College students can only eat so much macaroni and cheese. Sooner or later, the pilgrimage for tasty but cheap food begins, and it doesn’t end until students find their "spot" — a place hipper than home where they can do dinner without decimating the beer budget.
During my Sun Devil days, it was Oregano’s, with its original record-sleeve menus, vivacious atmosphere and massive meatball subs with waffle fries. Here are 10 other Tempe college faves where most meals ring in under seven bucks and each has its own funky flavor.
1 Philly to the Max
These cheese steaks are the real deal — chopped steak and onions grilled up with a little grease and topped with either provolone, American or Cheez Whiz ($5 to $10.25). Philly-related articles plaster the tables and bars of the narrow eatery. In a nod to true East Coast cheese-steak shop style, there’s a cluster of framed celebrity head shots on one wall. Wash down the grease with a dollar draft 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: 505 S. Mill Ave.
Information: (480) 894-0393
2 Oasis Cafe
Stop by Oasis between 6 and 7 p.m. daily and everything on the menu (falafels, gyros, kabobs, lentil soup, cappuccinos, etc.) is half off. The festive, alcohol-free Mediterranean restaurant offers both floor and table seating. If customers are feeling friendly, communal dining is an option. Colorfully dressed tribal dancers take center stage on Friday nights, and belly dancers are Saturday night’s entertainment. It’s a hard-core hookah hangout, so if you show up after 9 p.m. you’ll see more water pipes than baba ganoush.
Hours: 6 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday and 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: 1314 E. Apache Blvd.
Information: (480) 966-6388
3 Caffe Boa
The hunger-inducing scent of sauteing onions and garlic grabs the nose of anyone who walks by this intimate, Euro-style cafe. Inevitably, the stomach follows and diners find themselves on the charming, twinkle-lit back patio diving into a $6.50 Tacchino panini (herbed focaccia or baguette bread brushed with dressing and piled with turkey breast-pastrami, low-fat mozzarella, chopped mixed greens and thinly sliced tomato). The menu — with Mediterranean, Slavic, Asian and Cajun plates — is as diverse as the clientele.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and noon to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
Where: 709 S. Mill Ave.
Information: (480) 968-9112
4 Chuck Box
If you want a burger, follow the trail of mesquite smoke to the old, weathered-wood A-frame on University Drive at Forest Avenue. Cooks wait for you to call out your order before tossing a patty ($2.66 to $4.75) and wheat or white bun on the charcoal broiler. The condiment bar has all the fixings you’ll need, and the thirsty can choose a brew or a pop.
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: 202 E. University Drive
Information: (480) 968-4712
5 Dave’s Dog House
A simple menu of Boston dogs ($2.75), chili dogs ($2.99), sliders (six for $6.50), fries ($1.50) and chili fries ($1.85) keeps this East Coast gourmet hot dog shop hopping. Boston-born owner David Cheren doesn’t believe in broiling his all-beef dogs; it’s all about grilling at his House, which is filled with funny sayings he’s collected over the years. Wieners are served in hearty, buttered and toasted buns. Inside, the walls are styled after an old barn with whitewashed wood planks.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Thursday through Saturday and noon to 2 a.m. Sunday
Where: 130 E. University Drive
Information: (480) 967-3647
6 Flip Flops
This Jamaican bar and grill has a fun beach party feel, both day and night, thanks to a palapa-dotted 5,000-square-foot patio, $2 beers and a constant college crowd. The majority of the menu is under $6 and includes jerked chicken salads ($6.50), burgers ($5.75) and wraps ($5.37) as well as the not-so-Jamaican turkey melt ($5.95) and chicken or beef tacos ($1.95). Settle the bill over a game of foosball or air hockey.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday
Where: 222 E. University Drive
Information: (480) 967-7744
7 Gus’ New York Pizza
For 18 hours each day, Gus’ sells two one-topping slices from a giant 25-inch pizza with a drink for $4.50 or less ($3.99 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). The New York-style pizzeria is an 18-year tradition with both the post-bar bunch and lunchers. Slices sell so fast they’re almost always hot from the oven.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 a.m. daily
Where: 933 E. University Drive
Information: (480) 829-3995
8 Ma’i Island Grill
Despite being one of the smallest restaurants you’ll ever eat in, the co-owner of this Hawaiian and Philippine plate-lunch place says they feed 300 people per day. Mini plates ($4.39) and regular plates ($6.39 to $6.89) are piled high with entrees such as barbecue beef, deep-fried katsu chicken, island stew or loco moco (hamburger patty and eggs). Mix in a little steamed rice or macaroni salad and there’s no way you’re leaving hungry.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Where: 122 E. University Drive
Information: (480) 966-6533
Fast and casual with a diverse menu, Marvos is the kind of place that’s easy to agree on. People-watch on the wrap-around Mill Avenue patio while munching on chopped salads ($4.95 to $7.45), hot ciabatta sandwiches ($6.45 to $6.95), pastry pockets ($4.50 to $4.95), stuffed baguettes ($5.75 to $6.95) or 10-inch pizzas ($5.99 to $8.99). They also offer a small kids menu, as well as coffee, beer, wine and margaritas.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: 699 S. Mill Ave.
Information: (480) 222-3663
10 Plaid Eatery
Hipsters and health nuts chat about the newest indie bands between bites of pesto chicken sandwiches ($5.95), lemon grass stir-fries ($6.75) and hummus fold-overs ($5.95) at the vegan-friendly Plaid (nearly every item comes with choice of tofu or chicken). Walls are dotted with local art pieces in a variety of media, and the tables, chairs and couches are shabby chic. A small bar serves both coffee and cocktails.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
Where: 1044 S. Terrace Road
Information: (480) 394-9424