With medical marijuana dispensaries now popping up around town, a restaurant called “the Munchies” might sound like a place dedicated to a certain “herb.” Actually, the name is more a reference to a late closing time (3:00 AM every day) than any controlled substance, and the Munchies Cafe is a straightforward Middle Eastern and Greek quick service restaurant in the heart of Downtown Tempe. Look for the Munchies on the short cul-de-sac of Sixth Street that extends east from Mill Avenue, three blocks south of the Mill Avenue / Third Street light rail station.
There’s a small patio outside, and abundant bike racks around the corner inside the Brickyard on Mill development. If the restaurant’s name does little to suggest its ethnic identity, the decor doesn’t help either. Aside from a flat-panel television showing news in one corner and a big photo of the Mill Avenue bridges, there is little to enliven the room. Since the Munchies does not have printed menus, take a few minutes to study the reader board above the counter for the full offerings, or the sandwich board outside for the daily special, always an item from the regular menu at a lower price.
The menu lists meaty Mediterranean-influenced favorites such as gyros, shawarma, and kabobs; meatless dishes such as falafel, and thoroughly American specialties such as chicken wings. As at many restaurants that serve gyros, the meat comes from a prepared cone. In the case of the Munchies, the origin is Devanco Foods of Chicago. The slightly salty shaved meat is well flavored and works well in a warm pita or with a plate full or rice. Moisten it with the accompanying side of tzatziki or even some sriracha hot sauce from one of the bottles kept up front by the counter.
|chicken shawarma and fries|
Many other foods are cooked on site. An order for falafel results in the reassuring sound of a deep fryer in operation in the kitchen. The final product is airy but crisp with a mild but pleasing flavor. It’s served in a pita sandwich or as part of a vegetarian platter that combines four spheres with an equal number of compact dolmas, smoky baba ghanoush, creamy hummus, a little tzatziki, and a few pita. The tabouleh has enough lemon to be slightly tart but not puckering. The salad has a good balance between tiny bulgur grains and minced parsley, not leaning too heavily in either direction.
Munchies offers both chicken shawarma and chicken kabob. To be honest, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two here. It both cases, the poultry is nicely seasoned and not too dry. Both appear to the same type of slices from a rotisserie, with the kabab being differentiated only by the inclusion of bell peppers. For a little variety, the kabab can be combined in a combination platter with kefta, a rectangular patty of seasoned ground meat, and some fluffy yellow rice. A side salad is a whole lot of iceberg with sliced onions, a pepperoncini, and not much more.
|chicken kabab and kefta combo|
In a thoroughly American vein, Munchies serves both a “Philly” and “Chicken Philly” sandwich. They’re probably not anything that would be found in the City of Brotherly Love, but they’re good choices on their own terms. The red meat version is described as roast beef but seems more like the familiar small pieces of ribeye used in classic cheesesteaks. It departs from tradition, however, with a mayonnaise-based sauce and a sesame seed roll. Its chicken counterpart combines those elements with the same slivers of poultry meat as found in the shawarma and the kabab.
All sandwiches can be made into a combo with a fountain drink and the customer’s choice of fries (the default), rice, salad, or a half order of hummus. The combo route is definitely a good value, even more so if you order the daily special at $6.50 once sales tax is added. It is a little disappointing, however, that beverage options are just soda and sweetened iced tea. Any other beverage has to be purchased at extra cost, and those options are limited. There’s no alcohol, but there are smoothies, and Red Bull is available for anyone trying to stay awake at 3:00 A.M.
The menu lists a dessert of the day, but the only item seen in the case during recent months has been baklava, which is available most days, but not all. The pastry is a serviceable version of a classic. Like a lot of the food at the Munchies, it’s not necessarily the absolute best ever prepared; in fact, better versions of some items may be found a few rail stops to the east elsewhere in Tempe. Nevertheless, for a craving for gyros or baklava that comes about during a brief lunch break or late at night along Mill Avenue, Munchies is a logical choice that can be enjoyed without smoking anything.
11 E. 6th St., Tempe AZ 85281
Mill Avenue / Third Street Station