Cheap Eats

Written by Ashley Walters Category: Food Reviews Issue: July 2012

Joe's Diner
4433 N. 16th St., Phoenix
Perky servers, toe-tapping tunes and a checkered floor with red booths are just as mood-lifting as the fluffy omelets ($5.49-$7.59) and pancakes ($2.99-$3.99). Cheer up even more with Joe’s biscuits, smothered in mildly spicy chorizo gravy tinged with garlic ($2.99).

Benedict’s Café   
5555 E. Bell Rd., Scottsdale
Save this 12-seat café for the weekend, when eggs Benedict ($9.95) – with velvety hollandaise draped over poached eggs, Canadian bacon and melt-in-your-mouth tarragon biscuits – makes a special appearance. The breakfast burrito is a superior bargain at $4.95. If it’s busy (likely), get a slice of buttery, golden-crusted coffee cake ($1.95) to tide you over.

Black Mountain Coffee Shop
7204 E. Ho Rd., Carefree
Hitch your pony (or pup) nearby and settle in with the mighty Mountaineer ($9.95) – two eggs any way; bacon, sausage or ham steak; crisp home fries; a biscuit with paprika-spiked sausage and bacon gravy; and a sizable cinnamon roll (hint: eat it first, while it’s warm).

Matt’s Big Breakfast
801 N. First St., Phoenix
Always worth the wait – which really isn’t that bad during the summer – Matt’s makes for a doozy of a dilemma when it comes to ordering: Do you want a big mess of a breakfast sandwich ($5.95), or the light, crisp, but whopper-sized Belgian waffle with real maple syrup and two thick-cut bacon strips ($6.95)? Relax, because there’s no wrong decision from the handful of options.

N Counter   
310 S. Mill Ave., Tempe
Feel healthy with crunchy granola, fresh fruit and vanilla yogurt ($5), or naughty with Bananas Foster French toast ($7) – two thick slabs of custard-soaked, toasted brioche smothered in dark brown  caramel and topped with fresh banana slices (they’re healthy, right?). 

Party Brunch!
Narcisse Champagne and Tea Lounge
15257 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
Bottomless bubbles for $10 per person – now that’s worth a toast. Every Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. until “twilight” (which turns out to be about 5 p.m.), pretty flutes are filled (and refilled) with your choice of Campo Viejo rosé, Domain St. Michelle Brut, or Mumm Napa Cuvée. To soak up the bubbles, nibble on sweet scone bites ($5), eggs Benedict ($10), or strawberry French toast ($12).

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Acacia Café   
3701 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix
House-made donuts and Danish pastries beckon near the cash register – a perfect snack while you wait for an egg- and roasted-vegetable sandwich on toasted ciabatta ($4.50) or thick-cut, cinnamon-swirl French toast ($5.75).

Cheap Coffee!
Chloe’s Corner
15215 N. Kierland Blvd.,
Scottsdale, 480-998-0202;
50 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix,
Sure, it’s a loss leader to get you in the door, but this isn’t some rotgut cuppa Joe. The strong-brewed java (50 cents for 12 ounces) is premium Passport coffee, available in regular or decaf, hot or iced.

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Azteca Bakery  
416 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix
It’s hard to beat a not-so-poco $1.99 breakfast burrito, stuffed with scrambled eggs and juicy machaca (think: Mexican pot roast) or fill-in-the-blank (chorizo, bacon, ham or potatoes). Just get there before noon, when the menu shifts to tasty and inexpensive lunch burros and tortas.

Sweet Cakes Café   
21 W. Main St., Mesa
Zero in on one thing – actually, two – from the small breakfast menu: king-size cinnamon rolls ($3.75). The “plain” version is anything but ordinary, and the gooey “caramel pecan” model should be regulated as an addictive narcotic. Good news: The rolls are available all day, not just breakfast, which ends at 11 a.m.

Wagon Wheel
36457 N. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek
After 24 years, this old-timey diner knows how to flip an egg and whisk creamy gravy to smooth perfection, but the real gems are the skillet-fried russets, some tender, some crunchy. Seven bucks (cash only) buys a cowboy breakfast of two eggs, a gravy-smothered biscuit and those delectable home fries.

Bloody Mary Bars
5223 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
The only thing better than a Bloody Mary at brunch is a $5 DIY Bloody Mary. Start with a basic vodka and Bloody Mary mix and customize it, choosing from 26 items (pickled vegetables, spices, and various hot sauces) stashed on a vintage cart. (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sa-Su.)

6850 E. Main St., Scottsdale
Every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., ZuZu sets up a $5 Absolut vodka Bloody Mary bar stocked with five different mixers and a plethora of garnishes, including Chef Sean Currid’s famous pickled onions. A bartender is always close by and happy to lend a hand or give advice.


There are bargain sandwiches and there are spendy highbrow sandwiches, but in the end, they’re all sandwiches – fast and convenient, the quintessential “cheap eat” and often the most econo way to nosh on posh ingredients. Find which ’wich is right for you.

