Trapper’s Sushi

Although sushi is strongly associated with Japan, most accounts of its origins trace the fish-and-rice combination to China or southeast Asia, where it began as a means of preserving fish by combining it with rice and vinegar. With sushi having become so popular outside of Japan in recent decades, it’s sometimes unclear if the elaborate rolls being served in American restaurants are really Japanese at all. Trapper’s Sushi in downtown Phoenix is the type of sushi place that embraces an Americanized approach without any shame and with some success.

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Wren & Wolf

There are two trends in restaurant branding that have been apparent for at least a decade. The first is the use of an ampersand to join two words, with bonus points if there is alliteration involved. The second is the use of taxidermy as a decorative element in dining rooms. Perhaps it’s an effort to present a more attractive vision of meat than images of factory farming. Regardless of the motivations behind the trends, Wren & Wolf combines both of them to create its own identity as a recent arrival in the core of the downtown Phoenix business district.

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El Zaguan

In Spanish, a zaguan is a passage that typically leads from a building’s entrance to an interior courtyard or central patio. On Adams Street in the downtown Phoenix business district, the small storefronts lack that architectural feature, but that has not stopped one new restaurant there from using the word to create the sort of welcoming atmosphere that might be associated with walking through an actual zaguan. El Zaguan has joined the small restaurant row on Adams, catering to populations of workers returning to offices, as well as those who never left.

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Adams Table

For decades, the wedding cake design of the Hyatt Regency hotel has been part of the city’s central business district and convention center. More recently, the Hyatt brand has been extended more broadly with the mid-priced Hyatt Place concept, including a newly built property just a few blocks away at Second Avenue and Adams Street. With a moderately priced hotel, there is also a need for a more casual restaurant. Adams Table, named for the street named for the nation’s second president, is now filling that role at the new hotel in downtown Phoenix.

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Morning Squeeze

Anyone who has lived in Phoenix for a while may remember a time when many downtown restaurants were open only on weekdays to serve lunch to nearby office workers. Now, more have embraced dinner service to reflect increased evening activity. In Tempe, those who follow developments on Mill Avenue know that part of town becomes most lively after dark. With rising residential populations in and near the downtowns of both cities, there is now a proliferation of breakfast restaurants situated in urban centers, including the newest one, Morning Squeeze.

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Ingo’s Tasty Food

A decade later than originally planned, an outpost of LGO Hospitality has finally arrived in downtown Phoenix. LGO stands for La Grande Orange, which originated on the east side of Phoenix with its gourmet grocery and pizzeria. A similar operation was planned for the CityScape development when it opened in 2011 but was abandoned at the last minute, ostensibly due to ventilation issues. More than 10 years later, another LGO brand, Ingo’s Tasty Food  has opened across the street from CityScape in the same developer’s Block 23 project.

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Pa’La

It took 28 years, but in 2021, the Phoenix Suns made it to the National Basketball Association finals for the second time. When the Suns did this the first time in 1993, they had just enjoyed their first season in their then-new arena. The surrounding blocks of downtown were still pretty bleak, however. A lot has changed in nearly three decades, and the city’s core now has even more restaurants than it did before the pandemic. Among many new arrivals is Pa’La, an upgraded version of a chef-driven restaurant with an original location on 24th Street.

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Dog Haus Biergarten

CityScape and other big projects in the core of the downtown Phoenix business district are usually defined first in terms of their anchor tenants, whether a contemporary hotel like the nearby Kimpton Palomar or an essential amenity like the Fry’s grocery at Block 23. In the smaller pockets of these developments, however, are numerous opportunities for more fine-grained retail and restaurant development. One spot at CityScape, a corner space right at the intersection of Central and Washington, has recently become home to Dog Haus Biergarten.

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Blanco Cocina + Cantina

When downtown Phoenix has seen developments with ambitious names like “CityScape” and “The Arizona Center,” it’s hard to get excited about something with the more modest moniker of “Block 23.” All it takes is a little awareness of local history, though, to understand the importance of the redevelopment of this site, named for the numbered system of parcels used when the city was first developed. Block 23 has been home to city hall, a fire station, the Fox Theater, and a JCPenney store before sitting vacant, underutilized as surface parking, for several decades.

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Cartel Roasting Co.

Observers of coffee culture often speak in terms of waves. The current wave, one that has been crashing over our cities since the ‘90s, is the third one, although there has been talk of an emerging fourth wave. Regardless of what trends dominate worldwide, one local coffee house has been making its own waves for over a decade via steady expansion throughout Arizona and even a few points beyond. Now with ten locations, Tempe-based Cartel Roasting Co. has grown a great deal since its founding in 2007, both in terms of its beverage and food to accompany it.

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Spoonz

For many years, the downtown Phoenix menu seemed to be weekday lunches with a side of breakfast. So many establishments catered to employees of nearby office towers but saw little reason to stay open nights and weekends. Of course, that has all changed with new apartments and entertainment options in the city, and many of those lunch-only establishments have closed. The pandemic has added another challenge with so many people working from home, so it’s fascinating to see Spoonz, a sandwich and salad shop still operating on the office lunch model.

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M’Olé

Mole, the Mexican sauce often associated with ground chilies, spices, and even sometimes chocolate, can be a complex dish. Secret recipes, tacit knowledge, and a certain amount of improvisation can create the nuance that makes each mole unique. It’s a welcome surprise then that mole is the namesake dish at a simple order-at-the-counter lunch spot on the ground floor of a downtown office tower. The restaurant’s name, M’Olé, is both a nod to the signature sauce and a play on the Spanish interjection used to express approval or celebrate victory.

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