Downtown Dining: Cartel Coffee Lab


Photos by Amelia Goe and Gabriel Radley
Location and Hours:
(480) 432-8237
1 N 1st St
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Monday–Thursday 6:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Friday 6:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Saturday 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Sunday 7:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Student Discount: none
Recommended Dishes: Fried olives
and the chorizo potato croquettes,
breakfast burrito

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A year ago, Cartel Coffee Lab expanded its location in downtown Phoenix to match its food and beverage menu expansion. However, the coffee shop brings much more than just good espresso to the table and the dining review duo of Gabriel Radley and Amelia Goe are diving in mouths first.

Cartel prides itself in serving great coffee and the quality of product does show when other businesses such as Jobot and Phoenix Public Market Cafe use Cartel’s coffee. However, while this may be a personal problem, Amelia could not help but feel the need to reserve herself upon entering the corner coffee shop located on First and Washington streets. There is a sense of edgy sophistication that seeps from the walls, unlike the energetic atmosphere at the Tempe location that is crawling with college kids.  An easy way to describe the downtown Phoenix location is that there are more briefcases than backpacks that waltz through the front doors.

Now, let’s talk booze. Whiskey, bourbon, scotch, the bittersweet nectar of heteronormative ideals — whatever you call it, whiskey is once again at the forefront of America’s alcohol culture. Cartel has recently thrown its hat into the ring by bringing a selection of beautifully packaged and small-batch brewed bottles from around the world.

In addition to whiskey, Cartel has upped its alcohol game with craft wines, beer and cocktails on tap.

Gabe tried the Grapefruit Wit, a tart and refreshing beer that paired well with the pork sliders and potato and leek soup. The on-tap cocktails are equally delicious-sounding drinks. However, the highlight of the trip was the sparkling wine, chartreuse and chamomile tea drink. This drink had it all, it was light, pleasing to look at, and had more flavors and spices then one knows what to do with. It was like drinking fall.

For whiskey, Gabe selected the Copper City Bourbon, distilled in Tempe, Ariz. Served on the rocks, it was smooth, smacked of caramel and at 45 percent ABV (Alcohol By Volume) packed a very polite but stern punch.

The strong flavor of the bourbon made the deep fried olives stuffed with blue cheese go down all the more smoothly. The olives are a potentially addictive snack food – as warm blue cheese and crispy batter cover your palate, the decadence is cut by the twang of the green olives in a most delightful way.

For morning hunger pangs, you have to get the breakfast burrito or bust. With eggs, onions, peppers, potatoes and everything else you can imagine, the bad boy is loaded up with all the classic breakfast foods you can fit into a tortilla. While this may not sound appetizing when accompanied with a latte, Amelia will admit that’s the pairing she ordered. Will she do it again? Yes, without a doubt it shall occur time after time.

The taxidermy wall decor and low hanging chandeliers are reminiscent of old money luxury but matched with the concrete pillars and metal seating exudes a sterile urbanism which creates an interesting contrast. There is a certain sense of pride that can be observed when chatting with baristas. It’s an undisclosed “coolness” that inherently exists in all that is Cartel.

Cartel brings a lot to the table, but the cherry on top is their new happy hour from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. Five dollar glasses of wine, discounted bottled beer and a tapas menu — all good things. The tapas are well priced ranging between $4 and $7 per plate. Many fried wonders line this menu and make it worthy of a quick post-work or -school visit to grab a drink and some snackage.

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Correction: Nov. 24, 2013

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Cartel Coffee Lab’s hours.