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Wild Thaiger is easy to spot in Midtown.
Wild Thaiger is easy to spot in Midtown.
Sara Dalton

Dining Guide: Best Restaurants, Stop by Stop, Along the Valley Metro Rail

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 drinks, quick coffee to sit-down dining, we break down some of our favorite places in each neighborhood. Today, we want to zero in on some of the best restaurants along the Valley Metro Rail.

The 26-mile public transit system shoots its passengers around town, leaving possibly hungry Phoenicians off at 38 stations throughout the Valley. Good thing Valley Metro Rail stops are also neighboring some well-known restaurants in Mesa, Tempe, and Phoenix.

East to west, here are some of the best restaurants along the Valley Metro Rail.

Stapley Drive/Mesa Drive

Set along Mesa’s Main Street, you’ll recognize Hambone Sports Bar from the iconic dapper-pig-holding-a beer neon sign. This place has six pool tables and plenty of room to shoot, and the atmosphere can’t be beat. That atmosphere, however, may be a little hazy, as patrons here are allowed to smoke since the Hambone doesn’t technically have any windows. Though you can’t smoke while shooting (for the felt’s sake), you can puff away as you wait your turn. There's also a full bar, karaoke, and internet jukebox to boot.

The light rail line running through downtown Mesa.EXPAND
The light rail line running through downtown Mesa.
Lauren Cusimano

Center Street/Main Street and Mesa Drive/Main Street

This is your stop for dining in downtown Mesa — where you’ll find an abundance of drinking and dining options.

Country Club Drive/Main Street

The Original Blue Adobe Grill's recognizable A-frame and blue, white, and brick exterior is wholly part of the charm. The stained-glass windows and little cafe chairs at the entrance are welcoming, more like you're visiting your favorite aunt in Santa Fe for dinner than stepping inside a restaurant. Blue Adobe Grille offers a couple of authentic dishes. We've already highlighted the lobster tamales, Southwest chicken pasta, ancho chile-rubbed salmon and ribs, and the steak options — which are grilled over a pecan wood fire.

Mekong Palace Restaurant at Mekong Plaza near the Sycamore Street and Main Street station.EXPAND
Mekong Palace Restaurant at Mekong Plaza near the Sycamore Street and Main Street station.
Jim Louvau

Sycamore Street/Main Street

Located in Mesa at Main Street and Dobson Road, Asian Café Express is an unassuming Hong Kong-style café housed in a strip-mall suite. Its menu covers Chinese, Southeast Asian, and Western-influenced dishes, but the food, my God, the food, is where this little eatery shines. The Chili Salt Chicken Wings come recommended, but this well-praised spot has plenty of dishes (more than 300, in fact) to follow this snappy starter.

Mekong Plaza is loaded with fun things to try and maybe take home. There’s the Mekong Supermarket, as well as dine-in options like the Mekong Palace Restaurant, the Happy Bao's Restaurant, Mekong Sandwiches, Unphogettable, and Xian Fusing Café. There are also quick options if you’re just stepping in with some cash in your hand. Grab something from the AA Ozzy Bakery, or get dessert at Roll Avenue Ice Cream Rolls.

Smith-Martin/Apache Boulevard

Serving “real Punjabi food,” The Dhaba has a menu inspired by the cuisine of India and Pakistan, as well as Persia, Afghanistan, and central Asia. It prepares much of its food via the tandoor, or clay oven, and the taste is certainly there. Be sure to try the gosh rogan josh, tender chunks of lamb in a buttery sauce of dried chiles and yogurt, as well as the nawabi murgh tikka, some chaat, and Punjabi ice cream.

McClintock Drive/Apache Boulevard

First built as the historic White Dairy Barn in 1918 (and you can definitely still tell), Tempe Tavern has a little bit of everything. There are live bands and DJ sets, regulars, and of course, booze, but Tempe Tavern has a surprisingly good menu as well. Well, for a bar. Think wings, deep-fried mac n' cheese balls, Tomas's Big Taco Salad, the Strip Club Chicken Sandwich, the Tavern Burger, and the Sherrizo Breakfast Burrito.

