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 Phoenix.
Operating as the epicenter of the bustling Valley, downtown Phoenix is a burgeoning place. At first glance, you might think there are only a few spots to enjoy a nice coffee, bite to eat, or sip of vino. But think of the center of the city as an onion; all you need to do is peel back the layers. What follows is a thorough rundown, from morning brew to breakfast, lunch, afternoon pick-me-up, and late into the night. Let the peeling begin.
Songbird Coffee & Tea House
812 North Third Street
Step inside a historic house constructed in 1904 as early as 6 a.m. to grab your next brew. Songbird's quaint and comfy setting lends a homey vibe to a community-focused coffeehouse. Order a cold brew infused with honey or cocoa, or choose from one of their 25-plus loose-leaf teas to pair with a house-made pastry or breakfast sandwich. The seemingly low staff turnover means a friendly and familiar barista is likely to greet you. Songbird regularly hosts Valley poets, musicians, artists, and writers to boot, and owner Erin Westgate is proud to partner with other local businesses for their coffee, tea, and kombucha.
Cartel Coffee Lab
1 North First Street
Open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the downtown location of Cartel Coffee Lab is almost always shaded by the surrounding multistory buildings — which makes it feel like a comforting and tucked-away spot for you to refuel. This spot offers espresso, filter drip, and other coffee creations, plus tea, pastries, and plenty of outlets.
Matt's Big Breakfast
825 North First Street
Matt's is a renowned downtown breakfast joint open since 2004. Half a block north of its original location, the newer spot offers more seating for the constant line out the door. A down-home breakfast is just what you'll get here, with classics and contemporaries like the salami scramble with Molinari sopressata, griddle cakes with sweet cream butter and real maple syrup, and the Chop & Chick — a skillet-seared pork rib chop served with two eggs, toast, and potatoes. With Matt's sourcing its ingredients from some of the best in town like Niman Ranch and Hickman's Family Farm, it's no wonder the food is consistently delicious.
2 East Jefferson Street
Dine inside the restaurant or out on the patio to witness the bustling city from an upper mezzanine in CityScape. Breakfast Club's original Old Town Scottsdale location gave birth to this one a few years back, and the rest is history. BC's robust menu features everything from avocado toast and the breakfast grilled cheese to steak and eggs, biscuits and gravy, and chicken-fried chicken. The signature French toast made with cinnamon challah bread has fresh berries, candied nuts, dried fruit, granola, caramel sauce, and crème fraiche — all topped with powdered sugar. In case you can't wait for dinner (and are inclined to spend $16 for the plate), order the filet mignon Benedict. Pair anything with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice or, if you're on a keto kick, a bulletproof coffee blended with grass-fed butter and MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil.
901 North First Street
This 9,000-square-foot, shaded, air-conditioned, dog-friendly outdoor courtyard is surrounded by 10 businesses — including four restaurants and two bars. For brunch, you're free to order The Hangover breakfast sandwich (two fried eggs, griddled country ham, manchego, romaine, roma tomato, aji amarillo aioli on a buttermilk bun) or Provecho's chilaquiles or tres leches French toast (best with a cinnamon-dusted Mexican latte). And this being brunch, try mimosas, morning cocktails, 32-ounce loaded micheladas from The Brill Line, or sangria pitchers from Pobrecito. Brunch is served from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Phoenix Public Market Cafe
14 East Pierce Street
Come out on a Saturday morning to experience the open-air market from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. with farmers and vendors from all over the Valley. While the hummus and coffee samples may wet the whistle, they certainly will not substitute for a hearty brunch. Stroll into the café's casual dining room for treats like steel-cut oats risotto and baker's quiche with eggs, goat cheese, chives, green onions, and roasted red pepper sauce. Breakfast begins at 7 a.m. and goes till 3 p.m., while lunch starts at 11 a.m. The pork chile verde pot pie or half rotisserie chicken with choice of two sides are sure to satisfy even the hungriest soul, while the rice bowl is great for vegan warriors.