Arizona Sandwich Company   
1775 W. University Dr., Tempe, 480-829-7827
4949 E. Warner Rd., Phoenix, 602-345-7822
Dubbed “shorties,” these 6-inch subs – piled high with quality meats and provolone – are by no means puny. Choose from 24 combos, including a superb A.T.C. (avocado, turkey and cheese) and the turkey-and-roast-beef-layered Dirty Bird ($4-$5.75).

Philly Steak & Wings
1450 W. Southern Ave., Mesa
Cheez Whiz – supposedly de rigueur at “authentic” Philly cheesesteak restaurants – is available, but we prefer white American cheese. Go for the Philly Max ($4.69/5-inch; $6.59/10-inch), loaded with grilled onions, mushrooms, pepperoncini, and sweet peppers. Another reason to visit? Meaty, spicy wings, glazed in honey ($7.69/dozen).

Tasty Kabob
1250 E. Apache Blvd., Tempe
Known for its divine Persian fare, Tasty Kabob also has a small but rewarding sandwich selection. Try the spiced lamb and beef gyros, and make sure to slather on the thick tzatziki sauce ($6.50-$8.50/gyro).
Cheese ’N Stuff
5042 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
Step back in time at this 63-year-old deli, where the old school sandwiches – like Boar’s Head ham ($5.75) on rye and Lebanon bologna ($5.95) on sourdough, dressed simply with cheese, lettuce and tomato – befit the antiquated, railroad-apartment-like layout. A dozen cold or hot submarines range from $5.75 to $5.95 each.

Four Valley locations,
Create your own ($4.79-$6.49) munchable masterpiece from eight cold sandwiches or five hot ones, or choose from one of 14  old standbys – either way, it will be fresh and filling at this “sandwicherie.” The Dali elevates egg salad with bacon ($5.29), and the hot Picasso sub ($6.29) is a mouthful of saucy meatballs and melted provolone. 

Chicago Taylor Street
914 N. Scottsdale Rd., Tempe
Chi-town expats know this sandwich joint comes as close to the old neighborhood as it gets in the Valley. Insiders shell out an extra buck for “dipped” (as in gravy) when they order the house specialty: the Italian beef sandwich ($5). The Polish sandwich ($4) gets them weepy-eyed, too.

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Lee’s Sandwiches
1901 W. Warner Rd., Chandler
It doesn’t get any cheaper, even at home. Baguettes, baked fresh every 30 minutes from the automated baguette factory, come in two sandwich styles: Asian ($2.75-$3.25) and European ($3.65-$4.85). Both exhibit restraint on the fillings (not surprising), but the flavors explode, especially on the Vietnamese side, with fatty meats, pickled vegetables, and jalapeño. (Cash only.)

7125 E. Fifth Ave., Scottsdale
Pavle Milic’s Euro-style café offers but one sandwich on any given day. (Heck, there’s only a handful menu items, period.) Whatever it happens to be, the sandwich special – though not rock-bottom-cheap – will be huge and filled with prized goods, like roasted lamb or Jidori chicken, plus farm-fresh accoutrements ($10).           

3118 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
The regular “sando” menu with a half dozen choices is to die for, but the daily “insider” ($9-$12)? Plus one. It’s one of the cheapest ways you can get top-of-the-line ingredients like duck confit, pork belly or lobster, stuffed into local, artisanal bread.

Pane Bianco
4404 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
There are only four sandwich options, all sporting wood-fired focaccia, but each one is a lesson in simplicity. Olive oil packed tuna ($9) shines with lemon and olives, and the simple fresh mozzarella, local tomato, and basil ($8.50) is more than the sum of its parts.

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McGurkee’s JP Sandwich Shop
2822 N. 15th Ave., Phoenix, 602-274-4262
The toasted, sesame-seed roll is the star at this old-fashioned sub shop. No matter how many juicy meatballs or salami they stuff into it, the roll shines brightest. Crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, it’s unlike any other ($3.95/half; $6.95-$7.15/whole).


Christopher’s Crush
2502 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
Sit at the kitchen bar between 3 and 6 p.m. daily, and the reward is half-off Chef Christopher Gross’s favorite cheeseburger ($6.50), and three fantastic flatbread pizzas ($6-$8). Go light by nibbling on an exquisite cheese plate ($9), or even lighter with the chef’s famous red bell pepper soup ($3.50) and a spinach salad ($5). Half-off wines by the glass, beer and well drinks are available at the kitchen bar or in Crush Lounge, along with a smattering of small plates, such as vanilla-dusted scallops ($10) or two lamb “lollipops” with mint pesto ($12).

