Over the past decade, the intersection of McDowell Road and Seventh Avenue has become a busy cluster of restaurants. Many of the arrivals have been national or regional chains, leading one local writer to lament a “fast food dump” at the corner, and there have been the inevitable complaints about insufficient parking. It’s therefore refreshing, both figuratively and literally, to see locally owned Little O’s create a place that invites customers to arrive via bicycle if so inclined, quench their thirst with a pint or pitcher of craft beer, and linger for a while.
Little O’s is an offshoot of O.S.H.O. (Outrageous Homebrewer’s Social Outpost), originally described as a “nano-brewery” at its original location in Arcadia. With four suburban locations and the addition of a distillery to its brand, O.S.H.O. may not seem quite so “nano” these days. Nevertheless, Little O’s, with its smaller format shoehorned at the crossroads of multiple central Phoenix historic districts, has a more intimate and urban feel than anything already under the O.S.H.O. umbrella. The expansive patio faces the street rather than a parking lot or canal.
Little O’s is situated five blocks west of the McDowell/Central light rail station. If the busy lanes of McDowell seem unappealing, a quick stroll or bike ride via Lynwood Street, one block to the south, may be preferable. The restaurant invites arrivals by bicycle with racks mounted on the building’s eastern wall and bike-related decor inside. This all makes sense given the proximity of the two-way cycle track currently being developed along Third Avenue. Be warned, however, that the Little O’s racks require some lifting. Heavy cruisers may require another solution.
The restaurant operates with full service at the bar at all times, counter service for the rest of the seating during the day, and full service everywhere in the evening. That distinction seems somewhat fluid, though, and always in a way that favors the customer. A party that originally orders at the counter may be approached by a bartender later just in case there’s a desire to order dessert or a second round of drinks. The beverage selection focuses naturally on beer, beginning with O.H.S.O.’s full lineup of brews, both regular offerings and seasonal specials.
O.H.S.O. stalwarts include its 89 Ale, a medium dark beer with a toasted malt essence, and Popsicle Blonde, a lighter ale with notes of raspberry and lemon. Seasonal creations might include brews like Andy’s Little Helper, a dunkelweizen that finds itself somewhere between a wheat beer and a darker German lager, and Sudoku, which features east Asian influences of rice, ginger, lemongrass, and green tea. Little O’s refrigerated cases, located by the counter, are filled with cans and bottles from a variety of breweries for consumption on-site or off-premises.
To match all the beer, as well as wine, cocktails, and non-alcoholic drinks for customers who prefer something different, Little O’s offers a menu of well-crafted pub food with subtle Southwestern and Mediterranean influences. The hummus board offers a choice of variants of the ubiquitous chickpea spread, including garlic, sun-dried tomato, and jalapeño flavors, with carrots, radishes, and cucumbers arranged in a tray. The pretzel tree has an equally clever presentation with two specimens served on a vertical structure with dipping sauces below.
The entree selection includes burgers and sandwiches. Standouts include the AZ Burger with spicy Southwestern touches from jalapeño cream cheese, poblano aioli, and fried onion strings and the Angry Bird with a crispy chicken breast anointed with tangy Buffalo sauce and bleu cheese. The same sauce and cheese crumbles combination is used in a cauliflower dish suitable as an appetizer, side dish, or even a meatless entree. All sandwiches come with a side of thin fries with an upgrade to a generous side salad available for an additional charge.
Larger salads function as entrees on their own. Like just about every place in town, Little O’s offers its own interpretation of the chopped salad. In this case, that means smoked salmon, romaine, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, pepitas, gorgonzola with a mixture of farro and quinoa grains. Likewise, the Kale Rustico salad is a variant of the nearly ubiquitous trend of serving bowls full of cruciferous greens, but the version here is distinguished with shaved Brussels sprouts, toasted prosciutto, pecorino cheese, roasted cauliflower, and a lemon tahini dressing.
Pizza at Little O’s are long and elliptical, cut into eight square-ish slices and suitable for two people to share. The Neighborhood Pie is topped with a meaty blend of pepperoni and Italian sausage offset by mushrooms and spinach. The Green Machine is a hearty vegetarian pie laden with artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, fresh spinach, and red onion. More inventive toppings are found on a Buffalo pizza with chicken and the classic wings accompaniment of celery and an elote pizza with a Mexican-inspired blend of corn, chipotle, and cotija cheese.
Pizza isn’t the only pie here. A generous slice of caramel apple pie served a la mode is enough for a group to share, as is the brownie, also topped with ice cream. The desserts aren’t quite as imaginative as the rest of the menu, but they maintain the level of quality found throughout. Whether the goal is just a beer and a snack or a full meal, Little O’s takes the O.H.S.O. experience and adapts it for a city setting. The result is a neighborhood spot suitable for a casual drop-in but also a destination worth a bike ride, train trip, or combination of the two.
521 W. McDowell Rd., Phoenix AZ 85003