The kung pao chicken at Chou’s Kitchen.EXPAND
The kung pao chicken at Chou’s Kitchen.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

Dorsey Lane/Apache Boulevard

Known for northwestern Chinese fare, Chou’s Kitchen is the place to go for noodles, dumplings, and steamed buns off the light rail. Popular dishes include the chicken with Chinese mushroom clay pot option, cumin lamb, salt and pepper shrimp, Shandong Da-Lu noodle soup, and of course, any of the handmade dumplings. Wash it down with a watermelon juice and you’ll be set for a while.

For a quick-me-up, local roasters Press Coffee have a post at the Nexa Apartments. Grab a hot or iced house coffee and keep rolling.

University Drive/Rural Road

Now, you’re deep in Sun Devil country. Arizona State University-adjacent eateries are all around you at this stop.

At the southeast corner, you have Tempe late-night staple Gus’s New York Pizza, as well as Delhi Palace Cuisine of India, and more. At the northwest corner, find mainstay Sushi 101 and Asian Fusion Café. And just south, you have a cluster of spots, including Ahipoki Bowl, Char’d Brisket Dogs + Burgers, and Urban Boba Tea House.

Postino's Tempe Annex location offer guests a mostly shaded patio overlooking College Avenue.EXPAND
Postino's Tempe Annex location offer guests a mostly shaded patio overlooking College Avenue.
Teresa Traverse

Veterans Way/College Avenue

There is an abundance of dining options between this stop and the northern reaches of ASU’s campus. There’s Royal Coffee Bar for some caffeine, Postino Annex for the classic bruschetta board and glass of wine combo, Snooze an A.M. Eatery for those brunch options, and Nocawich — one of the better sandwich shops in the whole city.

Mill Avenue/Third Street

This is your stop if you’re dining or drinking in downtown Tempe, especially along Mill Avenue.

Priest Drive/Washington Street

Cafe Roma Pizzeria is a breakfast and lunch spot just a few paces from the light rail stop. Show up early for a breakfast sandwich, western omelet, or French toast special. For lunch, offerings include wraps, salads, sandwiches, and daily specials like spaghetti and meatballs and pepperoni calzone. There is also pizza, lasagna, and chicken Parmesan happening on the daily. And if you just need some quick calories, pick up some garlic bread or piece of cheesecake.

For an ultra-quick stop, Ladybug Café offers fast-service breakfast, lunch, and drink options weekdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. But if you need help navigating the multitude of options, Ladybug specialties include the chicken Caesar wrap, Ladybug Club, and the turkey and cranberry sandwich. Maybe treat yourself to a mango fruit smoothie, too.

It's worth coming to The Stockyards just to check out its darkly elegant and historic bar.EXPAND
It's worth coming to The Stockyards just to check out its darkly elegant and historic bar.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

50th Street/Washington Street

This light rail stop puts you just about as close to the Stockyards Steakhouse entrance as the parking lot. Established in 1947, this Arizona eatery is sticking closely to the “cattle” aspect of our state’s five Cs. The menu lists corn-fed, aged steaks and prime rib, as well as appetizers like Paloma Ranch Calf Fries, the Oak Creek Pear Salad, and the pecan-dusted walleyed pike. There’s also an impressive wine list, and weekday happy hour specials in the 1889 Saloon.

44th Street/Washington Street

This is a popular stop, namely because it connects to the 44th Street PHX Sky Train Station up the escalator. Therefore, another rail system will shoot off to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, where you can explore the many dining options in Terminal 3 or restaurant options in Terminal 4.

38th Street/Washington Street

For some food and maybe a beer, Walter Station Brewery is a straightforward spot for both. There’s pizza, including the barbecue chicken, Super Greeky, and classic pepperoni, plus sandwiches and nachos. And for beer, well you’re just going to have to visit the fire-station-turned-brewery to see what it has on draft.

