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: US Fries
Location: 414 S. Mill Ave., Tempe
Open: About a week
Eats: Poutine, fries, burgers
It’s been just about a year since we Phoenicians ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the opening of US Fries, Arizona’s first “poutinerie,” in Tuscon. “Why can’t we have one of those,” we cried, dreaming of a magical place with a never-ending supply of Canada’s most famous fry-based dish.
Last week, our poutine dreams came true. A second location of US Fries popped up seemingly overnight on Tempe’s Mill Avenue, bringing with it a menu of poutine, burgers, and a Tucson favorite, Eegee’s frozen treats. The intersection of Tucson and Canada landed right in our backyard.
The fast-casual restaurant took over the space most recently occupied by Fatburger. And although the star of the show might be a distinctly Canadian dish, the décor of the restaurant (as well as the name) is definitely all-American. You’ll find a highway map of the United States on one wall and old school jams blaring.
On the menu: traditional poutine and a slew of what we can only call poutine-inspired dishes, since they’re really just fries with various ingredients piled on top, as opposed to the traditional brown gravy/cheese curd dish. The creations range from a Cheeseburger poutine loaded with ground beef, cheese sauce, and pickles, to a vegetarian option in which fries get piled with mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, and mushroom gravy.
We decided to try a combo that included a third-pound Tommy Burger (named after one of the owner’s barber’s son, not the Southern California burger chain or the David Spade movie) and a side of traditional poutine.
The burger came cooked medium-well (we weren’t given a choice on that front) and was topped with lettuce, red onion, tomato, and pickles. We chose American cheese. All in all, it made for a solid burger. It didn’t impress us all that much — although the ciabatta-style bun was a refreshing change.
As for the poutine, we have no complaints. The generous side portion featured a fistful of thick-cut fries topped with a thick brown gravy and cheese curds. With one bite into one of the little hunks of cheese we could tell we were dealing with the real deal: as our teeth hit the curd it let out the tiniest of squeaks.
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We also tried one of the restaurant’s poutine-inspired offerings, a combination of fries, sliced roast beef, and crispy French onions. The roast beef, sliced thin, was a nice meaty touch but a nose-clearing horseradish sauce pretty much overpowered all the other flavors.
It should be mentioned that you can also order deep-fried cheese curds at US Fries — and with the restaurant staying open until 4 a.m., we imagine a lot of people will. These deep-fried pieces of squeaking cheese come covered in a lightly herbed batter with a side of creamy ranch. They’re nearly impossible to resist when you’re sober; we have a feeling they’ll be a big success come 2 a.m.
During our visit, every employee at US Fries was friendly and smiling, making this sleek soon-to-be chain restaurant (the owners plan to open 15 locations around the country eventually) feel almost like a neighborhood spot. Between the cheese curds and the late hours, we'll definitely be back.