Alvin Hong, ASU alumni of the W. P. Carey School of Business, is the owner and operator of Kung Fu Tea on the corner of 5th & Mill. He also owned and operated the Paletas Betty that was in the same spot since 2011. After he opened the first Paletas Betty store in Chandler, he looked for an area with a good downtown feel, and ultimately, he chose Mill Avenue. In 2018, Alvin rebranded the Mill Avenue location and opened the Valley’s first location of Kung Fu Tea, a boba tea shop offering a variety of toppings, combined with milk tea, classic tea, slush or punch in an assortment of flavors. You’ll still find a full selection of Paletas at the Mill location.
Here’s Alvin’s shortlist for a day (and late night) in Downtown Tempe.
I think food is all about emotion; my picks are largely based on nostalgia and relationships.
Mornings: I'm not a coffee snob, but I source Cartel Coffee for Paletas Betty, and it's what I prefer at home. I'll drop by their store occasionally, but I enjoy the routine of making it myself. Their management team is great to work with; it's an easy choice if I'm awake before noon.
Afternoons: My first meal is lunch, and that means Chick-fil-A. I grew up in Atlanta, so these guys have my hometown vote. If you see the Paletas Betty van in the drive-thru, I'm probably ordering a spicy grilled sandwich, sweet tea, and a kid’s meal to supplement. I might be too old for the kid’s meal, but they're too polite to ask your age.
Dinner: Newish kid on the block, Kuka, is a really thoughtful addition to the Apache food scene. I'm glad the owners developed this brand instead of opening another Sakana. It's priced right, and refined enough to deter the sake bomber crowd. Bonus, they have my favorite yakitori - bacon-wrapped enoki. As a business owner and customer, I enjoy small modern concepts with a focus on authentic food. The staff at Kung Fu Tea loves this place!
Second Dinner: The original Cornish Pasty gets all the attention, but the inconspicuous location off Mill is where you'll find me. It's just around the corner from Kung Fu Tea, and they're great neighbors! It's comfortable, perfect for people watching, and a foundation of Tempe F&B. Unfortunately, the restaurant often outshines its patrons and functions as an Irish car bomb drive-thru on weekends. My sympathies to the staff and our shared bathroom.
Drinks: I love Casey Moore's. It's old, comfortable, and most importantly - weird. I'll be going there for years to come, but I've been finding my way to Shady Park more recently. It's the new weird, and a little less cliquey. I don't know why the bathroom floor is always so damn wet, but they invest where it counts, and it's one of the most inclusive and diverse venues in town.
Late Night Food: A recent trip to El Paso permanently wired my brain to crave taquitos after a night out. Illegal Pete's (from my birth town, Boulder, CO) has it covered. I wouldn't have attempted to merge a bar with a quick-service restaurant, but these guys are - and they're doing it well.
That's my grind around Tempe. If your list is the same, get your own. Just kidding, we've probably already met.
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