Frank & Albert’s
2400 E. Missouri Ave., Phoenix
This nouveau haunt at The Biltmore recognizes that not everyone can just slip away from work after lunch, so they’ve instituted a civilized “High Five” salute in the bar from 5 to 7 p.m. daily. Start with $5 local craft beers or wine. Get a bar board ($5) filled with four bites from eight possible choices (each additional bite is $1.25) – perhaps a deep-fried mac  and cheese ball with chipotle ketchup, or a mini meatloaf slider. Slightly bigger bites on the appetizer menu ($5 each) include a tower of cornmeal-dusted onion rings or a pork slider served with slaw and sea salt fries.

Lon’s at The Hermosa Inn
5532 N. Palo Cristi Rd., Paradise Valley
Take refuge from the heat in the coolly under-lit Last Drop saloon from 4 to 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and experience a different surprise each day. Muddled Mondays feature a $5 cocktail, like a tart grapefruit and basil concoction. Tuesdays bring $3 local draft beer and $3 sliders, perhaps pulled pork with apple slaw, or short rib with mole. Sophisticated Wednesdays offer complimentary cheese and bread, tapas specials and wine flights from $10.
Petite Maison
7216 E. Shoeman Ln., Scottsdale
Patience pays off for night owls at the stroke of 10 o’clock, when a “staff meal” is served. Chef James Porter and crew use social media to announce the limited, value-addled menu (generally $8 to $12) available Thursday through Saturday from 10 p.m. to midnight. Expect tricked-out comfort food, like beef short rib tacos, truffle-infused nachos, or Thai-style shrimp noodles, plus a “red cup” drink special ($5) like a pomegranate margarita or a sea breeze.

7167 E. Rancho Vista Dr., Scottsdale
Arrive between 5 and 5:30 p.m. for “sunset dining” at Arizona’s only improvisational restaurant, and save 20 percent or more off regular priced courses. Wine pairing prices slide down $10 from regular prices, too. The menu changes daily (in fact, it can change from table to table), but expect exquisite small plates like tuna tartare with artichokes, coriander and apple. For happy hour, Chef Josh Hebert rolls out a set menu featuring $10 “blue plate” specials such as sous vide fried chicken and soft shell crab.

Roaring Fork
4800 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
Mosey on over to the home of American Western cooking for killer bargains every day. During summers only, Roaring Fork extends happy hour from the usual 4 to 7 p.m. all the way to 10 p.m. Sip a huckleberry frozen margarita ($5) or Bud Light longneck ($3), and settle in with a cast iron kettle of green chile pork ($7) or grilled fish tacos ($10). Take a knife and fork to the “Big Ass” burger ($9), stuffed with cheddar cheese, pepper bacon, and roasted poblano peppers, or to a crisp wedge BLT salad ($6). Just get there early, before it’s wall-to-wall with like-minded hungry revelers.

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T. Cooks at Royal Palms Resort and Spa
5200 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
Taco Tuesdays and Thursdays get fancy and global in the lounge after 5 p.m., when Executive Sous Chef Travis Watson dazzles diners with two new $2 creations each week – think spicy Thai chicken with ginger-soy slaw, Moroccan-spiced lamb with feta and pickled onions, smoked flank steak with cheese, bacon jam and cherry tomatoes, or fish-n-chips (above). “Eat the Heat” all summer with discounts on the hottest days. Bring a printout from showing that Phoenix’s temperature at 4 p.m. was higher than 100 degrees, and get a discount between 4 and 5 p.m. that day. (For example, a 106-degree reading gets 6 percent off the bill.)

Vincent’s on Camelback
3930 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
Slip out of the heat and into the cool Bleu Room from 3 to 6:30 p.m. weekdays for refined nibbles and elegant vino. Select wines are 50 percent off, making a spicy Torrontes ($4) and an earthy Malbec ($3) absurdly affordable. Start with light-as-air gougères ($3.50) or build a salad plate ($4.50 for three components) from eight options, like roast beef and capers or frisée with blue cheese and bacon. Mini brioche sliders come three to an order ($8) and include spicy duck and raisin, and lamb with chipotle mayonnaise. Wood-fired pizzas ($8) like a ratatouille or tarte flambée debut after 5 p.m.

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6335 N. 16th St., Phoenix
Where there is a bar top – and there are four between Rokerij and Richardson’s in their shared space – a deal is to be had between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. daily. Choose between 15 small plates ($5) and a dozen wines by the glass ($5). The covered patio bar between the two restaurants features a wood-burning oven where you can watch the daily flatbread blister before your eyes, perhaps topped with bacon and tomatoes or New Mexican sausage. The quesadilla changes daily, too, and might sport smoky, spicy chicken. Picking a scrumptious dish is as easy as dropping off your car with the complimentary valet.

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Cafe Bink
36889 N. Tom Darlington Dr., Carefree
From 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays, this cutting-edge bistro slashes wine, beer and well drinks by half, and offers some of their most popular dishes at 40 percent off. Their French fries (the best in the Valley) and top-notch burgers cost less than $5. A house-made hot dog might sound pricey at $5.40, but this isn’t an ordinary dog. It took Binkley and crew six months to perfect the flavor and texture. The rich Sloppy Joe clocks in at less than $6, four sliders cost $2.50 each, and all sandwiches include addictive house-made chips or a side salad.


