Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Top 10 Ethnic Restaurants Along the Mesa Light Rail

As we celebrate the coming light rail into Mesa, I thought about all the great international restaurants along the corridor in Mesa. I tried to come up with a list of just ten great ethnic restaurants that are, or will soon be, within walking distance of a light rail station. Right now, only Sycamore is taking trains, but you can take the Main Street LINK -- which stops about where all the light rail stations will be -- to all of these restaurants.

  1. UnPhoGettable - Sycamore Station - Mekong Plaza - 66 South Dobson Road, Suite 138
A bowl of delicious pho from UnPhoGhettable. Photo: Ryan Winkle
Stop in to the casual UnPhoGhettable in the east side of Mekong, and you’ll encounter a huge selection of delicious, steaming bowls of pho and noodle dishes, including many vegetarian options. The spring rolls are wonderful, including both fried and rice paper versions. Lunch and Dinner are the obvious answers here, but a 9am breakfast of a big bowl of pho shouldn’t be out of the question!
Hours: Daily: 9:00am to 8:00pm.

  1. Thai Spices - Sycamore Station - Mekong Plaza - 66 S Dobson Rd Suite 133
Right next door to UnPHoGettable, is the delectable Thai Spices. Great appetizers, noodle and rice dishes and a full complement of entrees. Don’t miss the Basil Shiitake Mushroom, curry or Thai Eggplant, or if you’re in the mood some great Tom Yum or Tom Ka soup. Also not to miss are the great happy hour specials (priced from $2.50) with Thai Spices’ full bar (beer, sake bombers, Thai-Tea-Tinis, Thai Mint Juleps, to name a few). Many vegetarian options are available.
Hours: daily from 11:00am to 9:30pm // happy hour 4:30-7pm weekdays, 3-7pm weekends. Full bar.

  1. Wholly Grill - Filipino - Sycamore Station - Inside Mekong Plaza - 66 Dobson Road, Suite 125
A hidden gem at Mekong is the food court located on the west side. There are a number of small food-court style restaurants, but the stand-out for me is Wholly Grill, a filipino restaurant serving a great variety of BBQ and other items. I can’t seem to make it much past the Lechon Kawali (fried pork belly, served with white rice), but there are also skewers of BBQ chicken, pork and beef, liempo, garlic shrimp, as well as fish options. The macaroni salad is just right in that pacific island style, as well as their grilled eggplant salad and atchara (pickled green papaya).
Hours: 11am - 8pm Tuesday - Saturday, Sunday 11-3pm, closed Mondays
  1. Asian Cafe Express - Sycamore Station - 1911 W Main St
It doesn’t look like much, but A.C.E. is probably one of the brightest jewels in the valley’s crown of chinese food, this Hong Kong style restaurant boasts one of the largest menus I have ever seen -- and I have not even begun to try a good sampling. They offer both an “arizona” menu as well as a traditional menu. From the Arizona menu, the pepper beef is absolutely delicious and the orange chicken leaves Panda Express in the dust, and the price is cheaper as well, but the real gems are in the traditional menu. Lots of great options for the meek or adventurous at heart. Numerous lunch specials, generous servings and amazing Hong Kong style Chinese make A.C.E. a standout.
Hours: Daily 11am to 9pm, (9:30pm Friday and Saturday)
  1. La Tiendita Cafe - Colombian Restaurant - Country Club Station - 456 W Main St
Possibly the only Columbian restaurant in the Valley, La Tiendita does not disappoint! Fresh arepas, empanadas, juicy roasted chicken and a breakfast to die for. The lunch special of a quarter-chicken and rice for $5.99 is a great deal. La Tiendita also boasts a full bar for those wishing to get into the World Cup mood. And of course, in the spirit of its name, La Tiendita has a small store of Columbian candy and other goods.
Hours: Monday - Thursday, 9am - 8pm, Friday & Saturday: 9am - 9pm, Sunday: 10am - 7pm. Full bar.

  1. George’s Gyros - Country Club Station - 205 N. Country Club Drive
A Mesa staple for good old gyros & french fries and all the other delicious pita sandwiches. Inexplicably, this Greek restaurant also has a large selection of italian sandwiches and pastas -- of which I’ve never made it past the falafel or the gyro, but if the rest of their food is to be used as a gauge, it will be delicious! George’s also boasts a full bar and a happy hour from 3-6pm Monday through Friday.
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11am to 8pm, Closed Sundays. Full bar.

