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About Last Night: Anoche Cantina breathes new life into Mill Avenue


By Annika Tomlin

Mill Avenue has added a new nightlife concept to the fold.

Ascend Hospitality Group (AHG) recently opened its first nightlife concept in Arizona in the previous home to El Hefe.

“We did a ton of research not only on Mill Ave. but the entire Arizona Valley,” says Shelby Elmore, director of marketing for AHG. “We really wanted to bring what we call the AHG difference, which is basically doing what’s never been done before or elevating what has.

“When we looked at Tempe, we did an extensive amount of research and said, ‘How do we take something and bring a niche into Tempe that we felt was missing?’ And then, how do we bring a concept that not only will elevate Tempe but something that we feel like would elevate all of the Valley.”

AHG is a Black- and female-led, independent restaurant group based in Bellevue, Washington. A collection of concepts ranging from fine dining to fast-casual, AHG employs more than 600 people in Washington, Oregon, Utah and Arizona.

“We’ve had our eye on Tempe for a while, and when the opportunity arose for us to take prime real estate on Mill Ave., we jumped at the chance,” says Elaina M. Morris, AHG CEO and president. “We couldn’t be more excited to bring what we call the ‘AHG difference’ to the Valley and join such a thriving community.”

Anoche, which means “last night” in Spanish, held its grand opening on August 18.

From the start, AHG looked to partner with a local expert operator to execute its vision for Anoche and found that in Thomas Lawson, formerly of Riot Hospitality Group.

“It’s nice to be a part of Mill Ave.’s resurgence. This is a great area with rich history,” Lawson says. “Anoche will provide a unique experience to help elevate the ever-expanding community. Through carefully crafted eats and one-of-a-kind nightlife, we look to not just breathe new life into the area but give the area what it’s been craving.”

Elmore and Lawson worked together to elevate the concept of tacos and tequila into the various options available on the menu. Between food and beverages, most menu options are divided between classico and loco.

Entrees come in bowls, burritos, tacos or salads featuring various proteins on the classico or loco side of the menu. Chicken tinga bowls fall on the classico side. (Anoche Cantina/Submitted)

“Classico is going to be sort of your tried-and-true favorites,” Elmore says. “We’re going to have chicken tinga, al pastor, carne asada, sort of those more well-known and then you choose your format of burrito, taco, bowl or salad.

“If you go the loco route, you will still get your choice of format but you’re going to see different proteins like buffalo chicken, a Sun Devil, which is our vegan option. You might see some fun stuff from us like a Korean barbecue as a special, but they’re going to be off the cuff, the less-expected styles of proteins.”

The same can be said for the drinks. On the classico side there are the house, skinny, spicy and prickly pear margaritas, versus, on the loco side, the I Don’t Wanna Grow Up made with Sour Patch Kids-infused tequila, lime, triple sec, simple syrup and a Pop Rocks rim.

Favorites for Elmore include the pina loca loco margarita, the chicken tinga that she calls “the best chicken tinga I’ve ever had,” and the build-your-own margarita.

“We also have something called dirty queso, which is yummy, gooey goodness,” Elmore says. “It’s topped with a pico de gallo and chorizo that is just mouthwatering and amazing.”

The “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” margarita is made with Sour Patch Kids-infused tequila, lime, triple sec, simple syrup and a Pop Rocks rim. (Annika Tomlin/Staff)

Anoche Cantina plays into the nightlife concept and incorporates the symbolism of butterflies as an evolutionary experience from when a person hears about the brand to the moment they step inside, according to Elmore.

“Rather than just bringing in a brand and some chairs, some couches or tables, we really think about every single touch point and how do we create a personality,” Elmore says about the interior. “Maya Angelou talks about how as a person you don’t remember someone for what they say, you remember how they make you feel. We want to be memorable from the moment you see a photo of ours or an advertisement of ours to the moment you walk in.”

During the remodel of the 5,000-square-foot indoor and outdoor space, original artwork was added incorporating the use of butterflies as well as an entirely new color palette from what was previously in the location.

“At Ascend Hospitality Group as a whole our mission is to elevate the lives and the communities of the people we serve,” Elmore says. “I think the coolest part about Anoche and Six40rty is our CEO Elaina.

“She could have had anyone design these, but she looked from within and she looked at me, and I have a passion for design and a passion for hospitality. She gave me the incredible opportunity to co-create the concepts and completely believed in the branding and design of them and also place them in an area where we can now develop the next generation of leaders of hospitality by being in an obvious location near a campus.”

AHG plans to open the neighboring concept of Anoche, Six40rty, a sports bar and nightlife concept, sometime this year. CT

Anoche Cantina

640 S. Mill Avenue, Tempe



Open 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday to Sunday


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