Ditch the car for your next great meal | By Kathy McMahon
Think a car is the only way to get to that restaurant you want to try? Think again. With an established light rail system that adds new stops regularly, the only thing standing between you and your meal is a relaxing ride on the Valley Metro Rail. Easy to use and inexpensive to boot (a daylong pass will set you back only $4), forget about the hassle of a rental car or finding a place to park, and let the Valley Metro Rail drop you off near some amazing local restaurants located along the line.
Dine down the central corridor
Your stop: Camelback Road & Central Avenue
Less than a five-minute walk from the light-rail station at Camelback Road and Central Avenue sits Southern Rail, a casually elegant eatery where hospitality reigns and the menu draws inspiration from the American South. Settle into a curved booth and order the fried okra with relish dipping sauce or the fried green tomatoes served atop a splash of pimento cheese that brings just the right amount of heat. Sunday and Monday evenings feature half-priced bottles of Arizona wine. A mix of mourvédre and counoise grapes, the full-bodied Supernova red from Deep Sky Vineyards pairs well with hearty entrées, such as Smoked Chicken & Biscuit Dumplings, the signature meatloaf, or fan-favorite fried chicken served with mashed potatoes and bacon collard greens. Weekend brunch runs the gamut from po’ boys to beignets to salads.
Hop off the light rail at the Indian School Road and Central Avenue stop to enjoy pan-Asian fare at Clever Koi.
Foodie finds in Downtown Phoenix
Your stop: Van Buren Street & Central Avenue
The Dressing Room, inside the hip MonOrchid complex, is only a few minutes’ walk from the Van Buren Street and Central Avenue light rail stop, past colorful murals gracing brick facades. Housed at the site of one of Downtown Phoenix’s first drag bars, The Dressing Room is a tiny restaurant and bar that’s big on ambiance and serves up an inventive take on global street fare. Choose an indoor table, sit outside on one of two patios, or belly up to the bar and get things started with The Donkey, an expertly crafted cocktail with vodka, Aperol, fresh lime, and ginger beer. Start with the tostada and ceviche appetizer, with white fish, sweet potato, and Peruvian corn in a coconut-lime vinaigrette. Tacos, burgers, and salads figure prominently on the menu. A healthy option is the Cold Soba Salad with noodles, avocado, carrots, purple cabbage, snap peas, cucumbers, soft-boiled egg, miso vinaigrette, seaweed, and sesame seeds. Tack on shrimp or a rib-eye skewer to up your protein intake. Breakfast eaters rejoice: This meal—in many forms—is served all day long. One rail stop to the south (Washington Street and Central Avenue), at nearby CityScape, you’ll find Arrogant Butcher, a hip urban eating place that places a premium on quality ingredients for both food and drink. Grazers will gravitate to the Butcher’s Platter, which serves up cheeses and charcuterie—and more—for those who believe variety is the spice of life. Others can choose from a wide array of salads and sandwiches, seafood and steaks.
At the Washington or Jefferson streets and Central Avenue light rail stops, you’ll find a bounty of good food and drinks at CityScape, from local beer and a burger (Tilted Kilt) to artistically plated Mexican food (Chico Malo) to fresh sushi (Squid Ink).
Your stop: 44th & Washington streets
Feel like kicking it old school? Head to Stockyards Restaurant & 1889 Saloon, which has been serving the Phoenix area since 1947, located in an area that was once a cattle stockyard. It’s currently a bit of a hike from the light rail stop at 44th and Washington streets—15 minutes or so, but a new stop is coming (50th and Washington streets) in spring of 2019 that will drop diners off practically on the Stockyards’ doorstep. Arrive early and wander over to the adjoining saloon to wait, where the woodwork and bar stools were crafted on-site in the early 1950s. Inside the restaurant, curved leather banquettes, polished wood, and wrought-iron chandeliers set the stage for what Stockyards does best—beef, in particular succulent prime rib. Skip the baked variety and go for the Parmesan potato stack on the side. Feeling adventurous? Try the Wild West Mixed Grill, which includes walleyed pike, grilled elk medallions, and wild boar and venison sausage. Keep with the Southwestern theme and order the ancho-chile brownie for dessert.
There aren’t a lot of options currently: Stockyards is a true destination restaurant.
Your stop: Veterans Way & College Avenue
If you find yourself hungry near Arizona State University in Tempe, hop on the Valley Metro Rail for delivery to the stop at Veterans Way and College Avenue. In a short walk, you’ll arrive at House of Tricks, comprised of two side-by-side vintage bungalows connected by an open-air bar and ample patio seating. For lunch, start with roasted heirloom baby carrots and Brussels sprouts with goat cheese drizzled with local honey. Fresh greens topped with grilled salmon and a chive risotto cake makes for a hearty salad option. Also choose from inventive sandwiches or a specialty entrée, such as the pan-seared red trout or meatloaf with wild mushrooms. At dinner, harissa-spiced mussels get things off to a nice start. Move on to a buttermilk-brined pork chop with butter beans and warm collards. You’ll also find ahi tuna, bison, and duck breast on the menu. Top it all off with dessert, which might include a nectarine hand pie with Tahitian vanilla gelato.
For additional dining options, use the Mill Avenue and 3rd Street stop and head south along Mill Avenue. Mature trees shade a seemingly endless selection of restaurants and bars. On the west side of the street, you can’t go wrong with a meal at Rúla Búla, an authentic Irish Pub offering classics such as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, bread pudding, and perfect pints.
Ethnic eats from Main in Mesa
Your stop: Center & Main streets
Exiting at the Center and Main streets stop in front of Mesa Arts Center—worth a visit on its own—hungry folks will want to make the 10-minute trek to República Empanada, featured in 2017 on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. You’ll find Latin comfort food housed in revamped mid-century modern digs with polished concrete floors, colorful Latin-inspired art, and a charming patio. The empanadas at República come in both the savory and sweet varieties. Meal-worthy options include the popular Baricua, a Puerto Rican-inspired empanada made from pork, rice, and pigeon peas cooked in a sofrito sauce. The jalapeño bean popper features grilled jalapeño, cream cheese, and black beans. For dessert, try the popular Dizzy Fig empanada, made with locally grown Mesa figs, mozzarella, and a dulce de leche caramel spread. The Banana Cream Pie is a mash-up of a classic American dessert turned empanada—no fork needed.