  1. Mango’s Mexican Cafe - Country Club Station - 44 W Main St
Mango's Tacos al Pastor plate  (image from Mango's)
A Mesa Main Street favorite for fresh Mexican food. Their shrimp burrito and fish tacos are delicious, as is the veggie burrito. They have a full selection of Mexican food favorites. The line during the lunch rush can get a bit long, but arrive a little before or after for a faster meal. Mango’s has also started to serve street tacos on certain Fridays from 8-11pm -- check their Facebook for more information.
Hours: Monday 10AM to 4PM, Tuesday - Friday 10AM to 8PM, Saturday 10AM to 7PM

  1. Nunthaporn’s Thai Cuisine - Center Street Station - 17 W Main St
I’d like to place Nunthaporn’s as one of the best Thai restaurants in the valley -- if not number 1, then at least in the top three. Everything I’ve tried here is fabulous, from the Evil Jungle Princess to the Masaman Curry and all the other soups, curries, noodle and rice dishes. Their lunch special is very reasonable at $8 for a choice of one of 25 meals served with your choice of tofu, chicken, beef, pork, tilapia or shrimp with a cup of soup and an eggroll. Nunthaporn’s is also a great stop before a show at the Arts Center.
Hours: Monday - Friday, 11-3pm for lunch and Monday - Thursday 4:30 - 8:30pm and Friday and Saturday 4:30 - 9pm, closed on Sundays. Beer and Wine.

  1. The Pernil Torta from RE. (image from Republica Empanada)
    Republica Empanada - Center or Mesa Drive Station - 204 E 1st Ave
You can’t discount the amazingly delicious empanadas, with their crispy, flaky crust and absolutely delectable fillings -- from vegetarian favorites like achiote potato, black bean and cheese to the savory delights of the Cubana, pernil or boricua to the new creations of jalapeno popper, greek or buffalo chicken empanadas -- you can’t go wrong -- but if you want to go absolutely right, try the Pernil Torta -- slow roasted pork with all the toppings, served with a side of pommes frites with just the right amount of fennel. Oh, there’s a vegetarian version of the torta -- with plantains, avocado and black beans that’s also quite delightful. While you’re at it -- save room for dessert empanadas like the Ruiz’s Pieces - nutella and peanut butter. Yum. Beer and wine are served, as well as the rightly named “Bomb Margarita” -- because it’s the bomb.
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11am to 9pm. Monday and Tuesday is $20 flight night - four empanadas and four beers (or a bottle of wine). Beer, wine and margaritas.
  1. El Asadero - Tacos al Carbon - Mesa Drive Station - 720 E Main St
Looking for some of the best street tacos in the valley, but it’s not 2am Friday night? Check out El Asadero with all of your favorite street eats -- from carne asada, al pastor (my favorite), lengua, cabeza, chicken, tripas, barbacoa, desebrada, and milanesa -- as well as fish. Everything tastes fresh -- as does the salsa from the salsa bar. They do tacos the right way (each with two small corn tortillas, just as Centeotl intended!) as well as delicious burritos and enchiladas.
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 8am to 11pm, Friday and Saturday, 8am to 12pm.

Bonus Bites: In honor of the next leg of light rail to Gilbert Road, here’s one more great restaurant to check out:

Millie’s Puerto Rican Cafe - Stapley Station - 1616 E Main St
On my list to try is Millie’s -- I’ve heard from many friends and coworkers that this is definitely not a place to miss. Their suggestion? The pasteles (sort of an El Salvadorian take on a tamale, made from mashed plantains and filled with veggies and meat) with a side of rice and beans, the cuban, grilled cheese or steak sandwiches -- and of course, Millie is know far and wide as the "flan lady," so those are a must.
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 11am to 8pm Cash Only.

Other Mesa Rail ethnic restaurants of note:
Margarita’s Grill - Center St Station - 10 W Main St
Mekong Sandwiches (Bahn Mi) - Sycamore Station - 66 S Dobson Rd
Pedrito’s Mexican Food - Country Club Station - 311 W Main St

Do you have more to add or did I miss your favorite restaurant along the light rail? Let me know in the comments below!

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