Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you have to eat bad food.
Republic/azcentral.com restaurant critic Howard Seftel recommends these five places for Arizona State University students taking classes or living at the downtown campus.
Matt’s Big Breakfast
You can’t think deep college thoughts on an empty stomach. Matt’s helps you start the day right, with everything from cage-free eggs and pancakes with real maple syrup to the best bacon, sausages and off-thebone ham you may ever eat. Just make sure you have plenty of time or go at off times. There’s usually a line out front.
Details: 801 N. First St., Phoenix, 602-254-1074, mattsbigbreakfast.com.
Need an island getaway? You can almost feel the tropical breezes at this cute Jamaican spot. Look for homeland specialties like plantain avocado spring rolls, tilapia empanadas, curried chicken and dumplings, jerk chicken and sweet potato pudding.
Details: 108 E. Pierce St., Phoenix. 602-267-1266, thebreadfruit.com.
The exotic scents and flavors of Thailand make it easy to take your mind off the student grind. And somehow it’s easier to pick up the books after a refreshing break for papaya salad, Thai barbecue chicken, pork panang curry and pad Thai.
Details: 20 W. Adams St., Phoenix, 602-252-3873, thaielephantaz.com.
The menu is small at this shiny new Mexican restaurant, but everything on it is first rate. It starts with the tortillas, made from scratch on the premises. It continues with green chile pork, shredded beef tacos, red chile chilaquiles and oregano-lime rotisserie chicken.
Details: 825 N. First St., Phoenix, 602-254-4400.
The Roosevelt Tavern
You’ve taken the test. You’ve turned in the paper. Now it’s time to unwind at this cheerful place. Along with craft beers and boutique wines, you’ll find comfy fare like campfire franks and beans, deviled eggs and the wonderful tomato soup/grilled cheese combo.
Details: 816 N. Third St., Phoenix. 602-254-2561.
[Source: Arizona Republic editorial board] — A bit more than a year ago, downtown Phoenix business owners wondered out loud where all the Arizona State University students were. There may have been more than 8,000 registered for classes downtown, they said, but they weren’t showing up in their shops and restaurants. One year later… check that concern. Parts of downtown, particularly the region north of the downtown ASU campus, are being overrun with Sun Devils. Or perhaps it is simply young people in general. Whoever these kids are, they are beginning to swarm throughout central Phoenix in impressive numbers at last.
The most notable demonstration of the blossoming of the central city continues to be the First Friday events, of course. On Nov. 5, the city closed off East Roosevelt from North Central Avenue to Seventh Street to traffic for the first time, allowing the throngs of attendees to overflow the streets without fear of automobiles.
The growing First Friday crowds and the widening ASU footprint have attracted entrepreneurs like Kyle Simone and Jeff Mann to open shops like their Phoenicia Association, a combination men’s clothier and art gallery. The youth traffic persuaded restaurateur Wade Moises to open the popular PastaBAR at First Street and Pierce Street, in the same building with Sens Asian Tapas and the now popular Irish bar Turf. [Note: Read the full article at Viewpoint: downtown Phoenix businesses finally scoring.]
[Source: Howard Seftel and Megan Finnerty, Arizona Republic] — Looking past the current economic downturn, optimistic restaurateurs believe downtown Phoenix is poised to compete in the next few years with Scottsdale as a dining destination. The momentum has been jump-started by a group of independent chefs and entrepreneurs who believe in the area’s potential. They, in turn, have inspired a fresh wave of high-profile names with big plans to rush in and stake a downtown claim.
New arrivals say downtown Phoenix has reached a tipping point, energized in part by light rail and the Arizona State University campus. But some warn that the Valley has seen this sort of hopeful restaurant hype fail to live up to its promise before, pointing to troubles on Mill Avenue in Tempe and developments such as downtown Phoenix’s Arizona Center and the Mercado that never flourished. Others think downtown’s residential core is still not strong enough to support a restaurant community.
Meanwhile, CityScape is accelerating the downtown dining buzz. Fifteen restaurants are planned for the sprawling residential, commercial and retail complex set to open in 2010. Developers are targeting local chefs in hopes of complementing the fledgling dining scene, not squashing it. Although downtown had seen scattered individual successes in the past, like the wood-fired pizza at Pizzeria Bianco and classy comfort food of Matt’s Big Breakfast, their popularity didn’t create a movement. Winning national acclaim meant they became just as much tourist destinations as local joints. Now, however, chefs and restaurant owners are relocating from other parts of the Valley or opening additional locations.