Casanova Bros. Pizza & Pasta
929 N. Val Vista Dr., Gilbert
Expect an extra crisp crust on the Neapolitan cheese slice ($2.55) at this Yankee-loving, New York-style pizzeria in the East Valley. The ratio of sauce to cheese to crust couldn’t be more balanced on this hefty slice of a 20-inch pie. Other by-the-slice options include the terrific, garlicky White Pizza ($2.75) and a thick, chewy Sicilian ($2.95). Toppings cost 50 cents each.

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Mamma Mia
3937 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-508-0444
806 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-277-5512
This New Jersey-style pizzeria makes a custom-size cheese pie, somewhere between 19 and 20 inches, to parcel into eight $1.50 slices. Each fat slice is served bubbly hot, with a soft, foldable crust, a thin smear of tomato sauce and plenty of gooey, melted cheese. At this rock bottom price, extra toppings are laughably affordable (50 cents each).

Jimmy & Joe’s
1960 W. Baseline Rd., Mesa, 480-398-4848
3950 W. Ray Rd., Chandler, 480-963-6633
They don’t call it the “serious slice” for nothing. This by-the-slice cheese pizza comes from a goliath 24-inch “Big Jimmy” pie. How big is it? It comes with a pizza wheel for cutting. Single slices – thin crusted with a slight chew and deeply flavored tomato sauce covered with just the right amount of mozzarella – are a fair deal at $5.50 each (drink included).


Chou’s Kitchen
910 N. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-821-2888
Hone in on the savory Northeastern Chinese pastries offered at this clean, mint-green café tucked into a drab strip mall. Spongy pork dumplings with crisp bottoms ($5.98), juicy beef pies in flaky dough ($4.98) and chive-and-egg-seared dumplings ($4.98) all sing with balanced flavors. Spicy heat is optional, added at the table via chile paste or Sriracha.

Curry Corner
1212 E. Apache Blvd., Tempe
Recently expanded, this bare bones subcontinental stalwart in the ASU area lives up to its name with curries both Indian (a fair chunk of them vegetarian) and Pakistani (meat). Also find generous biryani rice dishes and a few Pakistani specialties, like the exotic “pot roast” Nehari Noor Jehan ($8.50), full of fire and ginger. Choose from basic basmati rice or deliciously blistered naan.

Krua Thai Cuisine
1601 E. Bell Rd., Phoenix
Even saddled with 17 lunch specials ($6.95) and 75 dinner dishes, this tiny, 12-table space turns out fresh fare with mustang-like speed. Spicy larb salad ($8.95), fiery tom yum soup (small/$4.50; large/$8.95) and barely-sweet pad Thai ($8.95) skillfully embody the hot-sour-salty-sweet pillars of traditional Thai cuisine. Find a few non-mainstream delights, too, like yum guhn chiang (Thai sausage salad) and duck curry.

New India Bazaar
2544 N. Seventh St., Phoenix
Don’t let the handful of American staples on the buffet ($7.99) fool you – this is an authentic Indian restaurant that no doubt stocks its pantries with spices from the adjoining Indian market. Skip the pizza but don’t miss the moist tandoori chicken, and do smother it in mint and tamarind chutneys. Evenings bring tasty butter chicken ($9.99) and rich dal makhani ($6.99), black lentils simmered in aromatic spices and buttery ghee.

Palee’s Crown
1245 W. Baseline Rd., Mesa
Crying tiger salad ($8.95) will leave you crying, too, if you order it “hot” – even “medium” is tongue-searing at this pretty-in-pink west Mesa eatery. Drunken noodles ($8.95) with tender beef are slurp-worthy, and delicious panang curry ($9.95) may lead to lip-smacking and declarations of “Mmm.” The downsized lunch menu is full of $6.95 bargains, and includes a bowl of tasty vegetable soup.

Sushi Ken
4206 E. Chandler Blvd., Phoenix
Savory Japanese noodle bowls, breaded-and-fried katsu meats and reasonably priced fish are the draws at this busy Ahwatukee sushi joint. Lunch combo deals are designated by numbers, like the “No. 1” featuring tuna, yellowtail, salmon and shrimp nigiri plus an eight-piece California roll. All combos start with a warm bowl of miso soup and a handful of edamame ($7.25-$11.75).

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From left: Café Ga Hyang • Pho Thanh • Khyber Halal Restaurant

Café Ga Hyang
4362 W. Olive Ave., Glendale, 623-937-8550
Put yourself in Sun Johnson’s hands and let her guide you through the extensive menu of home-style Korean stews and barbecue, paired with a plethora of zingy banchan (mini side dishes). Dinner prices stretch cheap eats boundaries, but the smaller lunch menu brims with killer bargains. Try bibimbap ($7.95), a crunchy vegetable and beef bowl topped with a fried egg, and served with rice and house-made hot sauce.

