When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Location: 240 E. Orange Mall, ASU Campus, Tempe
Open: One month
Eats: Israeli and global fusion
If you like being outside, Arizona State's Tempe campus is a perfect place for lunch. The university dominates downtown Tempe, and its paths and plazas are among the most walkable in Arizona. Seating is everywhere, including shiny metal chairs and tables. The Memorial Union overflows with chain restaurants, and you can easily carry your purchase to the front patio and savor your meal in the shade.
So it shouldn't bother anyone than Chick-In, the newest eatery on the block, is about the size of a one-car garage. There isn't much to it, just a counter, a menu, and the mural of a punk chicken spray painting a fence.
Chick-In is so new that there is no website, no Facebook page, and no presence on Google Maps. The place's only digital presence is a fairly active Yelp page. When I asked for a takeout menu, the cashier was apologetic, explaining that the place had only been open a month, and their operations were interrupted by Passover.
Why would Passover matter? Because the owner is apparently Israeli, and every ingredient in the kitchen is kosher. There's almost no way for a newcomer to know that, aside from the "Israeli Salad" and "Israeli Couscous" listed on the menu. The place has a bright and minimalist interior, like an Apple Genius Bar that happens to serve pita sandwiches. None of the decor hints of Israel, or even Williamsburg.
Actually, Chick-In is intensely cosmopolitan, taking its inspirations from around the world. The Bangkok is a chicken dish with Asian salad. The Arizona is chicken with barbecue aioli and pickles. The most surprising entry is the Vienna, which includes schnitzel-breaded chicken breast. There's also falafel and hummus, listed under vegan options, plus a handful of sides.
I had to try the Cancun – chunks of meat with a squeeze of spiced aioli and a splash of pico de gallo. When the cashier asked what kind of side I wanted, I asked about the Israeli Salad. What made it Israeli, exactly? He explained that I might be more familiar with its cousin, the Mediterranean-style salad, basically a mix of diced greens.
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The finishing touch was a medio litro bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola, one of those glass rocket-ships that have popped up in coolers across the Valley. Many years have passed since I was an undergraduate, but the memories of food trucks and outdoor grub came rushing back. Looking at the plastic to-go container, it was strange to see such symmetrical piles of meat and veggies, plus those dollops of guac and mayo. But they tasted wonderful. With the push of a fork, mild Mexican flavors crossed the border into a Middle Eastern garden.
Chick-In has a diverse selection, and it deserves a grand tour, especially when ASU is such a captive audience and students will likely come back to try everything. The place may be named after fowl, but the cheaper option is the falafel, which comes in a pita or bowl for only $5.50. The falafel is fresh and bready, exactly like a bubbeh would make it. As an alternative to Qdoba and Einsteins', Chick-In is a nice, independent addition to ASU's lunch options.
What should a future fan of the place be called? How about a Chick-nik?