With the new school semester comes a fresh batch of student-appetite-friendly eateries.
Opened: May 2019
School’s back in session this month, and those wishing to major in deliciousness should try this pleasant, patio-equipped Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fusion joint on the edge of Arizona State University in Tempe. Various combinations of meats, grains and veggies come wrapped in the titular bread, or over any of three varieties of hummus in a bowl. Highly recommended is the Beirut Bowl ($9.99), combining saffron rice, stewed onions and peppers, meaty kalamata olives, and chickpeas over a hearty but smooth hummus, topped with unusually tender gyro meat. The Town Steak Wrap ($6.99) is bathed in the tasty house-made “Inferno sauce” which, despite its Dante-esque moniker, is fairly mild; the sauce on the chicken tikka masala bowl ($9.99) may even have a bit more smolder. It’s good on the waffle fries, in any case.
Must try: The baklava ($2.89) isn’t made in-house; in fact, I was told that it was made by a local nun. You can taste the divine love in each sweet, delicate morsel.
921 E. University Dr., Tempe
Opened: April 2019
The Scottsdale Quarter is home to the first Valley outpost of this California-based chain specializing in weenies. Reflecting its culinary roots is the Sooo Cali ($6.99), an all-beef dog piled with arugula, avocado, aioli, tomatoes and tasty but messy onion crisps on a thick King’s Hawaiian bun. For a less overstuffed option, there’s the classic-style Chili Idol ($6.99), topped with chili, onions and cheese sauce. On the other hand, for an even more overstuffed option, I liked the Pineapple Express ($6.99), a riot of tangy, sweet pineapple, stinging pickled jalapeños, onion crisps, ginger glaze and “bouillionnaise” – a house-made savory mayo concoction – over a wiener that’s wrapped in bacon (usually a gimmick I find vulgar, but effective here). With an array of other punnily named dogs and burgers, getting sent to this Dog Haus is no punishment.
Must try: Normally a mini corn dog ($2.29) would be an unlikely choice for a must try, but this one comes in a rich root beer batter.
15257 N. Scottsdale Rd.
Meat the Ball
Opened: March 2019
The meatball has long been relegated, if not to supporting player status, then to merely one half of an iconic team: spaghetti and meatballs. This new project from Stefano Fabbri of Pomo Pizzeria, tucked into Biltmore Fashion Park, isn’t the first attempt to elevate the meatball to a headlining solo act, but it may be the most polished and slick in its appointments. The good news is that the signature dish, MTB’s Classic with Pasta ($15) – beef and pork meatballs with noodles in a straightforward tomato-meat sauce – really is a classic, exploding with the savory textures and herbal, sweet flavors that constitute great comfort fare. The not so good news is that some of the other spheroid variations, like the salmon balls with pasta ($18) or the eggplant parmigiana with pasta ($15), are dense and unrewarding. Apparently making some foods round causes them to fall flat.
Must try: If only for the pleasure of saying “I’ll have the mousse balls, please,” go for the slightly salty, death-by-chocolate chocolate mousse balls ($6).
2502 E. Camelback Rd.
Opened: May 2019
The humble churro, that cord of fried dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, may seem like an unlikely star item for a restaurant. But the crowd was nearly out the door on our first visit to the new westside location of this California-based chain (there’s also one at Tempe Marketplace). It isn’t hard to see why: The teardrop-shaped original churro ($3.95) is flawlessly crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and covered but not smothered in cinnamon. It’s great all by itself, but also rising majestically over a cup of fine chocolate brownie ice cream ($7.50), becoming wonderfully chocolate-logged and chilly. A churro sundae ($8.50) allows for the choice of more than one kind of ice cream. Savory isn’t the theme at Churroholic, but the Peoria store does offer wings and fries from fellow California chain Hiccups.
Must try: The horchata frappe ($5.45) is a frosty treat, balancing the richness of the horchata with the bitterness of the coffee.
9340 W. Northern Ave., Peoria