By Justin Lee
Photography by Mark Lipczynski
Tempe is growing—booming—like never before. The city’s sweetening from peppy college town to dynamic urban destination has benefited residents and visitors alike with many enviable perks—most enjoyably, a continued reinvention of its dining landscape. Not a change in quantity, but sheer variety. From high to low, quirky to classic, global to regional, dining has never been better.
In terms of international foods, Tempe is a local pioneer. From serious Middle Eastern, to regional Indian, to every lane of Asian, it’s always been an amenity—an asset—for the city.
For traditional Ethiopian, Cafe Lalibela has been popular since the day it opened, serving a deep menu of the mother country’s trademark classics like seasoned meats and long-stewed vegetables, all served alongside layers of warm, spongy injera, the Ethiopian-style bread used for needed sopping.
Now an institution, The Dhaba has been focused on its trademark style of soul-satisfying northern Indian cooking for nearly two decades, serving traditional chaat (snacks), tandoori-baked breads and halal meats in a warm, lively space.
For ramen enthusiasts, there are countless worthy options. A newer standout is Hachi Ramen in south Tempe. From its traditional miso to its aromatic shoyu, to its rich tonkatsu, Hachi is all about the broth, and it shows.
Local chef-restaurateur Aaron Chamberlin brings new weight to south Tempe with his newest concept, Ghost Ranch, his collaborative dive into the cooking styles of the Southwestern borderlands—think Tex-Mex, New Mexican and Sonoran-style—with fellow chefs Rene Andrade and Roberto Centeno, who hail from Nogales, Mexico.
Chef Jeff Kraus’ flair for the creative comes into focus at Crêpe Bar, drawing a cult following for its premium coffee program and creative takes on breakfast favorites, especially its line-up of sensational namesake crepes, savory and sweet.
For the campus crowd
Tucked in the heart of Sun Devil country, Shady Park has become a lively catch-all for students in-the-know looking for a hideaway to escape, unplug and enjoy a slice of pizza, a heaping plate of wings, or one of the best bowls of ramen in town.
For beer lovers, downtown Tempe’s up-tempo Pedal Haus Brewery is a wonderland for those who appreciate the art of the draft—beer, that is. Featuring a sharp menu of brews—available in tap, bottle, can and growler-to-go—the restaurant is the perfect place to waste away a lazy afternoon on the patio with the help of a well-executed menu of bar-food favorites.
The on-campus Engrained Cafe offers the university crowd alternatives to the usual with a commitment to what’s organic, eco-friendly and seasonal, offering customizations for the gluten, dairy and meat averse. Think sandwiches, salads and bowls featuring all-natural proteins, sustainable seafood, fair-trade coffees, and local produce.
One of Tempe’s classics is House of Tricks. Creative, seasonal American with a global bent, the restaurant—thanks to its expansive, fool-proof patio—is popular for pre-Gammage theater goers, happy hour, and the power lunch.
The Chuckbox continues to lure diners with their signature open-flame, char-grilled burgers and chicken sandwiches. Popular with college students, the cash-only institution is equally beloved by generations of long-time residents.
A place that runs on fuel of regulars, the popular restaurant and watering hole Casey Moore’s Oyster House transforms day-to-evening, becoming one of best neighborhood bars in town. Casey Moore’s shaded, wrap-around patio attracts people of all stripes for its sure-fire burgers, specialty sandwiches, salty bar foods, and yes, oysters—fresh, fried or Rockefeller.