Whether it’s “bon appetit” in France or “guten appetit” in Germany, many cultures have familiar expressions that can be used to start a meal. In Mexico, “buen provecho” fulfills that function. Strangely, there seems to be no equivalent phrase in English, but the increasing diversification of downtown Phoenix’s food options, particularly the recent and long-overdue proliferation of Mexican restaurants that are far less Americanized than in previous decades, provides plenty of opportunity to say the phrase. One restaurant, Provecho, goes so far as to incorporate the wording into its name.
Provecho is one of several counter-service restaurants in the Churchill, a gathering place built of shipping containers and devoted to eating, drinking, and shopping. It is located in the southeast corner of the development, nearest the entrance along Garfield and across the street from Matt’s Big Breakfast. The site is a quick two-block walk from the Roosevelt / Central light rail station, and the Churchill’s bike racks are found just outside the entry that leads to Provecho’s counter and salsa bar. More racks are found around the corner as part of the First Street renovations.
As one approaches the counter at Provecho, prominent signs announce a daily special and available flavors of aguas frescas. Smaller printed menus located right by the cashier reveal the full spectrum of what’s available to order. Provecho focuses on the food of Jalisco, a state located on the west side of Mexico about halfway between that country’s borders with the United States and Guatemala. Jalisco is known for both for its Pacific tourism destination of Puerto Vallarta and its inland capital, Guadalajara. Provecho’s menu therefore mixes coastal and interior influences.
Provecho seems deliberately quirky, starting with its ordering system, a hybrid variation of both classic fast food and increasingly prevalent “fast-casual” business models. After placing an order, a customer is given a colorful playing card to hold. A larger version of that same card is placed behind a window when the food is ready for pickup. This system allows a customer to wander to any of the Churchill’s other merchants, including its two bars and the restaurant’s companion shop, while checking every few minutes for food and that might be waiting at the counter.
Another quirk is in the way that Provecho’s beverages, whether horchata or perhaps a seasonal mango fresca, are served. They come not in a disposable cup, but instead in a bag, tightly sealed with a straw poking out of the top. It’s not unheard of in Mexico, Honduras, or even the United Kingdom, but still an uncommon site in the Evans Churchill neighborhood of Phoenix. One tip for managing the bag: The Churchill has narrow counters around the perimeter of its courtyard. When in doubt, lean the bag against one of those, or if the struggle continues, simply ask the staff for a cup.
Provecho’s menu segregates items into appetizers, side, and main dishes, but in actual practice, these somewhat arbitrary boundaries vanish. The corn, served either as a grilled ear on a stick (elote) or in a cup with crema on top (esquites) and seasoned with plenty of Tajin either way, is listed as a starter but can be just as effective as a side dish paired with two or three tacos. A quesadilla, available to be stuffed with any meat on the menu but especially good when made with the smoky brisket, can be a hearty entree in addition to a shared starter.
A whole ripe mango, seasoned with lime, Tajin, and chamoy, before being skewered on a stick has so many dimensions of simultaneously sweet, salty, sour, and spicy flavor that it can act as an appetizer, dessert, or anything in between. These intersecting tropical tastes also make themselves known in the seafood dishes, including the ceviche made with fish, shrimp, and cucumbers, and the aguachiles, a variant of ceviche with whole raw shrimp in a dark sauce seasoned with serrano chiles. Both the shrimp and the fish are available grilled in small corn tortillas as tacos.
Other tacos fillings include pollo asado, carne asada, brisket, and a vegetarian mix of squash, corn, and cheese. Any of these can be stuffed inside a gordita, an assemblage of crisp, thick tortillas with a filling in between. Gorditas are offered only on Tuesdays, making them one of several specials offered on specific days of the week. On Wednesdays, a carnitas platter is featured. Rich, tender pork is paired with flour tortillas, fluffy rice, and creamy refried beans. Weekends bring menudo, served with either tortillas or a toasted bolillo, a kind of bun sometimes used for tortas.
Speaking of tortas, Provecho offers only one kind, but it’s a worthwhile specimen of torta ahogada, a carnitas sandwich that is “drowned” in a tomato-based sauce and served with sliced onions. The sauce on top makes it a knife-and-fork meal, and the moderate size leaves opportunity to enjoy it with a side dish such as chayote squash or nopales, the edible cactus pads. Other meat-meets-sauce dishes are the birria, in which tender beef is simmered with dried chiles, and the carne en sugo, in which beef is cooked in its own juice with pinto beans, onions, and bacon.
Desserts include flan and a tres leches cake. There are also a variety of liquid desserts, not only in the form of aguas frescas, but also in terms of Mexican lattes and hot chocolate. Beer, wine, and cocktails can be found at either of the two bars inside the Churchill. After enduring years of minimal Mexican food with limited authenticity, the city center is now able to boast a bevy of appealing choices. The result is a lot more reasons to say “buen provecho” in Downtown Phoenix.
901 N. 1st St. #104, Phoenix AZ 85004