Originally published August 12, 2015. Updated August 17, 2016.
We'll admit, when we were in college, we weren't the most enlightened of diners. That basically means we wasted a lot of money eating mediocre food because we didn't know any better. But you don't have to make the same mistake.
There are plenty of good — and almost more important, affordable — restaurants around Arizona State University's main campus. So whether you're just starting your college career, or just starting to figure out that there are restaurants besides Chipotle and Panda Express (or both), you're going to want to do yourself a favor and check out this list of student-friendly restaurants around Tempe.
Sure, students could head south of campus and get a cheap burger at In-N-Out, but why bother when you have the Chuckbox — a veritable Tempe institution — right in your backyard? This simple burger joint has been around for more than 40 years, and still serves one of the best burgers in town. The difference is that unlike other burger spots, the Chuckbox still cooks their ground beef patties on a grill powered by mesquite charcoal. Each one is also covered in the restaurant's special blend of spices and then left untouched for you to customize at the condiment bar. Two important tips for first-timers: Don't forget to order the beer-battered onion rings, and don't forget cash. This place is old-school, so no credit or debit cards are accepted.
Original ChopShop Co.
For a lighter meal around ASU, you'll want Original ChopShop Co., a health-focused restaurant located just steps off campus. The specialties here include salads, sandwiches, and protein bowls packed with ingredients such as kale, forbidden rice, and grilled chicken — in short, everything you should be eating to avoid that dreaded Freshman 15. The restaurant itself is a cozy spot for eating, drinking, and even just hanging out — particularly on the spacious patio with games, community picnic tables, and stringed lights. On the drinks side, you can get everything from fresh-squeezed lemonade or pressed juices to coffee, espresso, and even sangria.
El Pollo Supremo
Located in the strip mall on the southwest corner of University Drive and Ash Avenue, El Pollo Supremo is hands down one of Tempe's best hidden gems. As the restaurant's name indicates, this spot does one thing and it does it well, namely mesquite charcoal-broiled chicken served with sides of hot, soupy beans and fresh tortillas. Okay, to be fair you can also order tri-tip beef, but at $12 for a whole chicken, it's pretty clear what choice you should make. A whole chicken can feed two or three (less hungry) diners easily and comes with corn or flour tortillas, beans, salsa, and marinated onions. As you tear into each piece, you'll find the red flavorful, red exterior gives way to moist, smoky meat. Dine like a pro and build tiny chicken tacos stuffed with beans and generous amounts of the restaurant's salsa.
Though it's a little farther away from campus, Hummus Xpress is worth a short drive. This one-of-a-kind restaurant does Mediterranean and Lebanese food in a fast-casual setting and in Subway style. That means you get to build your own pita, bowl, salad, or plate, starting with a protein of your choice: gyro, falafel, chicken, beef, or vegetarian. You can fill out the entree with vegetables, hummus, or salad, and add toppings including olives, tomatoes, feta cheese, cucumbers, pepperoncinis, and more. Each of the options will set you back less than $10, and are sure to fill you up. For a lighter snack, you can also get an order of house-made hummus with pita and a choice of meat for less than $5.
This eatery from experienced restaurateur Eliot Wexler is exactly where we would have eaten if it had been open when we were in college. With a breakfast menu that includes everything from an excellent breakfast burrito to H&H bagels and Russ & Daughters lox — both imported from New York — Nocawich delivers high-quality food that's still within a student's budget. For lunch, expect a menu that features sandwiches and heartier entrees, both of which can be washed down with either a craft beer or a glass of wine. Plus, with a prime location on College Avenue, Nocawich makes a perfect stop before football games or catching the light rail. Be sure to call ahead to check the restaurant's hours as they change seasonally.
Take your parents to ... Postino Annex
Located just off College Avenue, across from the Arizona State University bookstore, Postino Annex is the perfect — and most convenient — place for Mom and Dad to kick back and relax with a glass of vino. The restaurant and wine bar, which offers several locations around the Valley, is best known for its approachable and affordable list of red and white wines, as well as for its build-your-own bruschetta boards featuring ingredient combos such as brie, apples, and fig spread; smoked salmon and pesto; and the classic tomato, mozzarella, and basil number. But the menu doesn't stop with bread and cheese; there are also some heartier options including sandwich, salads, and soups — and best of all, none of it has to break the bank. Every day before 5 p.m., you can get $5 pitchers of beer or glasses of wine, and on Monday and Tuesday nights Postino offers a bottle of wine and a bruschetta board for just $20.