24th Street/Washington Street

Menuderia Guanajuato, a quick-service Mexican food restaurant, has the wipe-downable tablecloths, as well as some top-notch food and aguas frescas. There’s menudo, of course, just in case you’re taking the light rail the next morning to retrieve your car and need a little hangover-friendly food. Plus, there are also quesadillas, gorditas, sopes, tacos, burritos, tortas, flautas, enchiladas, and chilaquiles

Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe's famous fried chicken.EXPAND
Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe's famous fried chicken.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

12th Street/Washington Street

In case you aren't familiar, Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe (named for founder Elizabeth White) has been serving classic soul food since 1964 — and not much about the place has changed since then. When it comes to fried chicken, you are in one of the most famous places for it in town. There's also catfish, and for sides, we suggest the mac and cheese.

And if you’re looking for a quick bite or a craft cocktail, Concierge Bistro Bar is right across the street from the station.

Third Street/Washington Street

Heading to Chase Field? Here’s all the places to eat before that big game.

Washington Street/Central Avenue and Van Buren Street/Central Avenue

Downtown Phoenix is all around you after you pop off the light rail at one of these stops. Be sure to explore the many, many dining options.

Roosevelt Street/Central Avenue

This is the stop you’ll take if you plan on exploring the dining options along Roosevelt Row, and/or the restaurants, coffee shops, and wine bars at Portland Parkway Park.

Pizza People Pub has some gluten-free crust and a pretty good happy hour.EXPAND
Pizza People Pub has some gluten-free crust and a pretty good happy hour.
Lauren Cusimano

McDowell Road/Central Avenue

The light rail station near Burton Barr Central Library is booming with food and drink options. There’s the classic family stop-in, the Old Spaghetti Factory, as well as Pizza People Pub — ideal for a quick happy hour drink or a gluten-free meal.

There’s also the counter-service Japanese joint Blue Fin, as well as Forno 301 for dine-in Italian. Find pho at Basilic Vietnamese Kitchen, and maybe such much-needed caffeine at Press Coffee.

Encanto Boulevard/Central Avenue

This midtown station offers a slew of dining options along Central Avenue. Check out Heard Coffee Cantina inside the Heard Museum or hit the garden patio at Oven+Vine Restaurant and Wine Bar. Find Thai dishes at the classic Wild Thaiger restaurant, which neighbors the Phoenix bar and restaurant staple that is Durant’s.

Thomas Road/Central Avenue

There’s a strip of restaurants down Thomas Road, heading west from this station. Hoof it to check out Pino's Pizza Al Centro or zpizza or grab some breakfast at First Watch or 5th Avenue Cafe.

The classic Honey Bear’s BBQ is stationed at this station as well, and the many eateries of Park Central. Kobalt Bar welcomes all, especially during happy hour, and allows patrons to bring in their own food to pair with their cocktail.

Osborn Road/Central Avenue

This leg of the light rail is pretty business casual, but many restaurants are standing by for a power lunch. Go corporate at Alexi's Grill, or hoof it slightly west to The Liberty Kitchen.

Go for the ramen or the cocktails, or just go.
Go for the ramen or the cocktails, or just go.
Clever Koi

Indian School Road/Central Avenue

The old stair-step, Mayan-style Macayo’s is long gone, but the more recent Woody’s Macayo’s still offers chips and salsa, chimichangas, and margaritas in a Midcentury Modern setting.

Just north along Indian School, Clever Koi has steaming bowls of ramen, confit wings, and craft cocktails at the ready. Its neighbor, George & Dragon, has been around for more than 20 years and offers cold beer, mixed drinks, and pub fare like fish and chips, a chicken curry pastie, and the famous wing drumettes.

Campbell Avenue/Central Avenue

With a loud and lively atmosphere, Lux Central is definitely the go-to spot for coffee or cocktails in Uptown. It offers an extensive list of espresso drinks and a variety of great eats as well as beer, wine, and cocktails. The space itself is dimly lit, with plenty of community-style seating, and stays open late.

