The Grill on Mill Brings Santa Maria-Style Barbecue to Downtown Tempe

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When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: The Grill on Mill
Location: 350 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
Open: About three months
Eats: Santa Maria-style barbecue
Price: $10-$20/person

The formula for most restaurants on Tempe's Mill Avenue is fairly straightforward: Focus on alcohol, create an atmosphere that appeals to college students, and add in sandwiches, tacos, or pizza for daytime diners. And that's why when the Grill on Mill opened near the intersection of Mill Avenue and Third Street, we were excited about the prospect of a more food-centered offering coming to a neighborhood saturated with bars and smoke shops.

Which isn't to say there's no smoking going on at the Grill on Mill — the restaurant specializes in Santa Maria-style barbecue, which originated on California's central coast and is known for tri-tip grilled and smoked over red oak. 

The Grill doesn't miss any cues from its culinary inspiration. The menu has a standard array of sandwiches, salads, and burgers, but the real centerpiece is the barbecue, which includes ribs, grilled chicken, hot dogs, and most notably a Santa Maria-style tri-tip sandwich, complete with a sweet buttered French roll. For those more interested in beverages, the Grill also has a full bar and a selection of beers on tap. 

We visited the Grill on Mill on a recent Sunday afternoon and had most of the restaurant's cavernous space to ourselves and one or two other patrons. There's ample seating and ample room, with a standard array of illuminated beer logos and flat-screen TVs adorning the walls. 

We ordered the tri-tip sandwich ($9.75), a shredded barbecue pork sandwich ($6.75), a third-pound cheeseburger ($5.50), and a side of onion rings ($3.75). 

We had two barbecue sauce options, one plain and one peppered, and while the plain was nothing special,  the peppered sauce had the perfect combination of sweetness, tanginess, and the right amount of spicy kick.

The tri-tip sandwich was exactly as advertised: a significant stack of sliced meat sandwiched between sweet French bread. The meat was tender and juicy — certainly not too dry from the smoking process, and the flavor of the red oak was a nice addition. However, especially for a $10 sandwich with no add-ons, the steak could have packed a little more flavor. 

The burger was the least successful dish. The meat didn't have any real defining flavor, especially once buried beneath a considerable pile of lettuce, tomato, and onion.

Our favorite dish was the pork sandwich. It saw the return of the peppered barbecue sauce, and the meat had a nice balance of sweet, salty, and smoky flavor. Served on a French roll, the sandwich hit all the requisite marks for a good barbecue meal. It also worked well with the onion rings, which, with considerably more ring than onion, were also quite good. At $6.75, the pork sandwich also felt the most reasonably priced, given the size and quality. 

Overall, The Grill on Mill delivers a nice alternative to Mill's more predictable offerings. And though the service was a bit sluggish, we'll be happy to see how the new spot grows. 

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