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Dec 8, 2009 09:54 AM

Tempe/Phoenix food suggestions please

My wife and I will be in Tempe for a few days on business...and we've never been to Phoenix or Arizona for that matter.

Can anyone suggest some good food spots? We will have a car rental, so we will be able to get around. Also, my wife is dying for a real Mexican food experience and any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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  1. We visited Caffe Boa last weekend and loved it. Even worth the drive for us from North Phoenix. I was a big fan of Chef Payton Curry since his days at Digestif, and love his new digs at Caffe Boa. The three of us had a great dinner all around.

    My husband Ernesto and I met a visiting Boston Chowhound, Joanie, at the bar. Nice cocktail list - I especially liked the "Bittersweet Drop" which I had them make without the sugar (grapefruit juice, Ruby Red grapefruit vodka, and Campari) while E enjoyed a glass of Arizona wine - Arizona Stronghold Vineyard's Nachise (syrah/grenache/petite syrah).

    Appetizers were field greens with Great Hill Farm blue cheese and port vinaigrette for Joanie, charcuterie for me - I chose a trio with bresaola, soppresata and Humboldt Fog and especially liked the pickled grapes that came with - and the shrimp adriatico with white wine and garlic for E (he kept stealing pieces of toasted bread from my charcuterie board to dip in the sauce).

    For entrees, E ordered Payt-n-Bake fried chicken (fabulous technique - the chef confits the chicken first), and Joanie and I shared two pastas, which the kitchen kindly split, something I always appreciate. We had the pork spezzatini with cauliflower ravioli (her favorite) and the gnocchi with milk-braised sweetbreads in a creamy calvados sauce (my favorite). Too full for dessert, though the chef recommended the croissant bread pudding.

    I should add that I really like the interesting wine list here. While E stayed with the Nachise for dinner, I had two glasses of a crisp white from Slovenia - Pinela, Guerila from Vipava Valley.

    Caffe Boa
    398 S. Mill Avenue, Tempe, AZ 85281

    1. Rubee's suggestion of Caffe Boa is right on target. It's always been a favorite in Downtown Tempe and the arrival of the new chef has taken it to the next level.

      Nearby and also quite good is House of Tricks, which serves a nice blend of Mediterranean and Southwestern influences in a patio setting. There's also an interior dining area within an historic home for cold weather like that which we've been experiencing this week.

      Near Tempe, but not quite within its borders are the Stockyards and the Salt Cellar. The former is a classic steak house; the latter a classic seafood restaurant. Both are worthwhile if you are looking for a semi-upscale dinner near Tempe.

      Otherwise, Tempe is more known for inexpensive international eats, which fits with its identity as a college town and tech-oriented suburb. Some favorites of mine:

      The Dhaba -- A different approach to Indian food. No buffet, but interesting dishes and atmosphere.

      Four Peaks -- A microbrewery with great beer and reasonably good pub food to match it.

      Haji-Baba and Phoenicia -- very casual Middle Eastern places with adjoining markets

      Cornish Pasty Company -- serving the "hot pockets" favored by British miners with all sorts of multifaceted interpretations. The traditional is the "oggie," but I'm partial to the eggplant parmigiana model

      Cafe LaLibela -- the PHX Metro Area's first Ethiopian restaurant, and still the best IMO.

      Khai Hoan -- great hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese

      In Season Deli -- healthful lunches hidden in a courtyard off Mill Avenue, Downtown Tempe's main street

      As for the inevitable request for Mexican food, Restaurant Mexico on Mill in DT Tempe is nice for Mexico-city style food. It's a Tempe classic, but not necessarily representative of the typical Mexican restaurant in the Phoenix Metro Area.

      Crossing the border into Phoenix, some favorite Mexican choices of mine are Rosita's Plac and El Napolito.

      4 Replies
      1. re: silverbear

        I'm not fan of Tricks anymore. Used to love the place, but they've bumped the prices up beyond what I think is appropriate for the place, which is unfortunate.

        As far as Mexican, here are few places that range from authentic & casual to more standard sit down places. All of the food, IMO, is very good. Most are in the E. Valley or an easy drive.

        Ranch Market - go for lunch. The wife will think she's been kidnapped and taken over the border, It's a supersized grocery store with an entire aisle of prepared food. Trust me on this one - she'll love it. Five locations, but this is the one in the East Valley

        Los Sombreros & Carlsbad Tavern - dinner and both worth the drive, LS is more inventive, Carlsbad is spicier and more New Mexican food. Prickly pear margarita's at Carlsbad are delicious.

        San Diego Bay - again, the authenticity of ceviche surrounded by the Mexican neighborhood locals. If you don't like seafood, you might want to skip this as that's what they do really well.

        Lulu's - my local favorite for taco's. MUCH prefer it to the far too expensive Guedo's.


        Los Sombreros Cafe & Cantina
        2534 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85257

        Carlsbad Tavern
        3313 N Hayden Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

        Restaurant Mexico
        423 S Mill Ave, Tempe, AZ 85281

        Lulu's Taco Shop
        610 N Gilbert Rd Ste 302, Gilbert, AZ 85234

        Phoenix Ranch Market
        1118 E Southern Ave, Mesa, AZ

        San Diego Bay Restaurant
        9201 S Avenida Del Yaqui Ste 11, Guadalupe, AZ 85283

        1. re: jkgourmet

          I really like Lulu's too, but it's a pretty long drive from Tempe. I think Los Taquitos is pretty similar, and not as far. I can't think of any great taco shops of that type any closer to Tempe, but I'd love to hear about it if anyone else knows of one!

          In the downtown Tempe area, I also like Essence Bakery a lot (breakfast and lunch only, Mon-Sat). They have good sandwiches and salads with lots of local ingredients, and great desserts, especially the French macarons.

          If you're looking for more traditionally Phoenix-area Mexican food, Carolina's in Phoenix is very popular, in addition to the places Silverbear mentions. I really like Restaurant Mexico and Los Sombreros, though, both closer to you.

          1. re: jkgourmet

            Love House of Tricks and Bob and Robin are wonderful people and the bump in prices, I'm sure it wasn't to line their pockets..
            Essence bakery is really good..
            Chuck Box for one of the best burgers.
            Carolina's for cheap and good Mex..
            Harlow's for breakfast is excellent.

            1. re: Beach Chick

              My only issue with Essence is that it is pricey for very little food. It is good, however, just not great value. Mucho Gusto is a fun solid place.

        2. All good suggestions so far. Be aware that Restaurant Mexico is good, but you may not be expecting what you receive. My sister went there when she was in town a little while ago and reported back to me that she was dismayed that her enchiladas were filled with queso fresco instead of the gooey orange stuff.
          I suggest that you check out Los Dos Molinos. Really great food and setting. It's also right next to the South Mountain park, so a stroll/hike or watching the sunset is an excellent activity before or after. The service at the downtown location is not great, so go with the So Mtn location.
          Dick's hideaway is also a great place for food and drinks. Small, but excellent.

          Dick's Hideaway
          6008 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85016

          Los Dos Molinos
          8646 S Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85042