Save Phoenix’s gems with your business — before it’s too late
It was an easy decision. I wanted to go somewhere nice on my first day back in Phoenix, and Pasta Bar was the destination.
It’s one of those hot spots that every city has — the one with great food, maybe a little expensive, but is a must-try for anyone wanting to be considered a real local.
On the list of great Phoenix restaurants, Pasta Bar was way up there. It was a starter on the All-Star team, the kind of place you tell out-of-towners about so they’re impressed with your city. The quality of food was top notch — some of the best in downtown Phoenix — and the atmosphere was great.
Too bad it was never busy.
Which explains why the doors were locked and the lights were off when I got there. The sign outside said it was open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays, and it was only about 8 p.m.
The next day I heard from a friend that it was closed for good.
Thus began the stages of grief, starting with denial. There was no way Pasta Bar could have closed. It had a great location, close to the Downtown campus — less than a five-minute walk — and the food was delicious. It didn’t make sense.
After denial came the anger and guilt. Why had we, the Downtown campus, let Pasta Bar down? Everyone talks about how much they hate the dining hall and how Aramark’s convenience store prices are ridiculous, but no one wants to put in the effort of finding alternatives. This is why we can’t have nice things!
And it happened barely a month after Verde, a little north up First Street, closed just seven months after opening. That’s two places within leisurely walking distance of the campus. Both were the kind of restaurants that focused on the quality of their food more than anything else, but struggled to bring in the necessary clientele. Are we ignoring Phoenix’s best food for the expediency of the dining hall, the convenience store and the nearby Subway restaurants?
There are other stages of grief, but after a talk with urbanism expert Yuri Artibise I skipped to acceptance. Artibise reminded me of the sad truth that restaurants fail all the time. For a restaurant to close after two years — Pasta Bar was nearing its second birthday — is not surprising in a bad economy.
In fact, Artibise said, we probably have too many restaurants downtown for our relatively low population. And with the influx of 12 new restaurants in CityScape that have opened or are going to open this year, something had to give.
“There’s a big push for entertainment and a big push for restaurants,” Artibise said, “but you just can’t have dozens of restaurants downtown without all that many people. And then with CityScape opening up … you know, it’s tough.”
Plus, Pasta Bar was expensive. Only two entrees were less than $14 and even the appetizers cost as much as $12. When college students make up a large percentage of a restaurant’s business, things need to be affordable.
So it wasn’t all our fault. Pasta Bar was too expensive to be a regular stop for ASU students and too far from the sports arenas to benefit from game days.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do in the future. Maybe we do have too many restaurants, but we can never have too many good ones.
“What students can do,” Artibise said, “is save your job money, and don’t be restricted by where your meal card gets you.”
Even if Pasta Bar’s closing wasn’t our fault, there’s more we can do in the future. ASU students make up a significant portion of the downtown population, so if we enthusiastically endorse a business, it stays. But it does take enthusiasm. The choices ASU students make will be integral in defining downtown Phoenix as an up-and-coming area rather than one that struggles through the recession. If the city of Phoenix can invest hundreds of millions of dollars in this campus, we can invest $15 in a great bowl of pasta, at least every once in a while. On date night or when your parents come to town, take advantage of Phoenix’s unique restaurants.
So here’s the silver lining to the cloud of Pasta Bar’s closing. Because of Pasta Bar’s great location, we had two other delicious options nearby after finding it locked up: Sens Asian Tapas and Turf Irish Pub. There are other great restaurants that we can support. The city of Phoenix needs ASU to help keep its best businesses afloat.
Be an advocate. You don’t have to spend all that much, but when you do leave the dining hall, make sure the businesses you endorse are important to your community. When it comes to good food downtown, use it or lose it.
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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.