I fell in love with Tempe during my first visit over 10 years ago when I accompanied my daughter, Jessica, on a tour of Arizona State University (ASU) during her senior year in high school. I’ve been back many times and find this college town to be vibrant, fun, and constantly changing. As one of the largest public universities in the United States, ASU attracts students from all over the world. The sheer number of students combined with their diversity means Tempe must offer really good and affordable food. So I was delighted to have a chance to visit recently and focus on the food scene.
Located just east of Phoenix, Tempe is a mid-sized city best known as the home of ASU’s main campus. With over 75,000 students and 8,000 employees, it’s easy to see why ASU dominates the town. However, the town also boasts Tempe Lake, a popular sports and boating destination in the area, Tempe Performing Arts Center attracting world-class performances, and the headquarters of several prominent corporations. Put it all together and you’ve got a dynamic city that’s attractive to both residents and visitors.
This trip was hosted by Tempe Tourism; all opinions are my own.
Best Places For Breakfast In Tempe
We had planned busy days while visiting Tempe, so starting our days with a good breakfast was essential. And whether you’re looking for a good cup of coffee and a small bite or a large meal, there are plenty of options.
Our first morning in Tempe we headed to Daily Jam, a breakfast and brunch spot on Mill Ave., the heart of ASU’s party scene. At 7 a.m. in the morning, there was no partying, but Daily Jam was already busy. The large menu will suit anyone’s preferences. Whether you’re looking for omelets, waffles, pancakes, or eggs benedict, you’ll be happy. We selected the breakfast tacos which were delicious. And while we opted for coffee, there’s also a nice cocktail menu featuring mimosas and Bloody Marys.
Snooze An A.M. Eatery is another good breakfast option. Their pancake and French toast dishes are indulgent, but my favorite are their benedicts. If you can’t choose which benedict you want, try ordering a duo. Accompanied by a large serving of crispy hash browns, Jason and I opted to share this for breakfast along with a good latte. Snooze also offers a nice selection of breakfast and brunch cocktails.
On our final morning in Tempe, before heading out on our long drive home, we wanted a lighter breakfast and a strong cup of coffee, so we headed to Cafetal Coffee. All the coffee served at this family-owned shop comes from their Columbian farm which prides itself on sustainable and fair trade practices. We enjoyed an Americano accompanied by a breakfast arepa, a Columbian version of a tortilla.
Pro Tip: While there are plenty of Starbucks in Tempe, it’s also home to many independent coffee shops. We ran out of time to try them all, but some of the local favorites include Cartel Coffee Lab, Infusion Coffee & Tea, and Press Coffee.
Best Places For Lunch In Tempe
Craft brewing has exploded around the country, and Tempe is no exception. So we decided to check out one of the local pubs, Pedal Haus Brewery. This sprawling brewery and restaurant features large indoor and outdoor seating areas. Since the weather was a bit chilly, we opted to sit indoors. As soon as I saw shuffleboard, I knew I’d love this place. We ordered beers and a pretzel and began playing. With about a dozen beers on tap, there’s something for everyone. Personally, I prefer reds or ambers, so I was happy to see that they had both on the menu. Our tasty Bavarian pretzel with Biere Blanche beer cheese was so large that we decided to call it lunch.
We continued our beer tasting experience the next day at Four Peaks Brewing Company. Founded in Tempe in 1995, this company is now Arizona’s biggest brewery. First, we grabbed a table and enjoyed a tasty lunch. Then we headed to the back for our brewery tour. Built in 1892, this building began life as a creamery and at one point in time was responsible for processing 80% of the milk in Arizona. Our tour guide was both fun and informative, and for just $5, this might be the best deal in Tempe. After the tour guests are given a commemorative glass and a ticket for a pint of beer in the bar. If you enjoy hazy beers, I highly recommend their version. In fact, we liked it so much we brought home a six-pack.
Pro Tip: Four Peaks Brewery Tours are only offered on weekends and must be booked online in advance. They are popular, so try to book at least a week in advance.
Best Places For Dinner In Tempe
There’s no end to the number of dinner options in Tempe, ranging from casual to formal, and almost any type of international cuisine you desire. The toughest part for us was narrowing down our choices to just three.
Alter Ego, located in the Canopy by Hilton, completely changed my views on hotel restaurants. Instead of some nameless dining room, everything about this place reflects its location from the “Tempe” mural on the wall to the use of local ingredients. We started with the sweet Thai shishito peppers and sweet pear salad. Then we continued with entrees: the brick oven Calabrian shrimp and Asian-style baby back ribs, both of which were excellent. We ended our meal with a peach cobbler topped with goat cheese and cherry ice cream. We had so much fun chatting with the friendly staff and enjoying an amazing meal that we didn’t want to leave.
I knew I was going to enjoy Caffe Boa when I looked at the wine list and saw not just one, but four orange wines (also known as skin contact wines). Even better, the wine list focuses on wines with the least possible chemicals and additives. I tried the Kana Chardonnay which was perfectly crisp and a good accompaniment to our food. Jason and I shared the salmon Nicoise salad and the butternut squash ravioli and both were delicious. For dessert, we splurged on the decadent espresso cake.
For our last night in town, we made reservations at Culinary Dropout At The Yard. In contrast to the intimate vibes of the previous two nights, this restaurant is large, bustling, and clearly a popular spot for celebrating special occasions. Next to the dining room is a large bar area featuring fire pits, ping pong, and corn hole. If you’re coming on a weekend, be sure to make advanced reservations. We started with a tasty tomato bisque soup, continued with a butternut and kale salad, and shared the spicy vegan curry. The curry wasn’t spicy at all, but it was really flavorful.
On our last night in Tempe, we decided to check out the rooftop bar at the Westin, Skysill, located on the eighteenth floor of the hotel. We timed it to arrive at sunset, which I highly recommend. We watched the sun dip behind “A Mountain” as the sky turned pink and blue. I love rooftop bars and often try to visit them when I’m in a new city, but I’ve never been to one with views this good before.
Pro Tip: We visited Tempe during an off-peak time and yet found most restaurants to be busy. Be sure to make advanced reservations, especially if you’re visiting while school is in session.
Bonus: Where To Stay
Tempe has had an explosion of new hotel openings in the past few years, so there’s a great selection of accommodations for all budgets. Whether you’re looking for a full-service resort or something more basic, there’s something for everyone.
We were fortunate to stay at the new Canopy by Hilton. It combines the unique and stylish decor of a boutique hotel with an experienced and efficient staff of a major hotel chain. The rooms are large and comfortable and include a number of thoughtful extras like robes, a Nespresso machine, books, and magazines. Instead of plastic bottles, each room is provided with a refillable, glass water bottle which can be taken to any of the filtered water and ice machines in the hotel. There’s a full-service restaurant on the first floor as well as a rooftop bar. The pool is also located on the roof. If you need a break from your room, there’s a “retreat” next to the lobby with comfortable seating and plenty of books for browsing. Pets are also welcome.
Pro Tip: Tempe is a flat city, making it very walkable. With the exception of two restaurants, we walked everywhere. The city also has a robust public transportation system that includes buses and light rail. So even if you’re visiting without a car, you’ll find it easy to get around.