Pho Thanh
1702 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
Plenty of bright fluorescent lights illuminate the lengthy menu at this boxy Vietnamese gem. First timers would do well to start with banh xeo ($4.25), a delicate savory crêpe stuffed with pork and shrimp, and finish with a giant bowl of fragrant pho tai ($4.50) featuring slender slices of tender beef and thin rice noodles swimming in a steaming, cinnamon- and anise-tinged broth.

Zaidi’s Grill
1617 N. Granite Reef Rd., Scottsdale
Exercise a little patience at this humble Pakistani-Indian storefront and the rewards are vast – from the house-made curries to fragrant biryanis to exceptional grilled meats. Tender hunks of braised beef floating in a silky ginger gravy make the beef nehari ($8.99) a winner, and moist chicken thighs bathed in a spicy green chile marinade (Afghani boti, $8.99) get a smoky char finish on the flame grill.

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Khyber Halal Restaurant
4030 N. 24th St., Phoenix
Pakistani and Afghani specialties – including mantoo comfort-dumplings ($8.99) filled with minced beef and onions, drizzled with tangy yogurt and sprinkled with dried mint – justify the wait at this tidy P-town storefront. Red chile-marinated chicken boti ($7.99) gets additional flavor from the grill. Vegetable dishes get their due, like stewed cauliflower spiked with turmeric and brown mustard seeds ($5.99).


Pita Jungle
12 Valley locations,
Middle Eastern and Greek go mainstream here, not with dirt-cheap prices, but certainly with affordable, fresh and healthy-leaning eats. Start with a pita cheese crisp ($3.09) and follow with a spicy black bean burger with roasted garlic potatoes ($7.99). Even kids’ meals ($4.99) are geared toward whole grains and lean proteins. Come happy hour (M-F 3-5 p.m.; reverse happy hour daily 9 p.m. to close), tapas like a hummus trio or falafel cost $1, while garlic chicken with pine nuts or steamed mussels in wine run $2.

Z’s Greek
4026 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix
Authentic or not, this Chicago-flavored haunt (with a bonus drive-thru) serves tasty pita combos that include a soft drink and fries (or Greek salad) for $7.95. Among them, the garlicky chicken souvlaki pita ($7.95) bursts with flavor. Crazy-good, salty French fries topped with feta ($3.95) practically make a meal by themselves, but hearty eaters fill up on generous platters (gyro, chicken, falafel and moussaka) served with decent rice, lemon and herb roasted potatoes, and Greek salad ($9.95).


Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli
3052 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 602-277-4927
Expect a side of hospitality from owner Isam Saed, along with a good-natured pitch to try honey-sweetened lemonade with orange water ($1.39). Start with tasty tabouli that’s more parsley than bulgar ($3.99), or flaky spanakopita ($1.89). Choose from 16 big plates, which include Greek salad or tabouli, pita, and seasoned rice. Ground beef shish kebabs ($8.99) are marinated in pomegranate molasses, and grilled Lebanese chicken breast ($8.99) boasts garlic and lemon. Linger over cardamom-scented Arabic coffee ($1.75) and pistachio baklava ($2.50).

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523 N. 20th St., Phoenix
Flavors of Lebanon shine at this open-kitchen restaurant tucked into one of the best Middle Eastern markets in the Valley. Sample 99-cent savory mini pies (ground beef, soujouk spiced sausage, spinach, or sweet cheese), or dive into juicy shawarma (chicken or beef marinated in aromatic spices), stuffed into warm pita and slathered in garlic sauce ($4.75). Big plates – served with basmati rice, hummus, and Lebanese pickles – include minced lamb kebab ($8.99), or seven-spice shish taouk ($7.99, chicken).



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Sonoran Hot Dog
Nogales Hot Dogs
1945 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-527-0208
Pablo Perez has parked his Sonoran hot dog stand on the southwest corner of 20th Street and Indian School Road after 6 p.m., six days a week, for the past 10 years. The bacon-wrapped dog ($3) – stuffed in a pillowy-soft bun, topped with pinto beans and slathered with mayo – has legions of fans. Rub elbows with business suits, firemen and even chefs, all clamoring to wolf down the simple Sonoran treat.

America’s Taco Shop
Four Valley locations,
Carne asada is king here, be it stuffed in a taco ($2.25), burrito ($5.45/$7.95), or quesadilla ($4.50/$7.95). No ordinary grilled beef, the marinated “ranchera” cut put America’s on the map, but new additions – like al pastor (pineapple and pork roasted on a tompo spit) and garlic- and citrus-marinated chicken – keep them there. Bottled Mexican beer ($2-$2.75), margaritas ($4.50) and agua frescas ($3) seal the deal. 

