Listening to the most pessimistic voices, it would be easy to believe that the long overdue surge in new housing development along the light rail corridor is leading to widespread displacement of small businesses. In actuality, while some independent businesses have closed or moved away, many have found new and often better homes in ground floor retail spaces incorporated into new apartment buildings. That was the story for both Jobot and Forno 301, and now it’s the outcome for Paz Cantina, a Mexican restaurant in the heart of Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row.
Paz originated at the corner of Third Street and Roosevelt in a one story building that has since been demolished. It has now re-emerged in the same location, but this time as a retail tenant in the multi-story Broadstone at Roosevelt Row apartment complex. To be sure, there has been some turbulence during the years between fixed locations. For a while, Paz operated as a food truck, before that arrangement fell through. In addition, Paz’ public face, Michael Reyes, moved on to other ventures. Still, Paz Cantina has managed to come back after losing its original site.
Even with its move into a brand new building, Paz remains just three blocks east of the Roosevelt / Central light rail station. The new restaurant space wraps around the corner. On the west side, is a space called the Venue at Paz Cantina which hosts live music and big screen showings of sports with a streamlined version of the Paz menu. On the east side is Paz Cafe, a place for coffee and pastry. The main restaurant is in the middle with a patio directly addressing Roosevelt and several bike racks located along that street’s recently widened sidewalks.
Paz’s interior is bright and sometimes noisy with a main dining room dominated by colorful murals and windows offering a view of Roosevelt. A square bar has seating on all four sides, two indoors and two outdoors, and serves as a hub of activity next to the host station. A smaller dining room with shelves lined with tequila bottles is a quieter, more sedate space suitable for private parties. Although Paz offers a $5 draft margarita, this room is the place to see more exotic (and pricey) raspasado, anejo, and blanco varieties of agave spirits.
Paz provides every table with a complimentary basket of chips accompanied by a red salsa of moderate intensity. Of course, there’s the option to upgrade to a chunky guacamole seasoned with lime and dappled with pico de gallo. Items listed as starters include elote, grilled corn seasoned with Tajin; aquachile, a spicy shrimp cocktail; and cholo fries, which combine the format of poutine with the toppings more often found on nachos. In actuality, most of these appetizers can function as entrees, or a side side dishes when paired with a few tacos.
Tacos are the main focus here, with a dozen varieties offered. There are traditional fillings such as carne asada, carnitas, and tinga (shredded chicken) listed at the top of the menu. Further down are the seafood options of breaded fish or shrimp, either grilled or fried. El Jefe and Tata’s Taco are perhaps the two most indulgent choices. The former mixes three different types of pork, while the latter incorporates french fries as a companion to carne asada. The fajita veggie taco is mostly bell peppers while the veggie taco features crisp, fried leaves of trendy kale.
All tacos are sold a la carte; however, three tacos of any single type (no mix-and-match) can be more economically ordered as a plate with sides of rice and refried beans. Likewise, any taco can be upgraded to a burrito. In that scenario, rice and beans are placed inside the tortilla with the filling, rather than on the side. A chimichanga is offered with a filling of barbacoa; however, any of the burritos can be prepared “fayuca” style, a chimichanga-like preparation in which the burrito is deep fried and then topped with melted cheese, chipotle aioli, and pico de gallo.
Paz offers a variety of tortas, Mexico City-style sandwiches with fries on the side. Tinga, carne asada, fried shrimp, and pork belly are among the meat fillings. A Sonoran hot dog and a burger made with a blend of ground carne asada and chorizo complete the sandwich offerings. Enchiladas are stuffed with tinga, barbacoa, or carne asada and come paired with rice and beans. On the lighter side, a Paz house salad is a bountiful mix of greens, but with not only the dressing, but also any added meat served on the side, it seems less than the sum of its parts.
The beverage selection at Paz focuses on tequila and mezcal, poured by themselves, mixed into cocktails, or served in brand-specific flights containing a blanco, a reposado, and anejo from a single distillery. There are numerous variants on the margarita, as well as original cocktails such as El Campeon, in which Jose Cuervo reposado is given a sweet, tropical twist with pineapple, coconut, and cinnamon. Draft beer, much of it from local breweries, is supplemented with a larger selection of brews in bottles and cans, as well as some wine, much of it from Mexico.
For dessert, Paz offers familiar Mexican restaurant sweets including churros and flan, as well as the less frequently encountered capirotada, a Mexican bread pudding enlivened with raisins and cinnamon. If those options are not appealing, the Paz Cafe next door usually has other pastry to offer. The current incarnation of Paz Cantina is a big deal compared to its modest roots, but it still has a sense of belonging at its original Roosevelt Row coordinates. While not all ground floor retail has worked out, Paz Cantina is a success story of adaptation over displacement.
330 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix AZ 85004
Roosevelt / Central Station