Nobuo at Teeter House
622 East Adams Street
Nobuo Fukuda was born and raised in Tokyo and has worked as a chef in Arizona for over 30 years. A James Beard Award winner, it comes as no surprise that Fukuda presents a forward-thinking menu, constantly reinventing the classics of his genre. The omakase-style restaurant (housed in a turn-of-the-century wood-floored bungalow) means you can trust the chef to choose your order. The technical precision and creative use of bespoke ingredients have cemented Nobuo's reputation as a five-star dining experience. Leave your typical sushi expectations behind as you dive into house-cured salmon, warm duck salad, a panko-fried soft-shell crab sandwich, or Dave’s Chicken Katsu Curry. It's open for lunch daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
50 West Jefferson Street
When a restaurant's name translates to "bad boy," you know you're in for some fun. Chico Malo's menu, largely inspired by Mexican and South American street food, will make you feel like you just happened onto the streets of Cuidad de México: guacamole, carne asada, and all. Get the ceviche, a fresh dish packed with shrimp, bay scallops, and halibut to start, then feel your way around the menu. If your colleagues are the sharing type, you'll be as happy and colorful as this establishment's vivid interior design. The Mayan salad includes prickly pear and queso fresco with a charred pineapple dressing; the duck (confit) tamale is a tasty spin on the traditional dish; and the pozole, a hearty pork and hominy soup, is sure to keep you warm on Phoenix's almost-chilly days. Tacos are three for 10 and vary from diablo shrimp to al pastor, avocado, and cauliflower. Lunch begins at 11 a.m. during the week, while brunch and lunch start at 10 a.m. on the weekend.
718 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 year. The eclectic bistro, bar, coffee shop, and market offers a spot to relax, grab a bite, and possibly make a friend. Owner Steven Rogers, who's designed, built, and operated clubs and restaurants across the world in his 40-year career, intends for The Grand to be a "community gathering place serving the immense diversity of downtown Phoenix." 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.
7 West Monroe Street
It's hard to visit a Cornish Pasty location without ordering and devouring a whole pasty or big salad, but the unique appetizers section of the menu is ideal for a quick bite before a performance, game, concert, or whatever's on the docket. There's the Spanakopita Cocktail Pasties — two mini spinach and feta spanakopita pasties with a side of tzatziki sauce — or the Scotch egg, Cornish meatballs, or wings (we recommend the tandoori). The Ploughman’s Plate is also perfect to split among a small group. Plus, there's beer and booze if you're trying to pregame for something.
The Arrogant Butcher
2 East Jefferson Street, #150
Part of the Fox Restaurant Concepts family, The Arrogant Butcher is a perfect for a pop in during happy hour. There are soft pretzels and crispy buffalo chicken thighs, while well drinks, wine specials, and cocktails like the Mule, the Maid, and the Fix are all $5 a pop. Happy hour pints of local brews from Huss Brewing, Four Peaks, SanTan, and Lumberyard are $4.50, and everyone appreciates a beer-and-shot special. We recommend the Luck O' The Scottish — a shot of whiskey with a 16-ounce Kilt Lifter Scottish Ale for $9. Happy hour is 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays in the bar.
100 North First Street
Housed inside the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel, Dust Cutter portrays a contemporary take on quintessential Southwest cowboy culture. With herringbone-patterned hardwood floors, lots of leather, buffalo chaps, and even a "modern campfire," consider happy hour an adventure into the Old West. Do-si-do right in during from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays, and make yourself comfy with $7 hors d'oeuvres like avocado fries with chiltepin pepper aioli, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with Crow's Dairy goat cheese and topped with a prickly pear balsamic reduction, or blue corn nachos with cotija cheese, melted Oaxaca, cilantro, sweet green onions, and a lime crema. Pro tip: Add the Berkshire pork carnitas to that last one. A glass of house red or white will set you back another $7, while wine on tap goes for $5 and a draft beer for $5.
Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails
2 East Jefferson Street
Chef Dushyant Singh plates some mean American fare over at Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails in the Hotel Palomar. Dinner can start with warm Noble rosemary focaccia and ramp up to a 14-ounce Niman Ranch pork chop with brown butter béarnaise and broccoli steaks. The bar kicks out handcrafted cocktails and a variety of microbrews, and there's always a well-curated wine list floating around. Plus, the atmosphere makes for a downtown feel, especially when the city lights start to twinkle on around sunset.
