In another era, it was routine to describe restaurants as serving “steaks and chops.” The former has a meaning that is still obvious today. The latter might be less familiar. While there are some distinctions in terms of how the meat is cut and what part of the animal it comes from, the everyday difference has become that beef is served in steaks while pork and lamb are offered as “chops.” In downtown Tempe, an outpost of the Original ChopShop chain has an entirely different interpretation of the word “chops” that emphasizes neither red meat nor stolen cars.

Moroccan turkey sandwich

Despite the name, the ChopShop is neither a place where purloined vehicles are dismantled nor a steakhouse. Instead, the name is a reference to the chopping of vegetables  in the preparation of the salads, bowls, and sandwiches that dominate the menu. This location on University Drive, three blocks south of the Veterans Way / College Avenue light rail station, was the second to open, following the original restaurant in Scottsdale. A decade later, the ChopShop is a chain with restaurants throughout Arizona and Texas and planned expansion to Georgia coming soon.

grilled steak sandwich with sweet potato hash

While many of the newer ChopShops are in suburban strip mall settings, the Tempe location occupies a renovated house with its own character. A bike rack along the University Drive sidewalk stands next to a large patio that provides more than half the restaurant’s seating. A set of steps leads to a wraparound porch that provides another outdoor dining area with even more shade. The interior can be cramped with signs directing customers in a one-way traffic flow to the counter, but abundant natural light and wooden furniture make it a pleasant environment.

chicken and kale wrap

The menu has a prominent section known as “the chops” — not cuts of pork or lamb, but instead a variety of big salads. Unsurprisingly, a kale Caesar appears on the list, combining the hearty green currently in fashion with romaine.  tomato, crouton, corn, golden raisins, parmesan, and lemon Dijon dressing. Arugula is also popular here, appearing in a “Danish” salad named for the bleu cheese in the bowl and also in a beet salad with green apples. All chops except the BBQ chicken one are vegetarian, but all can be accessorized with chicken, steak, or tofu.

green curry tofu bowl

Some of the chops adopt themes based on international cuisines. The newest addition, a Thai citrus salad is a loose interpretation of Thai food. Its Thai-ness is presumably found in the springs of cilantro and sprinkling of peanuts on top of the greens. It’s satisfying, but without the combination of spicy and sour notes that would be found in a traditional Thai salad. The Greek-ish chop is honestly named and is similar to the Greek salads found in countless American restaurants with romaine, feta, onions, red pepper, olives, chickpeas, and cucumber.

sweet soy sesame steak bowl

There’s another portion  of the menu labeled “between bread,” the restaurant’s nickname for sandwiches. There are eight listed with different combinations of greens and proteins served in either multi-grain bread or a ciabatta-like bun with the option to convert any sandwich to a wrap rolled in a whole wheat tortilla. The chicken and kale sandwich works well re-imagined this way. The warm grilled poultry plays well with the cool, crisp greens with everything benefiting from some slivers of parmesan and a lemon Dijon dressing inside the tight cylindrical casing.

teriyaki chicken bowl with forbidden rice

Among the other sandwiches, the Moroccan turkey is not quite the adventure in fusion its name might suggest. Nevertheless, it’s an effective meeting of greens, lean meat, avocado, roasted red pepper, red grapes, cucumbers, a yogurt-based sauce, and a red wine vinaigrette. A grilled steak sandwich is more umami forward with slices of sirloin layered with caramelized onion, fontina, arugula, apple, mushroom, and horseradish. The sandwiches are served a la carte but can be accessorized with sides like sweet potato hash or quinoa with sugar snap peas.

Greek-ish chop with chicken

The third facet of the ChopShop’s approach to entrees are what are called “protein bowls.” These vessels contain a meat or vegetarian alternative married to a specific sauce or marinade over a grain base such as brown rice, forbidden rice, quinoa, or sweet potatoes. For the most part, these have light Asian influences such as green curry tofu, sesame soy steak, and teriyaki chicken. The chili lime shrimp also adds a Southwestern Note. All bowls are augmented with broccoli, mushrooms, carrot, onion, and cauliflower unless otherwise requested.

Thai citrus chop with steak

Keeping with the ChopShop’s emphasis on contemporary nutritional trends, there are numerous smoothies, juice blends, and acai bowls offered. These items straddle the boundaries between breakfast, hearty snacks, light meals and beverages. A few, such as a chia seed pudding, might even be seen as crossing over into dessert territory. For a more classic approach to finishing a meal, the restaurant offers cookies baked on site in flavors like chocolate chip with cashews or oatmeal with apricots. The cookies are generally vegan, another common theme here.

Nutter Crunch chia seed pudding

The ChopShop locations vary in their liquor service. Some have none at all while others offer wine and beer. The Tempe location falls somewhere in between with a limited selection of bottled brews. Other drinks include seasonal lemonades infused with flavors like blood orange and ginger, as well as an array of iced black and green teas. The healthful approach and international inspirations here may defy traditional expectations of what a “chop shop” is, but for those looking for a lighter, more contemporary experience, this ChopShop is indeed original.

222 E. University Dr., Tempe AZ 85281