Pane Bianco, the Chris Bianco sister restaurant, has been a destination sandwich spot since 2005. The market sandwich at Pane Bianco changes every day, and each day’s sandwich depends on the seasons. One day, you might get wood-roasted eggplant with Parmesan. Another, a Caprese with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. Either way, the bread is baked in the restaurant’s wood-fired oven.

Cheese 'n Stuff's iconic globe-shaped neon sign is a landmark near Central Avenue and Camelback Road in Uptown.
Cheese 'n Stuff's iconic globe-shaped neon sign is a landmark near Central Avenue and Camelback Road in Uptown.
Patricia Escarcega

Central Avenue/Camelback Road

You’re in uptown now, baby. And this intersection is absolutely booming with options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks. Head to Fàme Caffe for brunch, Flower Child for a salad, Cheese ‘n Stuff for a sandwich, Huss Brewing Uptown Taproom for a pint, and Scoopwells for a taste of the many cookie dough flavors it has on deck.

And for just about anything else, visit the second location of Chula Seafood. We recommend the grilled oysters with Noble bread, the swordfish tacos, and the Mexican wild shrimp.

Seventh Avenue/Camelback Road

This stop puts you down the street from The Newton, where you can stop in for a cuppa or glass of wine at the First Draft Book Bar inside Changing Hands Bookstore. Or better yet, order the famous fried chicken and deviled eggs at Chef Justin Beckett’s restaurant Southern Rail.

This also is the Melrose District stop, a colorful neighborhood full of dining and drinking options along Seventh Avenue.

Which of the Pho Thanh bowls will you be dressing soon?EXPAND
Which of the Pho Thanh bowls will you be dressing soon?
Meagan Mastriani

19th Avenue/Camelback Road

A popular destination, Pho Thanh is a bustling restaurant that’s slowly taking over the strip mall at 17th Avenue and Camelback Road. With a huge menu, including informative blurbs describing the history of the dishes, this restaurant offers inexpensive options with traditional flavors and an authentic feel. The pho is greens-heavy, with extra toppings seemingly covering all the bases, from the leafy (lettuce, cilantro, and dandelion greens) to the traditional (bean sprouts, lime, jalapeños, and basil).

19th Avenue/Montebello Avenue

You can definitely work up an appetite shopping at a Super Target. And while there are lots of fast food and quick service options at Christown, there’s one place that rises above the rest. The family-owned Machete Azteca has huaraches and tortas, as well as Mexican barbecue dishes including barbacoa, quesadillas, and tacos.

Stacy's Off Da Hook BBQ and Soul Food has some killer fried chicken.EXPAND
Stacy's Off Da Hook BBQ and Soul Food has some killer fried chicken.
Lauren Cusimano

Glendale Avenue/19th Avenue

Stacy's Off Da Hook BBQ and Soul Food serves made-to-order Southern and soul food and is known for crispy fried chicken. The secret recipe was concocted by owner Stacy Phipps, who will most likely be in the restaurant. The chicken is deliciously hot, well-seasoned, crispy, and served with sides like creamy mac and cheese, salty green beans, and a corn muffin. Off Da Hook pops off at night and on the weekend, but if you go in for a quiet lunch, just enjoy the R&B; photos of icons like Rosa Parks, Wilson Pickett, and the Obama family; and, of course, the plate of fried chicken in front of you.

Northern Avenue/19th Avenue

There are a couple options here as you near the end, or beginning, of the line. Russian and Uzbek dishes like kebabs and borscht are found at Samarkand Restaurant, or poke through the other European options at De La Ana European Delicatessen. Other options include grabbing a slice at Uncle Tony's New York Pizza, a fajitas platter at Las Glorias Grill, or a loaded sandwich paired with fresh-cut fries at Joe's Philly Steak & More.

19th Avenue/Dunlap Avenue

This stop is within something of a local restaurant desert, but there are a few options. The nearby El Rancho Market is here for us with its bakery and ready-to-go hot food choices, while Sushi Bros. offers a sit-down environment for sushi, edamame, and other starters, and some drink specials.

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