August 26, 2016 update: When this review was published, D’lite was known as D’lish. The name of the restaurant has since been changed.
There’s probably no greater symbol of American car culture than the drive-thru restaurant. Depending on your point of view, it’s either the ultimate convenience for busy people on the go or an environmental menace due to emissions generated by idling vehicles. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, then, when a restaurant combines a drive-thru business model with an image of healthful food and ecological consciousness. That’s the “it’s complicated” approach at D’lish, a restaurant with a green focus that has recently opened in Tempe.
This is the second location of D’lish; the original site is in Scottsdale, where all three mayoral candidates oppose light rail. In that respect, just opening in Tempe is progress, but what’s even better is that the new location is just a block west of the Dorsey / Apache light rail station. It’s also right by the bike lanes on Apache, another part of Tempe’s strategy to remake the boulevard into a more “complete street.” As part of that effort, Tempe discourages new drive-thrus near light rail, but D’lish is presumably grandfathered as an existing structure.
|green sign and green transport|
The building was formerly Tejano’s Carne Asada, and D’lish has brightened and improved the neglected property with an attractive, if small, dining room, and a larger shaded patio out front. Unfortunately, there’s no mist cooling to make it comfortable during the hottest summer weather. A bike rack has been added on the west side of the building and a long railing in the rear provides an additional place to lock up two-wheeled transport. While D’lish still emphasizes the drive-thru, the Tempe location welcomes other modes of transport.
The restaurant operates under a fast-casual model where customers who forego the drive-thru line up at counter inside to order. Large boards overhead display a menu of breakfast items, lunch entrees, and coffee drinks that fit with the restaurant’s morning and afternoon hours of business. The menu is annotated with symbols denoting what’s vegan, dairy free, gluten free, “protein packed,” and “balanced.” The last label seems like the most subjective since competing cable news networks have long shown that one person’s balance is another’s bias.
Judging the food more on its taste than its nutritional nicknames, the soups are a good place to start. Two constants are baja chicken and portabello. Both have a creamy feel, but not a fatty one, presumably from relying more on pureed vegetables than dairy. The portabello soup has earthy mushroom flavor throughout the viscous broth and is dappled with larger chunks of mushroom. Baja chicken is a bit spicier. During the restaurant’s first two months of business, the seasonal soup has been one based on pureed squash. All come with bagel chips.
|Humanitarian sandwich with baja chicken soup|
The soups, along with other sides like Sun Chips, creamy hummus, or a broccoli salad can be combined with sandwiches or burgers and a drink into combo meals. The sandwich choices include a straightforward chicken panino augmented with portabello mushroom, one of many recurring ingredients used at D’lish. The “humanitarian” is more of a wrap with a sun-dried tomato tortilla encasing another two of the kitchen’s favorite building blocks, quinoa and hummus, along with broccoli, which is unfortunately raw.
The burgers are actually vegetarian, made with black beans and quinoa. They have an appealing texture and a mild nutty flavor. Order the house style, or try the breakfasty “early bird” or the “top notch” with Swiss cheese and bacon. Speaking of bacon, it’s the only high-fat protein source on a menu otherwise dominated by tuna, chicken, legumes, and grains. Maybe pork really is “the other white meat,” or maybe the recent enthusiasm for bacon is so prevalent that it shows up as exceptional indulgence on an otherwise lean ingredient list.
|chicken panino with hummus|
The salads here are of the Elaine Benes variety. In other words, they’re big and function as meals in a bowl. Perhaps as a rebuttal to the Elaine stereotype, though, there’s a “Man Salad” that incorporates multiple proteins: tuna, chicken, bacon, and feta. A meatless but still hearty approach is found on the Kitchen Sink Salad with mesclun, mild feta, quinoa, golden raisins, tomatoes, and little bits of celery and carrots. The Nuts and Berries Salad is gentlest of all, but would benefit from a more tart dressing to offset the sweetness of other ingredients.
|nuts and berries salad|
D’Lish also serves breakfast, mostly eggy sandwiches and burritos. These work, as do the bagel and bialys topped with butter, cream cheese, or peanut butter. The most unique morning item on the menu is “Oatmeal Our Way.” The restaurant has definitely blazed its own trail here since this dish resembles nothing from Quaker or McCann’s. The oats are actually quinoa, and they’re topped with fruit and copious steamed milk. It’s a novel approach to hot cereal, but not as filling as one would expect. Add a pastry or smoothie for a full breakfast.
|sun-dried bialy with cream cheese|
Drink include fresh lemonade, several varieties of iced tea, orange juice, and all manner of espresso drinks. In keeping with the healthful image, there’s no soda fountain. Likewise, D’lish does not have a liquor licence. Even as Apache Boulevard changes with transit-oriented development, there are still remnants of the street’s automotive identity, including a shuttered carwash right across Terrace. By combining an old drive-thru with healthful food and a location near rail and bike lanes, D’lish is bridging the gap between the old and the new on Apache.
1135 E. Apache Blvd., Tempe AZ 85281
Dorsey / Apache Station