With medical marijuana dispensaries continuing to proliferate, 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 outside 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 packaged 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 of rice. Accessorize it with the accompanying side of tzatziki or even some Sriracha hot sauce from one of the bottles kept up front by the counter.
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.
A better, bigger option for greenery is the Greek salad, which can be topped for a few dollars more with gyros, chicken shawarma, a combination of both meats, or falafel as a meatless option. These salads have a spring mix based and a little bit of cucumber and tomato on top but not the big chunks of feta typical of the Greek salads found on many menus. For that reason, adding a protein topping is wise choice for making this into an entree. The pita bread served on the side does add some heartiness to an otherwise light choice.
In a thoroughly non-Greek 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 fries are consistent, but the rice can sometimes be dry. The tzatziki provided on the side with many entrees can be an effective way to moisten it if needed. The combo route is definitely a good value, even more so when ordering the value-priced daily special. These are fixed for each weekday. If it’s Tuesday, for example, it’s time for chicken kabob and rice. Fridays are for veggie burgers.
The beverage options included in combo meals are fountain sodas or sweetened iced tea. Any other beverages have to be purchased at extra cost, and those options are limited. Some fruit juices, unsweetened tea, or yogurt drinks might be appreciated, but there’s little room for them in this relatively cramped space. There’s no alcohol either, and that makes sense given that “the munchies” are likely to strike after drinking at any of the numerous bars found in the surrounding blocks along Mill Avenue. Red Bull is available for anyone trying to stay awake at 3:00 A.M.
The menu lists several desserts, but their availability varies. The one consistent presence in a display case near the counter is baklava. 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