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 of options. Would you like a drink, a meal? Sure. How would you like to get there — walk, bike, scoot, drive, ride share, bus, Orbit, or Metro light rail? Fine. And this probably adds to the bustling atmosphere (and top-notch people watching) along Mill Avenue, but it does not take away from the stress of knowing where to go.
Cartel Coffee Lab 225 West University Drive, Tempe
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., the downtown Tempe location of Cartel Coffee Lab is almost always packed with students, creatives, and busy Tempe locals with a laptop — which makes it feel like a bustling tucked-away spot for you to refuel. This spot offers espresso, filter drip, and other coffee creations, plus tea, pastries, and plenty of outlets.
King Coffee1020 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
It isn’t the most fancy or spacious, but there’s something about this pint-sized cafe 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 does a great job with beans, and as if that wasn’t enough, they are always warm and welcoming — you won’t find any disaffected, grumbly college baristas at this shop. What this shop lacks in square footage, it makes up for in atmosphere, friendliness, and coffee fit for a king.
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
Yes, NCounter rebranded as Daily Jam, but it's pretty much the same thing. 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 omelettes, and sautes — like sauteed 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.
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. It's also a perfect follow-up to the free cups of coffee you can enjoy while waiting for a table. This location (and the rest of them) is open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
615 South College Avenue, Tempe
A wine café may not seem like the obvious choice for brunch, but you’d be wrong if you thought otherwise. The sunny (and dog friendly, and people watching friendly) patio or cozy interior 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. Brunch is 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.
77 South College Avenue, Tempe
A spinoff of the late Noca restaurant’s quick lunch menu, Nocawich is found just north of ASU serving — obviously — sandwiches. The What the Cluck? is pretty famous, probably for not forcing people to decide between fried chicken and a good sandwich on their lunch break. For this dish, the chicken breast is brined in seasoned buttermilk overnight, and dredged in a flour and cornmeal mix. Find a crispy, juicy fried chicken breast accompanied by slaw and B&B pickles – all covered in a honey Dijon sauce. A house-made Parker roll holds the delicious mess together, and that’s all you really need to know.
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.
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 long lines, yes, but you can be comforted while waiting with the many framed celebrity photos and that a long line usually signifies good food. 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.
C.A.S.A. SunBa5 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 or come after dark for a raucous balcony party spot known for its bucket-o-booze — almost calling forward memories of Bourbon Street. 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 they used to have some more imaginative burrito choices, the carne asada, chile verde, and Cabo shrimp — 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.
Otto Pizza and Pastry804 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.
Zipps Sports Grill690 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
Zipps Sports Grill has a week-daily happy hour from 3 to 7 p.m., meaning you can order up those well-known wings on the cheap. 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. Chips and salsa, pizza, wine, and cocktails too are easier on the wallet during happy hour. Zipps also offers nightly specials from 8 p.m. to close in case you're held up at the office.
The Handlebar Tempe
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.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 Tops403 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
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.
Rúla Búla Irish Pub & Restaurant
401 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
Rúla Búla is still killing it with good Irish eats, an impressive selection of Irish whiskeys, and a lively garden patio in downtown Tempe. 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. It waits patiently to support your order of Irish nachos, Guinness barbecue wings, Galway Bay-style mussels, or just a pint. Bonus: The desserts are extra-fun here, and include the Guinness Float and deep-fried Irish bread pudding.
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. And while Pedal Haus Brewery may have made a busy spot even more congested, you can't deny those beers and that menu. The beer list is killer, including the White Rabbit IPA (perfect considering those giant bunny statues outside the patio entrance), while burgers, salads, and starters like the Haus Smoked Salmon adorn the menu.
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.
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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.
Cornish Pasty Co.
425 South Mill Avenue, #111, Tempe
Not far from its original location on University Drive, just east of Hardy Road, Cornish Pasty Co. stretches thinly along the east side of Mill Avenue. And we mean it, it’s very narrow. But the dark hangout with some pretty unique eats along with its views of Mill. If you've never had or heard of a pasty, know the English dish is basically a giant turnover stuffed with the kinds of things you might expect to find in a pot pie. They have traditional versions with pork, steak, and the like, as well as some crazy varieties filled with pesto chicken, pastrami, corned beef, and even red chile. Food service stops at 11:30 p.m.