Restaurant: Mike's Grub
Location: 1845 East University Drive, Tempe
Eats: Pizza, tacos, and salads
Open: About two months
Price: $2.50 to $10
Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, closed Sunday
Sometimes great food can be found in a place as simple as a gas station or a carwash. This is true for beloved lunch spots like Casa de Falafel in Peoria and The Corner Deli in Uptown, and it’s also true for the two-month-old Mike’s Grub in Tempe. Near University and McClintock drives, close to ASU but seemingly worlds away, Mike’s is a walk-up window and patio area. That’s it.
Mike’s is backdropped by a drive-thru carwash. (Pro tip: Be sure not to park in the covered spots; those are part of the self-serve carwash operation.) Seating here is an L-shaped outdoor sofa with white cushions (it's maybe the only bad choice here), as well as a few patio-style tables with chairs and a few high-tops. Maybe 15 to 20 seats total, all out in the open but mostly under umbrellas. Some neon signs pop with mementos like “Be Healthy” and “Be Happy” — the tagline here. There is vegetation everywhere, Top 40 on the speakers.
Whoever's manning the window will be masked and most likely high-energy and friendly. Menu items range from streets tacos to Pinsa Romana, salads, and appetizers like bacon-wrapped dates. The menu tends to nod toward Arizona cuisine, right down to the pecan salad and oak milk horchata.
Topping Mike’s menu is street tacos. One of each gets you a steak, barbecue chicken, and vegetarian jack fruit. These tacos are compact, with something of a crunchy shell somewhere between a tortilla and pita bread. There didn’t appear to be any lard involved in this shell. The steak was juicy and soft, the barbecue chicken decent, but the favorite here was the jack taco.
We chose the latter, which came with salami and pepperoni over ivory-white, glistening Buffalo Mozzarella cheese. We were expecting a personal-size pizza, but the order could easily feed two or three.
What made each slice better-than-expected was the thick layer of cheese, which reminded me of scarfing Barro’s pizza constantly in college. The second-best part was the garlic butter crust, the kind that leaves oil on your fingertips that you carry with you for a while — but in a good way.
We opted against the recommended drizzle of Mike Hot Honey. This will be a next-time must.
With that open-air lounge, and quick-and-easy pricing models (tacos are $2.50, those drink flavors are $.50, nothing goes above $10), it feels like Mike’s is designed for the COVID era — though it probably would have been like this anyway.
All I know is, if ever I need a carwash in the near future, I’m first parking my butt on the patio with an order of dates and a honey cucumber iced tea till it’s time to hit the drive-thru.