Three Valley locations,
Ringing in at $3.75 or less, the burritos at Carolina’s are a true Valley institution. Stuffed with Sonoran staples like beans, potatoes and juicy shredded beef or chicken with red or green chile (both are tame, by the way), these babies are ridiculously good for the price. And the bargains keep coming: chimichangas for five smackaroos, $2 tacos, enchiladas, flautas, and tamales, and so on. Looking for the best flour tortilla in town? This is it.

Eliana’s Restaurant
1627 N. 24th St., Phoenix, 602-225-2925
Mild-flavored, belly-filling El Salvadorian snacks like corn flour pupusas stuffed with cheese and pork or beans won’t break the bank at $2. Neither will the pasteles (fried meat pies with potato and pork, $3), or the sweet, green corn tamal de elote with cream ($2.50). Even meat-centric entrées are wallet friendly, clocking in at $9 to $12.

Gallo Blanco
401 W. Clarendon Ave., Phoenix
Reasonably-priced all day, Gallo’s kitchen-fresh vittles go into bargain overdrive come happy hour (3-6 p.m. daily). Made-to-order guacamole is $5, down from $7, and street taco prices plunge from $2.25 to $1.25 for a veggie taco and from $3.25 to $2.25 for wild Mexican shrimp with chile de arbol, slaw, and guac. That leaves room in the budget for a frosty $5 classic margarita – or two.

Guedos Cantina Grille
71 E. Chandler Blvd., Chandler
Ask for cheese (30 cents extra) on a taco ($2.95) and it comes melted between two corn tortillas, leaving plenty of room for the fillings, like juicy pork cubes or marinated chicken. Splurge on a $3.50 fish taco and get a crisp strip of battered Alaskan Pollock. Help yourself to the salsa and condiment bar and head out to the sand-covered patio with a cold Mexican cerveza ($4). 

La Condesa Gourmet Taco Shop
1919 N. 16th St., Phoenix
There isn’t a better salsa bar in town, and certainly not one that serves up nearly a dozen fresh-made selections daily, including a seasonal, strawberry jalapeño tongue-teaser. Douse the spicy Aztec tinga chicken ($2.99) with cooling cilantro salsa and the crisp Baja Sur shark taco ($3.99) with creamy chipotle. Besides gourmet tacos, this colorful, casual diner also delivers lip-smacking fried corn quesadillas ($8-$10) and fat burros ($6-$9).

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From left: My Arepa • Elmer's Taco

My Arepa
2057 S. Alma School Rd., Mesa
Venezuelan arepas ($2-$5.50) – thick corn flour “bread” stuffed with scrumptious ingredients – deep-fried empanadas ($3.50-$5) and near-dessert-sweet corn cachapas ($6-$9) rule the roost in this no-frills storefront that also houses a Rosati’s Pizza. All three dishes can be boosted with mildly-spiced fillers that run the gamut from seasoned shredded beef to black beans and gooey white cheese to all of the above.

Elmer’s Tacos
355 N. Arizona Ave., Chandler, 480-963-6763
Something about the creamy, intensely smoky pintos (a secret they won’t divulge) makes the bean and cheese burros ($1.55/mini; $2.75/full size) a crowd favorite. Double layered pastor street tacos ($2) aren’t spit-roasted, but they are tasty, sporting onions, cilantro, and a shot of terrific salsa made from several different chiles, including roasted Yellow Hots. Combo plates range between $6.50 and $7.75 for a boastworthy smattering of Sonoran classics.

Mi Comida Restaurante Latino
4221 W. Bell Rd., Phoenix, 602-548-7900
Find Ecuadorian and Peruvian fare – along with a smattering of Bolivian, Brazilian and Columbian – at this mom-and-pop shoebox eatery, known for its savory turnovers ($2-$4) and tamales ($2-$3). The Ecuadorian tamal stacks up against any regional version, with succulent pork and three kinds of chiles wrapped in spicy masa and steamed in a banana leaf. Big plates run from $7 for seco de pollo (chicken stew) to $11.50 for lomo fino saltado (filet mignon).

Millie’s Café
1616 E. Main St., Mesa, 480-223-8217
From a jibarito (fried, smashed plantains) pressed sandwich ($7) to a plate of Puerto Rico’s national dish, slow roasted pork pernil ($6.50) served with yellow rice and pigeon peas, this bare-bones café leaves plenty of pocket change for delicious deep-fried sides. Try the relleno de papa ($2), a plantain masa ball filled with mashed potatoes and ground beef. Your spare change will cover a $1.25 pastry or $2.50 flan.

Rito’s Mexican Food
907 N. 14th St., Phoenix, 602-262-9842
Bank-style security bars separate the order-taker from the order-giver at this cash-only Sonoran dive east of downtown. Plenty of dinero changes hands daily for fat, cheesy burros stuffed with beans, rice, and/or red or green chile ($3.45-$5.80/plain; $6.05-$8.40/enchilada-style). Green chile (cubed, simmered beef) is spicier, but the red is no wallflower. The thick, creamy beans are outstanding, especially smeared on a $2.60 tostada.       

