2011 was the year of two steps forward and one step back, or from a more pessimistic perspective, one step forward and two steps back, in Downtown Mesa. The East Valley’s unsung hero of walkability and independent business attracted newcomers like Heatsync Labs but also lost the Evermore Nevermore shop. The Nile Theater reopened, but the Royale folded after just six months. 2012 will bring more change as utility relocation on Main Street, the first phase of work to bring light rail to the center of Mesa, begins in the spring.
|Mangos from Main|
One place that hasn’t changed much in recent years is Mangos (no apostrophe), for years a Downtown Mesa favorite for Mexican food. While steampunk, monsters, and motorcycles have infiltrated festivals and storefronts along Main Street, Mangos has remained a constant in the center of it all. The restaurant occupies space next to the much larger Milano’s music store and just a block west of the modern Mesa Arts Center and the future Center / Main light rail station.
It’s a fast-casual place, so study the menu for a few minutes, place an order at the counter, take a numbered placard, and then choose a table where the staff will find you and deliver your food, usually just a few minutes later. It’s a tight space, so your chair may brush up againt your neighbor’s, and the restroom is accessible only via a walk through the cramped, busy kitchen. The compact interior is augmented with additional seating on a sidewalk patio. On nice days, that’s probably the better option for diners wanting a little more room.
The all-day menu features a small breakfast section and a much larger array of burritos, tortas, tamales, enchiladas, and the inevitable combo plates with rice and beans. Among the burritos, the pollo asado and carne asada stand out among the fillings with their respective flavorful shredded chicken meat and grilled beef. The veggie burrito is just as satisfying with generous portions of avocado, pico de gallo, queso fresco, rice, and beans encased in a flour tortilla that stretches to accommodate it all.
Tortas are limited in selection. The menu lists only ham, chicken, beef, and veggie versions without some of the specialties like the milanesa found at many dedicated torta shops. Still, what Mangos offers is thoroughly enjoyable. The sandwiches benefit from bolillo loaves that spend a little time on the griddle before being anointed with mayonnaise and mustard and then stuffed with meat, avocado, chese, and tomato. Some sliced jalapeno usually makes it presence known as well.
|torta and rice|
One facet of the Mangos menu is easy to overlook:the seafood section on the back. Missing it would be a shame because it’s one of the restaurant’s strengths. The items labeled as just “fish” rely on white flesh that’s breaded and fried. A lighter touch is found in the tilapia tacos, which are grilled and blackened. The shrimp dishes are even better. The kitchen dusts the crustaceans with a spice mix prior to grilling. The result is usually mild, occasionally fiery, but always satisfying.
Tamales, offered in both green corn and red chile varieties, are nicely textured and pair well with tomatillo sauce. A different speciality is the tostada voladora, which takes the typical crisp tortilla topped with refried beans to another level via the addition of green chile. The printed menus are supplemented by items hand written on a board above the counter. These always seem to be the tilapia tacos, a carne asada plate, and steak fajitas. All are quite good, so there’s no real reason to complain about the lack of rotation among the “specials.”
All orders come with a complimentary basket of chips and bowls of mild red salsa. The guacamole is a worthy add on for a few dollars more with chunks of fresh tomato enlivening the creamy avocado. Since Mangos is a family-owned and operated establishment, the same personnel tend to be on duty every visit. They’re amicable people and patient with questions about the menu. Don’t be surprised, however, if they start cleaning up and getting ready to close while customers are still there during the restaurant’s dinner hours, which end early.
|shrimp taco combo|
Despite its name, Mangos serves the world’s most popular fruit only as one of many rotating flavors in the frescas offered on warm days. These refreshing fruit drinks with made with seasonal ingredients like cantaloupe or watermelon, are good beverage options, as is the horchata. The other possibilities are iced tea and fountain sodas. Mangos does not have a liquor license, so don’t try to order beer or a margarita. The dessert to order is the flan, a generous portion of supple custard topped with firm caramel.
|grilling pollo asado on Main|
With its family atmosphere, familiar food, and early hours, Mangos in many ways exemplifies the classic version of Downtown Mesa. That identity has been transformed recently with new events and businesses that emphasize contemporary popular culture with an occasional element of slight edginess. Still, even people dressed in Star Wars costumes or neo-Victorian attire can enjoy a good burrito. Light rail construction will challenge the restaurant and its neighbors, so remember to support both the old and new in Mesa over the next few years.
44 W. Main St., Mesa AZ 85201
Center / Main Station (under construction)