Best Downtown Lunch 2019 | Monroe's Hot Chicken | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Chris Malloy

Pickles. Chicken. Heat. That's what's for lunch at Monroe's, founded by Larry White, the man behind Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles. Modeled after the Nashville-style hot chicken meals that have become a trend from coast to coast, this chicken packs the kind of intensity you want when skipping the bagged lunch al desko. Chicken gets a heavy breading. You could probably design maps of each piece's varied landscapes. All that furrowed, contorted, brown-fried casing doesn't have the shatter you would expect — but there, rising hard and fast, comes the heat. The secret is to dig in before the pepper sauce that makes the chicken molten sogs the exterior. Milkshakes frost over the heat some. If you get a chicken sandwich, the slaw will control the fire and lend a nice snap. However you do Monroe's, you're in for a downtown lunch with the personality to make your day better.

Diana Martinez

If you have never descended the dark stairwell into The Rokerij, the cellar bar at Richardson's, put this unique Phoenix experience at the top of your list. Sitting at "the wood" is serious business, and when you belly up to the bar in this beautiful underground restaurant, you immediately know that you're in for something special. In this intimate, cabin-like setting, the bar is the focal point, stretching magnificently through the middle of the place. The shelves on the back wall are filled with an impressive lineup of spirits, and the happy hour (not to mention reverse happy hour) doesn't skimp on the wine list. Experienced bartenders, dim lighting, classic rock coming through the speakers, and a beautiful copper bar top are all reasons to get to The Rokerij early, pull up a stool, and stay late.

Bar food is easy to over-enjoy, because you're most likely drinking while you're enjoying it. But occasionally, bar food is a tier above some microwaved pizza and wings (not that those aren't good). Enter Bao Chow, specializing in handheld Taiwanese ... tacos, let's say. It's found in the Whiskey Lounge at the famous Yucca Tap Room music venue in Tempe. A pillowy, mildly sweet, steamed bun is wrapped around bulgogi, fried chicken, or tofu. The fried chicken is heaven-sent and deserves its own sentence, which is this one. Other Bao Chow menu items include tacos, build-your-own burgers, breakfast stuff, wings, and maybe the best basket of piping-hot tots you can imagine. Bao Chow is open to people of all ages daily until 7 p.m., and then you must be over 21 to be at the Yucca. The kitchen's open from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.

Cafe Monarch

Imagine not flying to France, but still dining European villa-style with a customized menu and privacy. There is a reason why Café Monarch was voted the second-most romantic restaurant in the country by TripAdvisor. Couples will receive special attention from the staff, and if it seems you're treated like family, it may be because the restaurant is family-owned and -operated. Gustavo Lewkowicz is the chef. His wife, Sofia, is in charge of the decor, and their sons Christian and Phillip run the place. The restaurant's farm-to-table ingredients ensure the highest quality in cuisine. In fact, the Traveler's Choice Awards named it the third-best restaurant in the United States for fine dining. Only two New York City restaurants finished higher. This true gem is a place to linger with your love and let the romance take center stage.

Socializing can be difficult with little ones running around, especially when you want to catch up with an old friend over a cup of coffee. There's no way anyone can carry on a conversation at a local fast-food restaurant or kid-themed pizza joint (let alone want to eat there). Don't fret, parental units. The Teapot, located in a restored downtown house just south of Roosevelt Street, is both a cool spot and a place for the little ones to play. Created by two parents, one of whom hails from London, the menu consists of delicious British pastries, kid-friendly noshes, and handcrafted caffeinated beverages and juices. What makes The Teapot perfect for families is the expansive play place in the backyard complete with pedal cars surrounded by canopied benches. This makes The Teapot a hip yet practical hangout.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

It doesn't get any better than Welcome Diner's patio when you're kicked back, drink in hand, watercolor sun setting or night already late and weird. Under the green and red neon lights that sear the palm-treed sky over the Garfield District, you, me, her, them, him, they, everybody in this nook of town seems to be having a blast. The hurricanes and palomas flow like oxygen, booze sopped up by poutine and fried chicken and chorizo meatloaf. This is the kind of spot that seems to vanquish your goals and dreams of faraway places, leaving you content in the moment. It's also the kind of small and mismatched but ideal patio that wouldn't even need good food or drink, but has both, making Welcome a Phoenix landmark.

Grand Avenue Pizza Company doesn't open until 4 p.m. It stays open until 3 a.m, but only five days a week (four in the summer). Do that math. Frustrating as it may be for the lunch crowd, this represents a lot of what Grand Avenue is about. It knows its vision, and it doesn't mess with a winning formula. Using all high-quality and natural ingredients (Arizona-grown when possible) and making everything in-house, Grand Avenue doesn't need to compensate for anything with ridiculous toppings or bougie presentation. Nothing tastes better at 1 a.m. after a Van Buren dance night than a slice of pepperoni and one of its famed PB&J cookies.

Tom Carlson

Walking into this nearly 70-year-old steakhouse feels like you're stepping into a Martin Scorsese film. When you open the back door and step into the kitchen where steaks and chops are being broiled for the hungry customers inside, it's another world. Once you go through the kitchen's swinging doors, a team of tuxedo-clad waiters will cater to your needs, whether it's a martini or a filet mignon cooked perfectly to your liking. Phoenix's history practically oozes from the red walls. So much has been said of the establishment's founder that you knew someone would make a movie out of Jack Durant's life (and yes, someone did). Leave what you've heard or seen at the door. The truth is that when you have something to celebrate, you go someplace legendary. You eat at Durant's.

If you live in any part of the Valley remotely west, north, or even central, driving to Handlebar Diner can start to feel like a road trip pretty quickly. But that's almost part of the experience, a vibe the residents of Eastmark, the large-scale, master-planned community in southeast Mesa where Handlebar Diner is located, don't get. This Valentine-style diner is small inside, but the patio, with its flatscreen TVs, picnic tables, and outdoor lighting, is where you'll want to spend breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or just drinks. Some suggestions include the Vietnamese-style wings, Adam's Mac and Cheese, Highway 44 raviolis, the Eastmark Cobb, and the Keto Smothered Chicken. For those cool nights on the deck, order local, imported, or domestic beers off the menu of libations, or go for a house cocktail like the Chef's Hurricane or Handlebar Mule.

There's only one place in town to get something Stacy style, and that's Stacy's Off Da Hook BBQ and Soul Food. The casual American restaurant plates "ole fashion" barbecue, fried chicken, and chitterlings, and has Kool-Aid on tap. That crispy fried chicken comes from a secret recipe concocted by owner Stacy Phipps himself, who most likely will be in the restaurant when you visit. Pair your plate with sides like creamy mac and cheese, salty green beans, collard greens, and corn muffins. Off Da Hook also offers breakfast pairings, including catfish and grits, and chicken and waffles. The dining room is as enjoyable as the menu, so sit back and take in the classic R&B; photos of icons like Rosa Parks, Wilson Pickett, and the Obama family; and of course, the plate of soul food in front of you.

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