A guide to must-try restaurants in downtown Mesa, AZ – The Arizona Republic

Just when did downtown Mesa become one of the most vibrant restaurant districts in the entire state of Arizona? It’s hard to say exactly, but over the past several years the historic Main Street district has been flooded with dining options from a Venezuelan restaurant to the award-winning Proof bakery, cute farmers market stores like Main Street Harvest, craft pizza and a growing assortment of breweries, taprooms and cider bars. 
A Mesa native, I’ve been eating my way through this eclectic and ever-growing neighborhood on a regular basis. Recently, I snagged a coveted seat at the crowded bar at Espiritu, the trendy sister concept to Bacanora. The newly opened spot was buzzing well past 11 p.m. with revelers sipping spicy chiltepin cocktails and ripping into massive platters of Mexican fried snapper.
After a host of unforgettable meals, here are my favorite local restaurants in downtown Mesa, and what to order at each one. 
The little sister to the highly-acclaimed Grand Avenue restaurant Bacanora, this trendy Mexican cocktail bar delves deep into the seafood side of Sonora. Chefs René Andrade and Roberto Centeno have been expanding the menu little by little since it opened in January.
Espiritu’s menu is dominated by colorful, intricate mariscos dishes like ceviches and aguachiles, including a spectacular tostada of fat hiramasa yellowtail with avocado and radish slivers in a squid ink salsa negra.
As with Bacanora, specials are plentiful and ever-changing. During my visit, I enjoyed a magnum opus in the form of an entire red snapper that had been deep fried and caked in sesame seeds, paired with a bright salad of julienned vegetables and mint.
Of course, you’re supposed to go here for the cocktails and I found the Sonoran Sling with its charred pineapple and chiltepin-infused Bacanora liquor to be the most unique. When tiki gets spicy, that’s a world you wanna be in.   
Details: 123 W. Main St., Mesa. 480-398-8129, espiritumesa.com.
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Arizona’s one and only Venezuelan restaurant, Que Chevere is the spot for heartily stuffed South American corn cakes known as arepas. Originally a food truck owned by Venezuelan-born Maria Fernanda and her husband Orvid Cutler, they made the move onto Main Street in 2020.
Unlike Colombian arepas, which often come stuffed with only cheese, these Venezuelan versions pile on the savory fillings with carne mechada, a saucy shredded beef, vegan black beans and the reina pepiada, which is basically an herbaceous chicken salad.
My favorite item after a couple visits is the cachapa ($10), a sweet corn pancake that looks like an omelet but tastes like a cross between lunch and a dessert. The soft masa filling is stuffed with queso de mano, a stretchy white Venezuelan cow and sheep’s milk cheese that’s like a funkier mozzarella. I would order it as an addition to other items and share it with the table, as it’s super filling.  
Details: 142 W. Main St., Mesa. 480-474-4954, quechevereaz.com.
This Latin fusion restaurant was here before Mesa was cool. Republica Empanada has spent about a decade in a colorful, mural-strewn house tucked onto a side street, where it pumps out some of the Valley’s most creative empanadas. On the savory side, three varieties of jalapeño popper empanadas, made with grilled seeded jalapeños, cream cheese, and either ham, potatoes or beans, are the ones to seek out. The cream cheese filling gets soft and molten in the fryer, oozing out when you rip the pastry apart.
As for the sweet options, make sure to order the Ruiz’s Pieces, a velveteen combination of chocolate Nutella and peanut butter, with two scoops of vanilla ice cream.
The restaurant also serves a variety of light Central and South American dishes like sopa verde, packed with greens and rice in a light chicken broth. A must. 
Details: 204 E. First Ave., Mesa. 480-969-1343, republicaempanada.com.
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This downtown Mesa shop wants to be the “Cheers” of sandwiches, or at least that’s what they say on their website. I get more of an artisanal vibe from the minimalist chic dining room and the eclectic menu of French dips, veggie sandwiches and spicy candied BLT.
Most recently, I tried the Italian grinder ($12), which came loaded with fresh garden greens that lightened up the sweet and creamy flavors of mayonnaise and pickled pepper relish. The sandwich is layered with thick slices of ham, Genoa salami and pepperoni on fluffy local bread. It disappeared rather quickly, and while Worth isn’t a place where “everybody knows your name,” sandwiches like these are enough to make a regular out of anyone.
Details: 218 W. Main St., Mesa. 480-833-2180. worthtakeaway.com.
One of the Valley’s best pizzerias, Myke’s is tucked back into the bar area of Veteran-owned cider mill, Cider Corps. You can see the wood-fired oven burning as you sip your Mango Foxtrot, a hard apple cider infused with mangoes and rose hips.
Myke’s has one of the most exciting pizza menus in town, and I was bowled over by the sophisticated pairing of charred baby kale with a tangy lemon relish and sweet golden raisins ($17) that was on special during my visit.
If a pizza doesn’t have red sauce, it needs to be really freaking good for me to enjoy it, and this was really freaking good. I’ve never had a pizza that’s been blessed with melty Idiazábal, a smoky cousin to Spanish sheep’s milk Manchego. And forever onward, I will be the annoying girl requesting it. Or maybe I’ll just come back here. 
Details: Inside Cider Corps, 31 S. Robson #103, Mesa. 480-687-8526, mykespizza.com
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Reach reporter Andi Berlin at amberlin@azcentral.com. Follow her on Facebook @andiberlin,  Instagram @andiberlin or Twitter @andiberlin.
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