Tacos Atoyac
1830 W. Glendale Ave., Phoenix, 602-864-2746
Yummy street tacos for a buck and a handful of Oaxacan street snacks like molote (potato and chorizo fritter, $1.50) and memelita (corn patty smothered in black beans and cheese) lure droves of bargain-eaters to this unassuming cocina. Burros start at $4 and top out at $6.50 for shrimp, but whatever you do, don’t miss the $1.50 Baja fish taco. It’s legendary.

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Steak – Chicken Fried
TexAZ Grill
6003 N. 16th St., Phoenix
Hanging lasciviously over the edge of the plate, smothered with made-from-scratch gravy (they make 80 gallons a week), this thin, pounded shoulder steak coated in a crisp crust is decadent with beefy flavor. Coupled with skin-on mashers, buttered corn and a biscuit, it’s a Texas-size meal ($7.75/lunch; $12.95/dinner).


Tammie Coe Cakes   
610 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix
Not that the regular prices are unreasonable, but after 4 p.m. on weekdays, morning pastries and breads are half off. “Steal” an almond croissant for $1.50 or a crusty baguette for $1.25.

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Giant Coffee
1437 N. First St., Phoenix, 602-396-7215
Score half-price sweets after 3 p.m., seven days a week, and take comfort knowing they were baked fresh in-house that day. You might find salted caramel brownies, apple and goat cheese scones, toffee pecan chocolate chip cookies, or sublime lemon bars (regularly priced from $2.50-$4.50).

Four Valley locations,
It’s a win-win every Monday and Tuesday when kids eat free. While parents munch on stacked Reubens or juicy brisket sliders, kiddos can pick from perennial favorites like grilled cheese and hamburgers. Chompie’s pleases choosy moms by offering grilled chicken strips and all-day breakfast treats like whole wheat pancakes and yogurt parfait.

Soi 4
8787 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
On Tuesdays, kids get a gratis taste of Bangkok with milder versions of vegetable pad Thai, satay chicken skewers with peanut sauce, and stir-fried chicken with rice or noodles. The dishes still pack the flavor profile that makes this famed Bay Area import such a treat for adults, but without the chile heat.

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Chelsea’s Kitchen
5040 N. 40th St., Phoenix
Kids eat free (and very well) from 3 to 6 p.m., seven days a week, at this Arcadia neighborhood hangout. Little ones can dine on baked mac and cheese, organic chicken tacos, or a piece of fresh grilled fish paired with French fries (all offered with an adult meal purchase, naturally). Even the fussiest eater won’t be able to resist the peanut butter and jelly “sushi” rolls – bread slathered with PB & J, then rolled and cut into fun, bite-size pieces.

St. Francis
111 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
Kids are like royalty here. They eat free every day, and just to make them feel at home, Chef Aaron Chamberlin keeps handy a giant box stuffed with toys. On weekends, Chamberlin serves wee ones scrambled eggs and toast or iron-skillet pancakes. Sure, there’s the requisite cheeseburger (on a brioche bun) with fries, but there’s also a farm-fresh veggie plate with house-made buttermilk dressing for dipping.

Fry Bread
The Fry Bread House
4140 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-351-2345
1916 W. Baseline Rd., Mesa,
The James Beard Foundation recognized The Fry Bread House as an “American Classic” this year, making it the first Native American restaurant to receive the prestigious designation. Since 1992, Phoenicians have flocked to the modest midtown structure to indulge in Navajo tacos, deep-fried with red or green chile beef ($6.69), or to satisfy a sweet tooth with fry bread drizzled with melted chocolate and butter.

Chicago Hamburger Company
3749 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-955-4137
Size: 1/3 pound; also 2/3 pound
Another to try: Western (with bacon and barbecue sauce)
The Lowdown:
+ Soft potato bun
+ Sweet griddled onions
+ Neon-green pickle relish
- Dry, unseasoned beef
Rating: X

202 E. University Dr., Tempe, 480-968-4712
Size: 1/3 pound (Big One); also 1/4 pound (Little One); 1/2 pound (Great Big One)
Another to try: Guacamole Bacon Burger
The Lowdown:
+ Mesquite charcoal-grilled
+ Greasy good
+ Do-it-yourself topping bar
$4.39 (Big One)
Rating: XX

Harvey’s Wineburger
4812 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 602-248-9950
Size: 1/3 pound; also 2/3 pound
Wash it down: $3 Grey Goose martinis
The Lowdown:
+ Real cheddar cheese
+ Old-school accompaniments (onion, pickle spear)
+ Wine-splashed, drippy patty
+ Bonus: $2 draft Bud and Bud Light
Rating: XX

