10 international restaurants for the college budget

The average 20-something has a seemingly insatiable desire for adventure, new experiences and cheap food.

One way to combine all these desires is to sample food from around the world in the hopes of experiencing bold new flavors and textures. The problem? Most hungry college students are too broke and busy to experience the glorious adventure to be found when trying diverse ethnic cuisine.

The great news is that ASU's campuses happen to be surrounded by quality international restaurants. Some establishments are already known and loved by many faithful Sun Devil foodies; others are slightly lesser known, but worth the extra couple miles of driving if you're looking for a new experience away from the hectic student-laden hotspots.

House fried rice and dim-sum dumplings at Mekong Palace in Tempe. (Photo courtesy of Celina Jimenez) House fried rice and dim-sum dumplings at Mekong Palace in Tempe. (Photo courtesy of Celina Jimenez)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1) Mekong Palace, 66 S. Dobson Rd. (~4 miles from Tempe campus)

This Chinese restaurant is located within the sprawling Mekong Plaza supermarket, which is truly a haven of Asian cuisine. Mekong Palace's neighbors include Filipino, Vietnamese, Taiwanese and many other regional restaurants, including a well-stocked Asian supermarket. However, if you're in the mood for some top-notch Chinese food or dim sum, choose the Palace. Dim sum is served until 3 p.m. every day, and guests can order off the dinner menu all day. The selections are rather overwhelming at first, but after several visits, you tend to get a feel for your acquired tastes.

Read a review of Mekong Plaza from State Press Magazine here.

Various individual meat platters, injera bread and traditional Ethiopian coffee at Cafe Lalibela in Tempe (Photo Courtesy of Celina Jimenez) Various individual meat platters, injera bread and traditional Ethiopian coffee at Cafe Lalibela in Tempe (Photo Courtesy of Celina Jimenez)

2) Cafe Lalibela, 849 W University Dr. (~1 mile from Tempe campus)

Lalibela's vibrant array of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes makes it a popular choice for a variety of customers. Every flavor is rich and full, and the generous amount of food you get for your money makes the experience even more delightful. Dishes are served on traditional Ethiopian "injera" bread, which is used in lieu of silverware in order to scoop up the meat, vegetables and "wat," a stew-like sauce. If you're an adventurous coffee lover, don't forget to try a cup (or several) of beautifully presented traditional Ethiopian coffee, which is served in a clay pot.

Read a review of Café Lalibela from The State Press here.

 

Various plates and fresh juices at Los Altos Ranch Market (Photo Courtesy of Celina Jimenez) Various plates and fresh juices at Los Altos Ranch Market (Photo Courtesy of Celina Jimenez)

3) Los Altos Ranch Market, 1602 Roosevelt St. (~2 miles from ASU Cronkite/U-Cent building in Phoenix)

Chipotle is great, but nothing beats authentic, carefully-prepared Mexican cuisine. Los Altos is not only a restaurant, but also a full-blown grocery store complete with a butcher, bakery and tortilleria. Diners can order fresh meat dishes such as carne asada and carnitas as well as classic tacos, tortas and burritos. Everything is served reasonably quickly and is always hot and fresh. If you have time and energy after consuming such large amounts of heavy, yet fresh, Hispanic cuisine, browse through the aisles and specialty areas. The tortillas are wonderfully authentic, the meats are quality, the produce is enormous and the bakery's wide selection of classic sweets (such as pan dulce) will certainly have you pining for more. Los Altos has several other locations throughout the Valley.

 

Multimedia editor Sean Logan enjoys arroz con pollo and anticuchos at El Chullo in Phoenix (Photo Courtesy of Sean Logan) Multimedia editor Sean Logan enjoys arroz con pollo and anticuchos at El Chullo in Phoenix (Photo Courtesy of Sean Logan)

4) El Chullo Peruvian Restaurant, 2605 N. 7th St. (~2 miles from ASU Cronkite/U-Cent building in Phoenix)

Honestly, this place is a complete hole-in-the-wall. El Chullo is easily overlooked on the street, but completely worth trying. Traditionally, Peruvian food is heavy on the meat and potatoes, but the menu in this reasonably small establishment is very diverse. Guests can order well-recognized dishes such as arroz con pollo or try something more off-the-map, such as carapulcra, a pork stew and fried yuca dish. If you're in the mood for something sweet, try the purple corn drink (chicha morada) or the crema volteada dessert.

Chicken kabab plate at Haji Baba in Tempe (Photo Courtesy of Celina Jimenez) Chicken kabab plate at Haji Baba in Tempe (Photo Courtesy of Celina Jimenez)

5) Haji Baba, 1513 E. Apache Blvd. (~1.5 miles from Tempe campus)

Haji Baba is another restaurant/grocery store, but the restaurant part is particularly notable. It offers both vegetarian and meat-laden options for every palette, and the portions are extremely generous. The meat is well-cooked and brushed with a wide variety of spices, and can be ordered as a dish or in a sandwich. Haji Baba appeals to a diverse customer base, which can almost certainly be attributed to the restaurant's rich flavors and amazing quality.