15 East Monroe Street
Dubbed "modern American with Italian roots," the downtown location of Nook opened in 2016 inside the Hilton Garden Inn, and reflects that contemporary, yet traditional juxtaposition. Start the meal with an order of arancini, balls of risotto stuffed with hand-pulled mozzarella and pomodoro sauce or the Canadian favorite, poutine — hand-cut fries topped with mozzarella curds and beef gravy. From there, consider Nook your oyster; go for a salad, pasta, entree, pizza rosso (made with red sauce), or bianco (brushed in olive oil in lieu of red sauce). House favorites include the osso bucco — braised pork served with harissa, polenta, street corn salsa, guajillo chili oil, tajin, and cotija cheese — or the polipetti (a linguine pasta with baby octopus, calamari tomatoes, and a cabernet sauvignon reduction). For pizza, order the gamberetti e brie, featuring triple cream brie, mozzarella, shrimp, garlic, parsley, Parmesan, and lemon.
The Breadfruit & Rum Bar
108 East Pierce Street
When you pair sustainable, fresh seafood with an extensive and well-vetted rum bar (with over 150 unique rums from around the world), magical things can happen. On the small plates list, the pepper shrimp in cayenne habanero sauce will set your taste buds on fire. For the main course, go with the grilled tamarind fish, a glazed and grilled seasonal fish with mashed roasted garlic winter squash. If seafood doesn't float your boat, try the jerk pork and polenta — a pork leg marinated in jerk rub then slowly smoked over pimento wood, and served with seasonal farm veggies. The cocktail list is its own force, and the Tamarind Ball and Hurricane Charlie come highly recommended. Stick around to savor a Cuban cigar to cap the night off in style. Reservations for The Breadfruit are strongly suggested, as the intimate restaurant is on the smaller side and fills up quickly.
Snoh Ice Shavery
801 North Second Street
The BaoBing that Snoh is known for is a combination of shaved ice and ice cream. In other words, imagine a fluffy cold medley of flavors like lychee, taro, and matcha. Top that with fresh pineapple, mango, strawberries, sliced almonds, or mochi balls for a burst of tropical flavor. The candy floss is made with cotton candy Snoh (marshmallows, sprinkles, and a blueberry puree) and the breakfast bowl consists of milk cream Snoh (Fruity Pebbles, strawberries, and condensed milk). If creamy shaved ice isn't up your alley, go for a milk, iced tea, or slush. Trust us, these are the shaved ice aficionados of the Valley.
Yogurt Time Downtown Hangout
1 East Washington Street, #180
The name aside, Yogurt Time is a quick stop for something sweet in the CityScape area. There are 12 flavors of yogurt, and more than 60 toppings. So go nuts with, well, nuts as well as the typical candy or fruits. What makes Yogurt Time Downtown Hangout a little fun, even though it's frozen yogurt, is some of the more imaginative toppings like the Cap'N Crunch's Crunch Berries, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cocoa Puffs, and Fruity Pebbles. And of course you can drizzle the whole thing in chocolate, caramel, or Lechera sauce, and weigh it down with whipped cream.
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Moira Sushi Bar & Kitchen
215 East McKinley Street, #102
Moira is open until 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, which is still late for Phoenix standards. The weekends are where you can dine late into the night, with sashimi, gyoza, and udon noodle soup served until the wee hour of 2 a.m. Moira draws on Japanese influences and global inspirations for a vast selection of sushi, makimono (picture a sushi roll laid out piece by piece, horizontally), and hot kitchen items like golden curry and shiritaki (angel hair tofu noodles with veggies in a sweet citrus sauce). Grab some sake or wine to accompany your Japanese fare, and say sayonara to any notion of getting home near bedtime.
Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
1 West Jefferson Street
It's appreciated when places have a specific late-night menu. In addition to their beer, wine, and especially inventive cocktails, Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour has a tight menu of late snacks — many of which are sure to grab your attention despite what they're making at the bar. Items include Hurricane Popcorn, Korean Nachos, Firecracker Wings, and fried mac and cheese bites.
130 North Central Avenue
Head down the stairway of a 1949 building in the alley off Monroe Street for a drink at Valley Bar — one of the more historic taverns in town. Aside from being a popular music venue and educational center for the legend of Winnie Ruth Judd, Valley Bar has a hell of a drink menu to keep things going. Opt for a local beer, wine, or spirit, or scan the signature cocktails page for an ultra-local concoction: think the Barry Goldwater, Original Sinema, Penzone's Smoked Sour, or That's a Ducey.
This story was originally published on March 19, 2019.