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Lenny’s Burger Shop
2825 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-263-8700
(also Glendale, west Phoenix, Mesa)
Size: 1/4 pound (single); also 1/2 pound (double); 3/4 pound (triple)
Another to try: Mexican burger with green chiles
The Lowdown:
+ Gas-grilled patty dipped in seasoned au jus
+ Balanced amount of toppings
+ Ranch/mayo standard condiment
+ Cheap ‘n’ tasty

Rating: XXXx

3141 S. McClintock Rd., Tempe
Size: 1/3 pound
Another to try: Chili burger
The Lowdown:
+ Thicker-than-most Iowa beef patty
- Cheddar or provolone extra charge
- Griddled/steamed
+ Über crisp toppings and “special” sauce (seasoned mayo/ketchup)
Rating: XX

Lucky Boy Burger Shop
3430 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 602-274-6440
Size: 1/4 pound; also
1/2 pound, 3/4 pound, 1 pound
Wash it down: Peanut butter shake ($2.99)
The Lowdown:
+ Fries included
+ Pronounced beefy flavor
+ Four choices of condiments (try tangy ranch)
+ Good ratio of fixin’s to beef and bun

Paradise Valley Burger Company
4001 E. Bell Rd., Phoenix, 602-535-4930
Size: Generous 1/4 pound
Another to try: Country fried with gravy
The Lowdown:
+ Juicy, highly seasoned beef
+ Buttered, toasted brioche bun
+ Pickled red onions and jalapeño ranch dressing
Rating: XXX 

Rocket Burger & Subs
12038 N. 35th Ave., Phoenix, 602-993-0834
Size: Single (1/4 pound); also Double (1/2 pound); Rocket (3 patties, 3/4 pound)
The Lowdown:
- Skimpy, soy-flavored patty
- Bready bun
+ Spicy homemade Thousand Island sauce
+ Bonus: Hundreds of bottled sodas
$2.69 (single)
Rating: X

Two Hippies Gnarly Burger Joint
4041 E.Thomas Rd., Phoenix, 602-957-1580
Size: 1/3 pound
The Lowdown:
- Salty beef
+ Mind-boggling variety of topping choices, from sauteed mushrooms to sauerkraut
+ Includes a side (choose onion rings)
+ Bonus: Bring your own beer
Rating: X

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Ice Cream Float
2303 N. Seventh  St., Phoenix
What do you get when you take a scoop each of old-fashioned Thrifty vanilla and strawberry ice creams and pour house-made blueberry soda over it? A Red, White & Blueberry Ice Cream Float for $3.95, that’s what. This patriotic (and colorful) float is perfect for summer, with one or two straws.


Note: Check websites for schedules, but most trucks can be found at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, either Wednesday evenings, Friday at lunchtime and/or Saturday mornings.

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Short Leash Dogs
Brad and Kat Moore’s selection of Schreiner’s sausages stuffed in griddled naan prompts Pavlovian drooling. Choose from creative combos named after real canines – including their own pooches, Igby and Oliver – or create your own custom dog from a choice of five sausages (plus a vegetarian option), and 24 fetching toppings and condiments. Corn Pups ($3) on a stick are worth a bite, too. ($6)

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Buzz ‘n’ Beez
Christian Buze – grandson of the legendary Elizabeth White (Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe) – and partner Beatrice “Bee” Bullock honor the family’s soul-food roots with classic Southern fare peppered with a few new twists. Spicy jerk chicken and Polish sausage dogs happily coexist with catfish sliders and BBQ chicken on Texas toast. Still, it’s tough to top the duo’s insanely-juicy fried chicken. ($3-$12)

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Shinobu Diego
What do you get when you cross Japanese traditions with Mexican tortillas? Provocatively flavored street tacos – think ginger pork, teriyaki beef and chicken, and Sriracha spuds, topped with julienned, crisp veggies and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Chef/owner Marc Shelton, whose grandmother is Japanese, mans the stove while his mom, Mary, takes orders. ($4)

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Hey Joe Filipino
Chef Brian Webb confidently declared 2012 the “Year of the Lumpia.” The Filipino deep-fried pork egg roll wraps are his best-selling street snack. Frankly, the superlative could apply to any of the dishes he and his Filipino wife, Margita, concoct in the back of their truck, from vegan mongo (mung beans and spinach simmered in coconut milk) to pancit (savory stir-fried glass noodles) to lechon kawali (pork belly braised in coconut vinegar and deep fried to order). ($6-$8)

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Luncha Libre
A tongue-in-cheek reference to Mexico’s theatrical masked wrestlers, Tim Cobb’s quesadilla-and-torta truck offers tasty treats with wacky combinations, like the griddled Koreadilla (sweet soy-marinated skirt steak with red cabbage and jalapeños) and the Spicy Elvis (peanut butter, bananas, strawberry jam and Sriracha). Don’t knock it until you try it. Less dramatic but equally flavorful are toasted bolillos stuffed with citrus chicken or carne asada. ($8-$9)