There’s a whole genre of children’s books that encourage readers to look for small details within a much larger picture, often reiterated over many pages dealing with the same theme. There’s one from author and illustrator Walter Wick that shows details of treasure in a sunken ship only to zoom out to show that the entire tableau is actually a ship in a bottle. At the south end of Midtown in Phoenix, Luana’s Coffee feels sort of like that scene. With a vaguely tropical look, a bit of a pirate theme, and a vibe of cluttered eclecticism, Launa’s is itself a ship in a bottle.
Luana’s occupies a vintage home at the corner of Third Avenue and McDowell Road, just a few blocks west of the McDowell/Central light rail station. Despite its location right along the new two-way protected cycle path on Third Avenue, the house offers no bike rack of its own. The closest option is one that the city has installed a short walk to the south at Lynwood Street. Locking up against the bannister on the staircase leading to the house’s entrance is also possible but should be used only if care is taken not to block the ramp used for accessibility.
Luana’s addresses the corner with a bold sign, illuminated at night, proclaiming its dual allegiances to two brews: coffee and craft beer. While those two themes are an essential part of the place’s identity, there’s also a menu of casual foods with myriad influences. The menus are found at a counter where most customers place orders, although another option is to sit at the small bar right around the corner and order there. The item names and descriptions are as cheeky and obscure as the decor, so it may be best to read ahead before lining up to order.
Once an order is placed, each customer receives a placard, not with the usual number found in so many places, but instead with a picture of a pop culture figure such as Amy Winehouse. In terms of inside seating, Luana’s has five different rooms. A few tables are located in the sunny foyer between the entry and the counter. Two more are in a secluded side room to the right, and many more are in a big main room full of plants, ceiling fans, and a billiard table that somehow manages to fit. Beyond lies yet another room with lounge-style seating facing McDowell Road.
Outside, there are shaded picnic tables and even a miniature basketball court. Amazingly, staff find their way to each customer once food and drink are prepared and do so without obvious squinting to see which celebrity’s face is on the customer’s card. The coffee side of Luana’s focuses on original drink creations, including over-the-top preparations like Beautiful Chaos with Reese’s cups melted into espresso or a Campfire Smores beverage that blends hazelnut, mocha, and cinnamon flavors with a roasted marshmallow placed on top of everything.
The beer aspect of Luana’s is found in a row of tap handles displaying a rotating selection of craft brews, including Santan’s Mr. Pineapple and Lumberyard’s Hazy Angel. Brews from elsewhere might include Rita!, a margarita-inspired gose from Marble Brewery in Albuquerque. Consistent with the unabashed randomness here, a beer from one brewery may come in a promotional glass from another. There’s also a small selection of wine and original cocktails. Tea creations include Matcha Matcha Man, an expectedly green latte, and Thrilla in Vanilla chai.
The sandwiches have Mediterranean and Southwestern influences, but their names seem almost chosen at random. “You Opened my Eyes Again” features smoked turkey with havarti on a pretzel bun. “And Put your Spell on Me” involves chipotle chicken salad between two slices of honey wheat bread, and “Damn…I’m so Happy you did” is sliced mozzarella with pesto on sourdough. The sandwiches are served with chips and macaroni salad, a common side in a Hawaiian plate lunch, and the toothpicks holding them together are decorated with pirate flags.
No matter what the menu writer eats, Luana’s offers some lighter choices in terms of two big bowl salads: One contains the same chipotle chicken salad found in one of the sandwiches, and the other features a rosemary chicken salad. Both are good options as a bountiful but less filling meal. Breakfast choices include avocado toast with two scrambled eggs, a breakfast pizza, and a build-your-own breakfast sandwich option. On weekends, those choices are augmented with French toast, mimosas, and a Hawaiian “rexfast” of spam, eggs, scallions, and fried rice.
Desserts at Luana’s are a selection of recurring “big ass” pastries. Neither their name nor their enormous size have any subtlety, but their flavors sometimes do, especially in the carrot chocolate chip muffin. Like just about everything else at Luana’s, this seems like an improbable combination, but it works amazingly well. There are so many seemingly incongruous details in this restored house and the food prepared there, but instead of this being a negative, it simply yields something new to be discovered with each visit to this ship in a bottle on McDowell.
149 W. McDowell Rd., Phoenix AZ 85003