It's back-to-school week for Arizona State University’s downtown students, and knowing your nearby eateries is as important as knowing where to park. Whether you're new to the whole college thing, new to ASU, or coming back to Phoenix after a summer away, you'll find that the culinary landscape of our urban playground is brimming with old favorites and exciting new haunts.
There are a ton of dining options to explore in downtown Phoenix, but these 10 are our favorite student-friendly spots. And they’re within walking distance of the Arizona State University downtown campus.
Cornish Pasty Co.7 West Monroe Street
The downtown Phoenix location of Cornish Pasty Co. is located in the heart of ASU land — Monroe Street and Central Avenue along the light rail line. Signature pasties are made to order, and the prep station behind the bar has room for roughly three dozen pasties. The classic order is the Oggie, which includes steak, potatoes, onion, and rutabaga with a side of red wine gravy or ketchup. Other offerings run the gamut from chicken tikka masala pasties to pesto chicken and artichoke, along with wings, soups, and salads. The best part? Cornish Pasty Co. serves late into the night.
The Dressing Room220 East Roosevelt Street
The Dressing Room is a tiny gastropub in the heart of Roosevelt Row wedged between a high-rise apartment building and monOrchid Gallery. The dining room has just a few tables, and the petite bar overlooks an open kitchen. Most of the action takes place outside on a patio partially hidden from the street. It serves "elevated shack food" and amazing cocktails. The veggie tacos consist of beer-battered Oaxaca queso, which translates as "deep-fried cheese." The cold soba salad incorporates Japanese noodles and a miso vinaigrette. The All-Day Burrito basically wraps every breakfast ingredient into a single tortilla. As for the Korean yakitori, two hunks of tender barbecued beef on skewers are coupled with a miso slaw.
Welcome Diner929 East Pierce Street
Just a half-mile from campus, in a mostly residential part of downtown, you'll find Welcome Diner. The menu lists from-scratch Cajun options with local ingredients. Dishes include the seafood etouffee with seasonal seafood, trinity vegetables and Banyuls vinegar over rice, and the jambalaya with Red Bird Farms chicken, andouille, trinity, tomatoes, and Cajun spices served over jasmine rice and paired with Noble sourdough bread for soaking. But a signature dish is the gumbo — Schreiner’s andouille sausage, house-smoked chicken nopales, trinity vegetables, Cajun spices, and dark roux. Be sure to order a hurricane to boot.
Matt's Big Breakfast825 North First Street
If you choose to park in some of the metered spots around campus, there's a good chance you'll be walking up McKinley Street toward campus. That means you'll be passing one of the city's best-known breakfast joints, Matt's Big Breakfast. Since the restaurant moved to bigger digs just up the street from its original location, the waits haven't been quite as long, but they never stopped hungry students from making this a popular weekend morning spot. Matt's serves breakfasts of scrambled eggs, fluffy pancakes, and thick-cut bacon all day long.
Phoenix Public Market Cafe14 East Pierce Street
Housed in a historic building next to the lot that hosts a weekly farmers market, this vintage-chic downtown cafe comes courtesy of Chef Aaron Chamberlin. At Phoenix Public Market Cafe, you’ll find fresh, locally grown, and locally produced ingredients in casual, simple dishes like sandwiches, salads, and bowls (many of which are vegetarian-, vegan-, and dairy-free-friendly). A pastry case of homemade baked goods, a coffee counter, strong Wi-Fi, and an indoor-outdoor bar provide the perfect space for doing some studying over a latte or a trendy cocktail. We recommend the Lee Trevino.
El Norteño1002 North Seventh Avenue
So much grease slides off the flautas here that you could probably start a fire with it if you were so inclined. So is that a bad thing? Hell, no. Particularly when it comes to Mexican fast food. El Norteño might not look like much from the outside, but it delivers on solid machaca, chorizo, Sonoran enchiladas, and one of the best breakfast burritos in the entire city. You can't beat the homestyle daily specials, like breakfasts, which include the likes of huevos rancheros, plus inexpensive lunch plates and dinners. The joint is takeout only, unless you want to eat al fresco on the little weathered patio.
The Grand718 North Central Avenue
Constructed to be reminiscent of an old Victorian train station, The Grand lacks neither charm nor opening hours; the establishment is up and running 24 hours a day — all week, all semester, all year. The eclectic bistro, bar, coffee shop, and market offers a spot to relax, grab a bite, and possibly make a friend. Enjoy a burger, B.L.A.S.T. (a BLT with avocado and Swiss cheese), or buffalo cauliflower sammy on a brioche bun with blue cheese dressing. Or go for a side of onion rings or house fries with roasted garlic aioli and a quick cup of mac and cheese.
The Churchill901 North First Street
This 9,000-square-foot, shaded, air-conditioned, dog-friendly outdoor courtyard is surrounded by 10 businesses — including four restaurants and more than enough drink options. Inside The Churchill’s walls, find pizza, sandwiches, acai bowls, and Mexican fare in a food court-style setting. There's also a killer brunch on the weekend if you also happen to live downtown.
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Hanny’s40 North First Street
This department store turned restaurant and bar is another good drinking and dining spot near ASU downtown. Hanny's is usually bustling, making you feel like you're really downtown. With an expansive menu of classic cocktails, as well as shareable plates and salads, it's easy to order like an adult and feel like one, too. Try the Heckish Old Fashioned or the English Garden, or browse the beer and wine list.
Pizzeria Bianco623 East Adams Street
Pizzeria Bianco has become a Phoenix institution after being named one of the best places to get pizza in the entire country. Lucky for downtown Phoenix campus students, it's located less than a mile from campus. The handcrafted pizzas will cost you more than Domino's, but considering the quality and the fact that they are made by a James Beard Award-winning chef, they are well worth a few extra bucks. Try the classic Margherita made with fresh mozzarella and basil, the Wiseguy, topped with wood-roasted onion, house-smoked mozzarella, and fennel sausage, or go for the most famous and unique of chef Chris Bianco's pies, The Rosa.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on August 14, 2013. It was updated on February 12, 2019.