Counter service gets a bad rap sometimes. Not from us; we’re fans. Sometimes, in fact, we prefer to wait in an orderly line rather than sit at a table twiddling our thumbs until the server spots us. Counter-service joints are often faster and usually cheaper than a full-service restaurant. Here are several places we like in the Phoenix area where you can order and eat and not have to wait around for the check.
901 North 1st Street
Located inside The Churchill, Stoop Kid is small but mighty. There’s one register for ordering, but the modest counter manages to pack in four stools and a larger-than-life menu board of Stoop Kid’s greatest hits, which makes ordering easy. Whether you get a bagel breakfast sandwich (the Money Shot stacks tomato, cheddar, hash brown, scrambled egg and spicy bacon jam on a Brooklyn-style bagel) or a hefty burger (the Stoop Burger doubles down with double beef, cheddar, caramelized onion, and dill pickles on a billowy brioche bun), get ready to open wide.
1515 North 7th Avenue, Suite 170
NYou’ll know exactly how to order when you walk into Vovomeena. Handwritten signs spell it out for you: Grab a menu, get in line, place your order, take a seat, and the meal will be delivered to you. It may sound all business, but this place is all heart, with a super friendly staff, modern-yet-homey vibe, and menu of updated comfort foods, like Mexican benedict with chorizo, tomato, and cilantro on sopes and challah French toast with grated apple and honey mascarpone to match.
31 South Robson #103, Mesa
Myke’s Pizza isn’t your typical counter-service pizza joint. Located inside Cider Corps in downtown Mesa, the kitchen is totally open, allowing you to see owner Myke Olsen slinging, topping, and wood-firing pies to bubbly, charred perfection. The menu looks standard, but even simple salami is elevated with spicy honey and aged gouda. Plus, Myke’s features seasonal pizzas, like the impressive peach pie, a mozzarella and gouda goddess gussied up with pistachos and crispy sage that sells out daily.
Taqueria El Fundador
3245 West Van Buren Street
Taqueria El Fundador is famous for its taco al pastor, and rightfully so. Made the same way for three decades, these tacos — pork hunks, onions, pineapple, and a secret adobo seasoning — are piled on a trombo and slow-cooked to infuse an incredible amount of flavor. But the family-owned Van Buren fixture since 1985 also sells standout salsas, seriously-stuffed burritos, and quesa birrias begging to be dipped, all served counter-style with the speed of a bandido, just like the logo.
4525 North 24th Street
There’s no shortages or slammin’ sammies in the Valley — Pane Bianco’s soppressata, Worth Takeaway’s crispy chicken, Miracle Mile’s pastrami — but Noble Eatery makes our favorites. (We’re partial to the plain old Italian here.) You can usually find a spot right out front, which makes dipping in for a grain bowl or a panzanella salad or an Italian sandwich a breezy endeavor during the lunch hours. (One downside about Noble: It keeps narrow hours, only 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday.) Pick up a loaf while you’re in, too; they sell ’em at the counter.
Gadzooks Enchiladas & Soup
Gadzooks is all about choices. Pick between enchiladas, tacos, nachos, and soup, and then work your way down the tasty assembly line, stuffing, topping, and covering your just-out-of-the-brick-oven eats with cheese, salsa, slaw, pickled onions or even a fried egg. Everything is made in-house, from the braised short ribs and creamy-corn bread to the fresh-pressed tortillas and toasted arbol salsa. It’s a tasty choose your own food adventure. And, psst, good news: You really can’t make a bad choice.
La Grande Orange Grocery
4410 North 40th Street
The counter at La Grande Orange, or LGO for those in those know, is a treat. To get there, you pass tiered tables of candles and colorful gifts and coolers of fresh salads and sushi, then you’re face-to-face with a stylishly stocked pastry case displaying six-layer red velvet cake next to gravity-defying key lime pie next to decadently frosted cupcakes — and that doesn’t even include the impressive gelato cooler. So even if you come in for, say, a breakfast sandwich on one of LGO’s famous English muffins, it’ll be hard not to leave without grabbing something sweet.
2950 South Alma School Road, Mesa
Lynn Tso and her husband Raymond opened Aloha Kitchen in 1986 as a way of honoring their Hawaiian heritage. Thirty-five years and an endorsement from Guy Fieri later, the strip-mall staple is still going strong. Order at the counter for quick and affordable classic Hawaiian plate lunches, like bulkogi and teriyaki chicken, served with steamed rice and potato mac salad or side salad. Aloha also makes a mean manapua, a slightly sweet steamed bun stuffed with marinated pork, and spam musubi. The sea-blue walls and dolphin mural only add to the tropical vibes.
Little Miss BBQ
8901 North 7th Street
4301 East University Drive
Whether you hit the original central Phoenix location or the newer and roomier Sunnyslope spot, counters are part of the deal at Little Miss BBQ. When you hit the head of the line, order up fresh sliced barbecue, arguably the best in town, and watch the meat prepared right in front of you. Go for slow-smoked brisket, housemade sausage, pulled pork, Thursday for pastrami, Friday and Saturday for beef short ribs, plus sides of ranch-style beans, jalapeno cheddar grits and creamy mac and cheese – all so worth the wait.
La Canasta Capitolio
1733 West Van Buren Street
At La Canasta Capitolio — established in 1962 by Richard and Carmen Abril — counter service has a fast-food level of efficiency. Its vast menu of Sonoran-style breakfast burros, tacos, tostados, and sopapillas are churned out like McMuffins and Big Macs, but in the kind of warm setting you can only find in a family-owned eatery serving generational recipes passed down for 50 years. Bonus: There’s ample parking and a drive-thru.