bellinis are $5 a pop till 5 p.m.
Snooze: an AM Eatery
615 South College Avenue, #103, Tempe
Sometimes good things come to those who wait, and sometimes that wait can be up to an hour at Snooze, an AM Eatery. The atmosphere is fun and the staff friendly, but seriously, plan on having some time to kill. The menu features many twists on traditional dishes, including the breakfast potpie — think of a puff pastry filled with sausage gravy and topped with an egg (made your way) and served with hash browns. The Brewmosa, a blend of wheat beer and orange juice, is a surprisingly good version of the traditional mimosa.
Otto Pizza and Pastry is your college-town pizza place.
Otto Pizza and Pastry
804 South Ash Avenue, Tempe
Otto Pizza and Pastry is one of those Tempe mainstays that seems to have been around since ASU broke ground. With freshly made and crispy thin pizzas, whole and by the slice, college kids and residents flock to the no-frills pizza joint for a quick lunch — between class, work, or otherwise. Plus, there are also wings, salad, spaghetti, ravioli, calzones, French and Italian sandwiches, and pizza rolls. The prices are low and the staff friendly, giving it the family-run vibe it deserves.
202 East University Drive, Tempe
The Chuckbox is older than nearly anything else in Tempe and does one thing quite well: charcoal-grilled burgers. For decades, students have been able to step off campus (but just barely) and into this rustic little cabin for an affordable burger unlike any you’ll find elsewhere in the Valley. There’s no flat-top here, just the open flames of a mesquite charcoal grill that, when combined with the restaurant’s special secret spices, makes for one great lunch. Be sure to bring some hand money, as this place is cash only.
849 West University Drive
No one lives in Tempe for long without hearing, “You’ve got to try Cafe Lalibela.” The husband-and-wife-run Ethiopian restaurant has occupied a strip mall suite for decades and serves some of the best African food in all of metropolitan Phoenix. The eatery specializes in vegetarian dishes (though several meat items are on the menu) and is known for teaching many an ASU student about the importance of injera and wat.
Tempe Farmers Market
805 South Farmer Avenue, Tempe
Marked by its bright red T for the town it serves, the Tempe Farmers Market is small grocer that’s been open since 2009 in downtown Tempe. Find Arizona-made products on its shelves, sure, but the locally owned market is also something of a bodega. There’s a vegan deli inside known for its excellent vegetarian and/or gluten-free wraps, as well as pastas, salads, and pastries. The menu also lists organic smoothies like the Desert Palm and Berry Green.
839 West University Drive, Tempe
Known for the “art of sandwicherie,” Sacks is a lunch-focused casual eatery established more two decades ago by Wanda Morrow. The sandwich menu — for which the restaurants are known — features an array of signature handhelds, including the Sacks Overture — a fragrant stack of prime beef accompanied by sweet and red onion, tomato, lettuce, and mild horseradish sauce on an eight-inch baguette.
Ike’s Love and Sandwiches
699 South Mill Avenue, #107, Tempe
This is one of those tucked away places — almost literally, as it’s hidden around a corner in the Brickyard Engineering section of Mill Avenue. Ike’s Love and Sandwiches has good-sized sandwiches and many framed celebrity photos on the walls. Speaking of celebrities, that’s how you’ll be ordering — by picking a sandwich named for a beloved athlete, TV star, and more. Grab a Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, Ted Danson, or even The Little Mermaid. And vegan and vegetarian options are plentiful.
5 East Sixth Street, Tempe
This downtown Tempe cornerstone is pretty versatile. You can stop in for a burrito lunch on the dog-friendly patio during the day or come afterdark for more of a raucous time. But it’s that former scenario we want to focus on at C.A.S.A., because the food here is actually well done. While there used to have some more imaginative burrito choices, the carne asada, chile verde, and Cabo Camaron — either original, wet, or mac (and cheese) style — are still pretty good. Plus, you can sub vegan carne asada for any taco, burrito, or bowl.
Head back to Pedal Haus for happy hour.
Pedal Haus Brewery
730 South Mill Avenue, #102. Tempe
Tempe’s Mill Avenue brewpub and German-inspired beer garden is tucked in the back streets of downtown by the AMC Centerpoint 11. Pedal Haus Brewery has a killer beer list, including the White Rabbit IPA (perfect considering those giant bunny statues outside the patio entrance, which kind of crowded the area but whatever), while burgers, salads, and starters like the Haus Smoked Salmon adorn the menu. Plus, there are multitudes of gluten-free options. Happy hour is 3 to 6:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday.