Metro light rail, ASU’s downtown campus, the Downtown Phoenix Public Market and new residents are creating buzz for the area, they say. “It’s the spot to be,” said Linda Nguyen, whose bustling, 4-month-old Moira Sushi Bar & Kitchen offers Japanese fare. She considered Tempe and Scottsdale before opening in a space on East McKinley Street. [Note: Read the full article at A growing appetite for downtown Phoenix dining]
[Source: Life in Downtown Phoenix blog] — While the arts community was the first generation of pioneers to successfully lift downtown Phoenix out of its doldrums, the second wave of downtown resurgence came from the independent restaurants that gambled on the area. By 2005, places like Matt’s Big Breakfast, Cibo, and Fate proved that independent restaurants with quality food could really have success downtown.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and 2009 is really proving that as the number of restaurants opening their doors all around the aforementioned downtown pioneers is staggering. Already this year the Turf (formerly Turf Accountant), Pasta Bar, El Portal, and Sapna’s Cafe have opened. By the end of the month Moira will bring sushi back to downtown for the first time in years, and sometime soon Luke’s of Chicago will start a branch on Seventh Street in a renovated historic building while a Mediterranean restaurant is set to appear on Roosevelt Street just east of Third Avenue. Almost every one of those restaurants is within a half-mile radius of the original Matt’s/Fate duo that got things rolling. Amidst all this Palette apparently closed — which is shocking for anyone like me who was part of the sometimes-90 minute wait on the weekends for brunch — but the rumor is that someone else wanted the location and that Pallette will resurface somewhere else in the area.
Assuming these businesses can survive the current economic conditions, they’ll be poised to really help downtown surge when the housing market finally turns around. Downtown Phoenix probably already stood alone with Tempe’s Mill Avenue and Old Town Scottsdale as options for those who live in the Phoenix area and prefer walkable urban environments. But aided in no small part by this restaurant boom, downtown has separated itself from the chains of Mill and the cheese of Scottsdale as probably the premiere locale for urbanists. While downtown Phoenix is of course only beginning to catch up with even its western competitors in places like Denver and Portland, it has clearly established some positive momentum. [Note: To read more of downtown_resident’s views, click here.]
In a lengthy Salt Lake Tribune article on proposed commercial development around Rice-Eccles Stadium on the University of Utah campus, reporter Brian Maffly reports on similar urban revitalization efforts by Arizona State University in downtown Phoenix, Ohio State University, and the University of Pennsylvania. The full article can be read here, but one thing that stands out is the reporter’s description of the area surrounding downtown Phoenix:
…Still, downtown Phoenix remains an island surrounded by urban decay. The once-glamorous Westward Ho is now a senior center with a transmission tower clinging to its top floors. Blocks of abandoned real estate sprawl north of the new campus, filled with shuttered businesses and dilapidated apartments, fenced-off cinder-block compounds with names like The Edgewater. In the midst of this wasteland is a tiny bustling cafe, Matt’s Big Breakfast, where the sight of diners waiting on the sidewalk offers a glimpse of what could be in the downtown.
[Source: Terry Tang, Associated Press, reprinted in the San Jose Mercury News] — In Phoenix, there’s nothing a trip to the golf course can’t fix. It’s a warm winter escape for those who can afford a second home, and it basks in the spa-facial glow of being a place where people will pay a lot for five-star fun. But for those with shallow pockets, the Valley of the Sun has budget-friendly options mixing an urban identity with access to nature. It’s not every big city where you can scale a mountain, sample authentic Mexican food, and take in a free art show — all in one day. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
[Source: Randal Archibold, New York Times] — Like the myth behind its namesake, Phoenix seems to have come out of nowhere to rank as the nation’s fifth largest city. Even long-timers have a tough time explaining the city’s appeal. Phoenix has left no firm mark in pop culture, aside from a bit role in the opening shot of “Psycho.”
The list of famous area residents is rather short: Barry Goldwater, John McCain, Jordin Sparks are among the better known. And the city is an inferno in the summer. The other nine months of the year, however, are gorgeous and sunny, making it a perfect time to visit the city’s new bounty of top-notch golf courses, fashionable resorts, eye-opening museums, and cool night life. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
Show your support for local independent businesses on the morning of Thursday, July 3 with Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and Local First Arizona Executive Director Kimber Lanning. Say hello, share your opinion, and have a cuppa joe at one of these fine establishments:
- 8 a.m. ~ Lux Coffee Bar at 4401 N. Central
- 8:30 a.m. ~ Copper Star Coffee at 4220 N. 7th Ave.
- 9 a.m. ~ Fair Trade Coffee at 1020 N. 1st Ave.
- 9:30 a.m. ~ Matt’s Big Breakfast at 801 N. 1st St.
For more information about Independents Week, including your 20% off Golden Ticket coupon, contact Local First Arizona at 602-956-0909 or visit their website.