Commentary

Real Heads Know Where to Find the Best Soup in Tempe

The food prep station with a vat of soup, bread, and cheese ready to be layered and broiled.
The food prep station with a vat of soup, bread, and cheese ready to be layered and broiled. Bri Valdivia
click to enlarge Fresh, hot soup at its final destination on the Casey Moore's bar top. - BRI VALDIVIA
Fresh, hot soup at its final destination on the Casey Moore's bar top.
Bri Valdivia


Casey Moore's Oyster House is a Tempe institution, an allegedly haunted neighborhood watering hole located at Ninth and Ash in a former residence built all the way back in 1910.

Though oysters are advertised in the name, in-the-know regulars tend to gravitate toward a different menu item: the French onion soup.

There's a good reason for that: It's the finest soup in Tempe — a rich, golden brown liquid ladled over a thick piece of bread, generously layered with melting cheese. Yes, you're slurping down roughly a week's worth of your recommended sodium intake. But who cares? Life's short.


Longtime bartender Dave Schleifer started working at Casey Moore's in the 1990s, and as far back as he can remember the French Onion Au Gratin has been on the menu. Schleifer estimates that 100 to 150 bowls of soup are served per week, with numbers holding steady regardless of changing seasons and temperatures.

click to enlarge Casey Moore's Oyster House outside bar. - TOM CARLSON
Casey Moore's Oyster House outside bar.
Tom Carlson

Tom Piontkowski has been a Casey Moore's regular of 15 years, and he confirms the notion that soup has no season.

"The soup is salty and cheesy in the best way, and I often find myself peeling the melted cheese off the bowl and eating it without thinking about it," he says. "It warms me up on a cold day but also is a year-round treat."

In addition to causing local establishments like Casey Moore's to temporarily close, the pandemic also disrupted the onion supply chain. So when Casey Moore's reopened with a limited menu last year sans the soup, Schleifer says folks in the neighborhood made their demands clear: They wanted their French onion back. Happily, it's now back on the menu.

click to enlarge The food prep station with a vat of soup, bread, and cheese ready to be layered and broiled. - BRI VALDIVIA
The food prep station with a vat of soup, bread, and cheese ready to be layered and broiled.
Bri Valdivia

What goes into making this locally famous soup? Specifics on the broth are a secret kept among the chefs at Casey Moore's, but we know what happens once the broth is ladled out. Add chunks of bread, two generous slices of Swiss cheese, top it all with Parmesan and set the bowl in the broiler.

Tempe resident Erick Escalera moved to the Maple-Ash neighborhood — located just west of ASU's main campus and teeming with townies and students alike —  in 2016 and quickly found his way to Casey Moore's. It wasn't long before he discovered the soup, which he's come to see as a kind of microcosm of his home.

"Tempe is like a French onion soup," he says. "Unexpectedly comforting."
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Bri Valdivia is a bartender who regales regulars with tales of her former life as a radio producer and podcaster. She’s been haunting the streets of Tempe for 14 years and lives for sweaty bike rides, large quantities of melted cheese, strange beers, karaoke, and tabletop games.