Read a review of Haji Baba from The State Press here.

 

December 1, 2014, Tzikii Pita Grill on Elliot and Priest Road.  The chicken shawarma pita with tomato, lettuce, onion, and a special garlic sauce is less than $8.? (Photo by Emily Johnson) The chicken shawarma pita with tomato, lettuce, onion and a special garlic sauce is less than $8 at Tzikii Pita Grill on Elliot and Priest roads.? (Photo by Emily Johnson)

6) Tzikii Pita Grill, 7510 S. Priest Dr. (~5.5 miles from Tempe campus)

Out of every restaurant on this list, Tzikii Pita Grill is perhaps the most representative of the phrase "more bang for your buck." The most expensive item on the menu is a beef shawarma plate for just over $10, but it is served with rice, salad, side dip and pita bread along with the fresh meat. Customer favorites include the chicken shawarma pita and the gyro pita, but if you're in the mood for something a little more unique, try the tabouli salad or the gyro bowl combo. Even the meat-averse can find a selection of tasty dishes on Tzikii's vegan menu. If you're in the mood for a sweet sip, give the house special cucumber lemonade a taste.

7) Yupha's Thai Kitchen, 1805 E. Elliot Rd. (~6 miles from Tempe campus)

The ambiance at Yupha's is extremely chill, but the flavors are far from understated. Its menu is extremely expansive and, as is the case with most Thai restaurants, guests can select their own level of spice in accordance with their tolerance level. Pad Thai and Pad See Ew are common choices, but at Yupha's they are cooked with exceptional quality. Everything on the menu is very uniquely Thai, so no matter what you end up ordering, it's sure to be an exceptionally rich and flavorful experience.

Jerk chicken at Caribbean Spice in Tempe (Photo Courtesy of Celina Jimenez) Jerk chicken at Caribbean Spice in Tempe (Photo Courtesy of Celina Jimenez)

8) Caribbean Spice, 219 E. Baseline Rd. (~3 miles from Tempe campus)

Perhaps the most well-known Caribbean dish is the tender, flavorful jerk chicken or fish (or tofu, if that's more up your alley), but if you're feeling extra adventurous, Caribbean Spice has an incredibly unique selection of regional cuisine. For a warm, heavy flavor, try the oxtail stew or brown stew with chicken or fish. The restaurant also offers an array of curry dishes and even breakfast of saltfish and bakes or cornmeal porridge on Fridays and Saturdays.

 

Hot Italian combo sandwich at DeFalco's Italian Grocery (Photo Courtesy of Celina Jimenez) Hot Italian combo sandwich at DeFalco's Italian Grocery (Photo Courtesy of Celina Jimenez)

9) Defalco's Italian Grocery, 2334 N. Scottsdale Rd. (~4 miles from Tempe campus)

This place is a true diamond in the rough, located on the Scottsdale-Tempe border. Although it's much more quaint than other ethnic groceries such as Mekong and Los Altos, Defalco's delivers an astonishingly wide selection of Italian pastas, beverages, desserts, seasonings and snacks. Defalco's is also a deli, a bakery and a restaurant with a full menu of sandwiches, pizza, pasta, calzones and salads. The servings are hearty, and it's clear that every ingredient is fresh and carefully prepared. It's a bit more expensive than other sandwich or pizza joints in the area, but the incredible taste and high quality are well worth the few extra bucks you'll spend.

French fries and fry sauce at Lobby's Burgers in Tempe (Photo Courtesy of Celina Jimenez) French fries and fry sauce at Lobby's Burgers in Tempe (Photo Courtesy of Celina Jimenez)

10) Lobby's Burgers, 3141 S. McClintock Dr. (~2.5 miles from Tempe campus)

While Portillo's may have changed the local hot dog and Italian beef game, Lobby's is a surprisingly great alternative. It's clear it is committed to serving authentic Chicago-style food in all its fresh, greasy glory. The menu is small and simple, yet full of plenty of classic burger and hot dog options as well as the widely loved Italian beef sandwich. The food is prepared right in front of you, which attests to the quality of the food and the emphasis on freshness. Burgers and fries also come with a special Lobby sauce to add a slightly sweeter flavor to your meal.

Most food-lovers would agree that eating can be a truly soulful, educational experience. If you're willing to take the time to seek out the various international options our city has to offer, you won't be disappointed.

Rave about your favorite food with the author at celina.jimenez@asu.edu or on twitter @lina_lauren.

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