Two Southwestern-inspired dishes - one with corn tortillas and vegetables, and the other a roasted dish with cheese
Ghost Ranch / Credit: Jessica Braboy (@jamtothebeets on Instagram)

It's the Weekend, Let's Eat. Tempe

As the home of Arizona State University, Tempe doesn't disappoint those in search of college-town grub. But foodies will also be pleased to find a robust offering of elevated cuisine and more.

We’re all about giving you reasons to travel for a good meal. “It’s the Weekend, Let’s Eat.” features itineraries for where to dine and what to order in cities throughout Arizona. This edition takes us to Tempe in Phoenix's East Valley.

As the home of Arizona State University, Tempe doesn't disappoint those in search of college-town grub. But foodies will also be pleased to find a robust offering of elevated cuisine, from dishes featuring chef-foraged ingredients to plant-based meals at vegan cafés.

Friday: Happy Hour and Dinner

Begin the evening in downtown Tempe at Pedal Haus Brewery. It's a bustling taproom at which to sample local craft beers. The citrusy Desert Classic Pale Ale goes down easy as does the Belgian wheat tinged with orange peel. For the adventurous beer drinker, try Pedal Haus’ rotating sour selection brewed with seasonal fruit.

Then it's dinner at Ghost Ranch. The restaurant draws on Arizona's Western heritage and Southwest influences for everything from its décor (think: golden yellow walls, bright pops of teal, warm wood tones) to the menu. The taco platters, with choices like chile-braised pork and mesquite-grilled swordfish, are a must, as are the pulled chicken Aztec cake, the green chile burger and the churro ice cream sandwich for dessert.

Looking down on a wooden table with a glass of beer and two plates, both with cheesesteaks, fries and a side of ketchup
Credit: @pedalhausbrewery on Instagram

Saturday: Breakfast

When you want a buzzy breakfast joint with big portions and piping hot coffee, head to Harlow's Café. Since 1980, Harlow's has been serving locals seven days a week as they crowd into this classic diner to indulge in three-egg omelets, French toast, biscuits and gravy, and full meals like the Gary Cooper: eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast and juice. Be prepared to wait for a table, even during the week. But trust us, the wait is worth every savory bite.

Saturday: Lunch

The feel-good vibes at Desert Roots Kitchen go beyond the cuisine. This vegan restaurant sustainably sources everything, from the food on your plate to the compostable cups. There's no set menu here; dishes change daily, which makes it ideal for return visits. You'll always find a wrap option (the Cajun lentil wrap is a must-try), plus fresh salads, homemade hummus and flavorful pasta like spicy curry rigatoni.

Saturday: Dinner

You might be surprised to learn that Tempe is home to some of the best ramen restaurants in the metro area. You could spend an entire weekend indulging in a ramen dine-around, but if you only have time to visit one, make it Tampopo Ramen. Noodles are made in-house daily and the bowl offerings range from traditional (tonkatsu or miso) to inventive (vegetarian soymilk or soupless curry).

Sunday: Coffee and Brunch

Cartel Coffee Lab's expansion from a coffee truck in Tempe to stylish cafés located in hip places like Palm Springs and Austin speaks volumes about just how good these folks make a cup of joe. Cartel's filter drip nears perfection, but if you're feeling fancy, order the cortado, an elegant blend of espresso and steamed milk. Skip the pastries because you're headed to Daily Jam for Sunday sustenance. This casual spot features all the hallmarks of a classic brunch: omelets, eggs Benedict, red velvet waffles, three styles of avocado toast, plus mimosas and Bloody Marys, including one made with smoky mezcal.

Sunday: Sweet Treat

Before you conclude your Tempe food crawl, stop by Sparky's Old Town Creamery for a sweet ending. This ice cream shop doles out scoops of small-batch, fresh-churned ice cream made with cream from Arizona dairy farms. Choose from 22 flavors that range from chocolate and strawberry to Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin and Pumpkin Porter.

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About the Author

Jessica Dunham

Jessica Dunham is a travel, food and fitness writer whose work has been published in PHOENIX Magazine, Runner's World, Phoenix New Times, Valley Guide, Phoenix Travel Guide, Modern Luxury Scottsdale and more. She is passionate about all things Arizona, especially spontaneous Saturday daytrips around the state. She can be reached at dunham-media.com.