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.
At first glance, you might think there are only a few spots to enjoy a nice coffee, bite to eat, sip of vino in downtown Phoenix. But think of the center of the city as an onion; all you need to do is peel back the layers. We'll even peel it for you. Below, enjoy our rundown of where to get it all — from morning brew to breakfast, lunch, afternoon pick-me-up, and late into the night — downtown. (Not seeing one of your favorite spots? Check out our neighboring dining guides to Heritage Square, Roosevelt Row, Portland Parkway Park, and places around Chase Field.)
Cartel Coffee Lab1 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.
Songbird Coffee & Tea House812 North Third Street
Step inside a historic house constructed in 1904 as early as 6 a.m. to grab your coffee. 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.
Matt's Big Breakfast825 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 folks lined up out the door. A down-home breakfast is 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. Matt's sources its ingredients from some of the best in town, like Niman Ranch and Hickman's Family Farm.
Breakfast Club2 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.
El Norteño1002 North Seventh Avenue
So much grease slides off the flautas here that you could probably start a fire with it if you were so inclined. Is that a bad thing? Hell, no. Particularly when it comes to Mexican fast food. El Norteño might not look like much from the outside, but it delivers on solid machaca, chorizo, Sonoran enchiladas, and one of the best breakfast burritos in the entire city. You can't beat the homestyle daily specials, like breakfasts, which include huevos rancheros, plus inexpensive lunch plates and dinners. The joint is takeout only unless you want to eat al fresco on the little weathered patio.
Monroe's Hot Chicken45 West Jefferson Street
Pickles. Chicken. Heat. That's what's for lunch at Monroe's, founded by Larry White, the man behind Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles. Modeled after the Nashville-style hot chicken meals that have become a trend from coast to coast, this chicken packs the kind of intensity you want when skipping the bagged lunch al desko. Chicken gets a heavy breading. You could probably design maps of each piece's varied landscapes. All that furrowed, contorted, brown-fried casing doesn't have the shatter you would expect — but there, rising hard and fast, comes the heat. The secret is to dig in before the pepper sauce that makes the chicken molten sogs the exterior. Milkshakes frost over the heat some. If you get a chicken sandwich, the slaw will control the fire and lend a nice snap. However you do Monroe's, you're in for a downtown lunch with the personality to make your day better.
Cornish Pasty7 West Monroe Street
It's hard to visit a Cornish Pasty location without ordering and devouring a whole pasty or a 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 Grand718 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 (though COVID has changed some things; check to make sure if you're banking on a 4 a.m. Tuesday visit). 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.
The Vig606 North Fourth Avenue
The Vig is a well-known neighborhood hangout, and its Fillmore location is right in the heart of the city. Its happy hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays, and offers food, wine, and "Vignature" cocktail specials. Choose between blackened fish tacos, guacamole and chips, and green chile pork sliders, among others, and grab an accompanying glass of red or white. The aforementioned cocktails are $6. Try the Coug Cup — St. George citrus vodka, bols elderflower liqueur, strawberry purée, and lemon, topped with sparkling wine. Fillmore has a spacious patio with lots of room for dining, sipping, socializing, and generally enjoying the Phoenix weather. The restaurant group likes to team up with local breweries to give back to the community during a monthly "Community Handle" event, so your passion for beer can go beyond the belly.
The Arrogant Butcher2 East Jefferson Street, #150
Part of the Fox Restaurant Concepts family, The Arrogant Butcher is 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.
Dust Cutter100 North First Street
Housed inside the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel, Dust Cutter offers 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 cheese, cilantro, sweet green onions, and 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.
Cibo603 North Fifth Avenue
The restored 1913 bungalow that houses this Italian joint, complete with hardwood floors, exposed brick, and a fireplace, sets the mood for a rustic dining experience. Choose from hot or cold saltimbocca (which means "jump in the mouth" in Italian), focaccia-style bread topped with everything from smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers to almond butter with apricot marmalade, and barbecue pulled pork with fontina cheese served with chips or a house or fruit salad. Insalates include a classic caprese and Mediterranean cous cous with grape tomatoes, pine nuts, and arugula. Four different artisanal pizzas may grace the table during a collaborative power lunch. Or skip all that and go for a sweet crepe in Nutella with banana, strawberry, or mascarpone. Hang inside or watch the animated city zoom past on the beautiful patio. And come back for dinner to sample Cibo's handmade fresh pasta.
Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails2 East Jefferson Street
Chef Dushyant Singh plates some mean American fare over at Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails in the Kimpton Hotel Palomar Phoenix. 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.
The Breadfruit & Rum Bar (temporarily closed)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.
Moira Sushi Bar & Kitchen215 East McKinley Street, #102
Moira is open until 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, which is still late by Phoenix standards. The weekends are when 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.
Chico Malo50 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. 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.
Yogurt Time Downtown Hangout1 East Washington Street, #180
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, along with 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.
Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour1 West Jefferson Street
We always appreciate it when places have a specific late-night menu. In addition to its beer, wine, and especially inventive cocktails, Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour has a tight menu of late snacks. Items include Hurricane Popcorn, Korean Nachos, Firecracker Wings, and fried mac and cheese bites. For more craft cocktails, check out the neighboring Little Rituals.
Hanny’s40 North First Street
This department store turned restaurant and bar is another solid drinking and dining spot near downtown Phoenix. Hanny's is usually bustling, making you feel like you're really in the middle of a city. With an expansive menu of classic cocktails, as well as shareable plates and salads, it's easy to order like an adult and feel like one, too. Try the Heckish Old Fashioned or the English Garden, or browse the beer and wine list. Martinis are cheap, too. Plus, the kitchen stays open till 1 a.m.
The Churchill901 North First Street
This 9,000-square-foot, shaded, air-conditioned, dog-friendly outdoor courtyard is surrounded by numerous businesses — including multiple restaurants and bars. For drinks, The Churchill offers the Fuck Nazis cocktail from So Far, So Good, as well as beer from The Brill Line, and to-go wine from Sauvage Bottle Shop.
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Gracie's Tax Bar711 North Seventh Avenue
Leave it to metal singer and longtime restaurant industry pro Grace Perry to give us the pitch-perfect downtown dive. This neighborhood bar, right on the edge of downtown, comes complete with cozy booths, a stuffed javelina, cheap beer, and mixed drinks, and a now-famous patio. While sipping a beer and waiting for your fried pickles too cool, be sure to say hello to Bar Cat.
Seamus McCaffrey's Irish Pub and Restaurant18 West Monroe Street
Seamus McCaffrey's is dark and divey, and the food is better than you'd think. The fish and chips are good roughly 85 percent of the time, but if you're looking for total consistency, the chicken pot pie is a safe bet. The bartenders are friendly and will never let you sit with an empty beer for long, and we've never seen a bad Guinness pour. Look around and take in the place's Irish bric-a-brac, which includes old healthy Guinness campaign signs and a map of Ireland broken out by county. Plus, it's always a fun adventure to head up the hot stairs to pee.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on March 19, 2019. It was updated on October 26, 2020.