680 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
This is the type of place that non-college goers are grateful for — the bar and eatery on Mill Avenue with decent beer, food, and seating. The Handlebar serves an always-impressive selection of craft beers on tap and specialty cocktails, including the Paper Route — a PBR tall can, shot of Jameson, and a cigarette. There’re also hand-cut fries, burgers and brats, salads, sandwiches, and those amazing pretzels. The daily happy hour is from 3 to 6:30 p.m. (including all day on Wednesday), and regular specials include Brown Bag Mondays and Whiskey Tuesday.
The Shop Beer Co. in Tempe has closed its tasting room for now.
The Shop Beer Co.
922 West First Street, Tempe
While Mill Avenue has some decent dining options, we encourage you to order it to-go and bring it to The Shop Beer Co. The historic Tempe tasting room welcomes outside food and snacks, as does the picturesque patio area, as long as you pair it with onsite craft brews like Church Music juicy IPA and the Coffee Brown American nut brown ale. There’s also usually a food truck with tater tots, just FYI.
Taste of Tops (temporarily closed)
403 West University Drive, Tempe
Neighboring the well-known Tops Liquors in downtown Tempe, Taste of Tops is a seriously cozy bar and wine place known for its craft-beer selection, comfortable seating, and weekly airings of Sunday-night TV dramas. You can also BYOF. “We used to only allow from Tessio’s or Thai Basil,” says manager Kirsten Eccles. “Now, you can bring food from wherever.” Tessio’s Pizza is long closed, but Thai Basil is still next door, while other nearby places include Fired Pie, Little Szechuan, and Loving Hut Tempe.
House of Tricks in Tempe is right off Mill Avenue.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
House of Tricks
114 East Seventh Street, Tempe
Romantic meals have something in common with real estate: It’s all about location, location, location. That’s why we keep coming back to House of Tricks, which is situated in a 1920s cottage just off Mill Avenue. It’s an oasis of charm and refinement amid the hustle and bustle of Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, an intimate space whether you’re nestled in the dining room or eating on the tree-canopied patio. And, oh, yeah, the food is outstanding.
108 East University Drive, Tempe
Located on the ground floor of Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown, Alter Ego is an upscale-yet-approachable hotel restaurants run by veteran Valley Chef Ken Arneson. Seasonal menu items include skirt steak chimichurri, a katsu chicken sandwich, Filipino-style empanadas, and some sweet Thai shishito peppers. And don’t even get us started on the goat cheese gelato, mixed with fresh berries and served with the In “The Pot” Cobbler. Part of Alter Ego’s menu is seasonal, so you may not get to try everything mentioned above. But we’re confident most any order here will leave you satisfied.
Perfect Pear Bistro
603 West University Drive, Tempe
If you’ve ever passed Perfect Pear Bistro at night, you almost physically gravitate toward its glowing garden patio space peeking up over the fence. Head here for salads, sandwiches, and bowls, as well as dinner options like tacos and pasta dishes. There’s also a full bar.
26 East University Drive
At Umami, your experience depends on a variety of factors. Sometimes, it’s a relaxing, open-air spot to slurp ramen, with a low-volume sports game on in the background. Other times, Shady Park is hosting a thumpy DJ. The menu has variety as well, with multiple ramen and sushi options, many of which have gluten-free and vegan offerings. If you’re adding the vegan fried chicken — and we suggest you do — ask for it on the side to minimize sogginess. But the real star at Umami is the Mr. Roboto Special: a house bowl, a Japanese draft, and sake.
Outrageous creations to simple strawberry cone can be had at Sparky’s.
Sparky’s Old Town Creamery
510 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
This is your quintessential ice cream shop found in the touristy part of town, which actually doesn’t make it any less quaint, essential, or good. Sparky’s Old Town Creamery offers fresh, small-batch ice cream made in house in 22 flavors like Don’t Toucha My Coconuts, Caramel Pumpkin Porter, and Funny Farm. Plus there’s sorbet, malts, shakes, smoothie, ice cream cookie sandwiches, and Hawaiian shave ice.
699 South Mill Avenue, #117, Tempe
Slickables is known for serving custom-built ice cream sandwiches, where you pick two cookies and the ice cream between. It’s a perfect handheld treat for strolling Mill Avenue on a warmer day. Pick a cookie peanut butter, white chocolate macadamia nut, or red velvet (or at the Tempe location) and pair it with an ice cream flavors like cookies and cream, cookie dough, salted caramel, and strawberry cheesecake chunk. We don’t need you anymore, Dairy Queen.
The cream of tomato soup with croutons and housemade bread at Cornish Pasty Co.
Cornish Pasty Co.
960 West University Drive, #103, Tempe
This original location of Cornish Pasty Co., this restaurant and drinkery has an open-air patio and spacious interior for those on the hunt for hearty food among good people. If you’ve never had or heard of a pasty, know the English dish is basically a giant turnover stuffed with pesto chicken, pastrami, corned beef, and red chile. Other menu items include the Tandoori Wings, the Scotch Cobb salad, and a damn spicy bloody mary. (note: The Mill Avenue location is temporarily closed.)
Zipps Sports Grill
690 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
Zipps Sports Grill has big mugs, a roomy patio, and some well-known wings. The sports bar’s standard wing order numbers 10 wings covered in a honey-tinged sauce in either mild or hot, or even extra hot. Each bite brings a mouthful of spice and meat, meaning you’ll want to pair them with one of those 32-ounce domestic drafts or a Zipparita. And here. the kicthen is open till 10:30 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday, and 11:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday
Casey Moore’s Oyster House, where people go and tend to stay.
Casey Moore’s Oyster House
850 South Ash Avenue
You haven’t drank in downtown Tempe till you’ve put in the hours at Casey’s. The Tempe bar and eatery, but mostly bar, is a go-to for many Tempeans — either for pregame, post-game, or the game.Post up at the back bar at the parking lot entrance, find a table on the wraparound patio, or settle inside for eyefulls of dusty pub decor and maybe a scary story. The bar food here is suprisingly good (shout out to the cuppa French onion soup), while drinks consist of beers, fun shots, and standard mixed drinks.
Rúla Búla Irish Pub & Restaurant
401 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
Rúla Búla is still killing it with its impressive selection of Irish whiskeys and lively garden bar. Translated as “uproar and commotion,” Rula Bula is housed in the colorful historic Andre Building, which opened as a saddlery and harness shop in 1888 (you’ll notice nods to those roots on the shelves and display areas around the pub). What’s more, Rula Bula’s bar was actually built in Ireland, shipped to Tempe, and then reassembled where it sits now, waiting patiently for you to order a pint.
Arizona Distilling Company
601 West University Drive, Tempe
Another beloved patio in downtown Tempe belongs to Arizona Distilling Company —the second-oldest craft distillery in the state. The tasting room and cocktail lounge is known for its award-winning spirits, like the Desert Durum Wheat Whiskey, Copper City Bourbon, and our favorite, Commerce Gin. There’s also food.
108 East University Drive, Tempe
Alibi is on the rooftop of Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown, also home to Alter Ego. Set on the 14th floor, this full-service bar has 180-degree views, a menu of street food designed by Executive Chef Ken Arneson, and some specialty craft cocktails. We’re talking drink order like the Tamarind Mule, Alter Mi-Tai, and Tokyo Bramble. Plus like domestic beer, wine, and the sparkling stuff, too.Hours are 3 to 11 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday.
The lemon chicken dinner combo at Little Szechuan is available to go.
524 West University Drive, Tempe
The petite, glowing sign in front of Little Szechuan is hard to miss off University Drive as you near Roosevelt Street. This classic Chinese restaurant has been in Tempe since 1976, and the menu even has ASU-themed signature dishes, including the Sun Devil — a maroon and gold dish made with homemade chili, bamboo shoots, and your choice of protein (students even receive a discount; just let someone know when ordering).
403 West University Drive, #101, Tempe
Although Thai Basil has many different locations to choose from around the Valley, the Tempe incarnation off University Drive and Farmer Avenue downtown is our favorite. The silver noodle soup is a go-to dish — the light, flavorful broth with rice noodles and veggies is enough to fill you up without slowing you down. The papaya salad comes with a citrusy dressing and shrimp, and is a great option for calorie-counters. But you can never go wrong with the piping hot, oversize container of coconutty red curry.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on April 10, 2019. It was updated on January 6, 2021.
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