Over the past year, masks have been transformed from a Halloween novelty to both an everyday accessory and a source of contention. The question of whether masks are needed restaurants when not seated remains unresolved as of today with conflicting dictates and guidance dependent on vaccination. Regardless, restaurants can legally maintain their own dress codes for customers to follow. At Maskadores Taco Shop, a local chain, masks of another type are far less controversial, having always been an integral part of the theme and decor.
As its name implies, Maskadores celebrates the culture of La Luche Libre, Mexican professional wrestling known for the colorful masks worn by its competitors. As the taco brand continues to expand throughout the metropolitan area, there are currently two locations situated along light rail. One is diagonally across the street from the station at 19th and Northern avenues, and the other is one block west of the Thomas/Central station in Midtown. Both operate with essentially the same menu and approach despite some subtle differences among different franchises.
At both locations, the small taqueria is found in between tenants in a strip mall with bike racks nearby. Bold colors distinguish the taco shops from their neighbors. Inside the dining rooms at both sites, big masks are hung on the walls, looking down upon customers seated at the rugged wooden tables. A few small tables outside offer an appealing option for customers who prefer outdoor dining, and since almost everything is packaged to go, the restaurant works equally well for takeout. Orders are taken at a counter, and food is prepared in a small open kitchen behind.
The overhead menus begin with about a dozen basic meat fillings. Essential taco fillings such as carne asada, tinga, and carnitas are generally offered in both typical and spicy/tangy variations such as asada ranchero or vinagretta chicken. All are worth exploring, but two standouts are the barbacoa and the tinga chipotle chicken, both distinguished by their tender textures and nuanced flavors. A selection of premium fillings at the bottom adds choices such as shrimp, fish, and alambre, a preparation of grilled beef with bacon and peppers.
Elsewhere, the menu displays various combos that can be built with the proteins. Flour tortilla tacos are a larger format with two included in a meal with rice and beans, either whole pintos or black. Street tacos are made with smaller corn tortillas and come four to an order. Tacos can be dressed in two stages. First, the cook behind the counter can add toppings such as cheese, cilantro, or pickled onions. Second, the customer has access to a salsa bar. The condiments there are unlabeled, but the creamy green salsa is actually the hottest with its serrano chilies.
All the same fillings that can fill open tortillas as tacos can also be wrapped in a larger flour disc to create a burrito. Breakfast burritos incorporating fillings such as machaca, eggs, chorizo, and potatoes are also an option. At any time of the day, the burritos can then be eaten by hand in their simplest format, but they can also be upgraded to a wet variant, dressed with sauce, that requires a knife and fork. They can also be deep-fried and topped with sauce to create a chimichanga with a choice of filling. Tortilla avoiders can of course obtain a burrito bowl.
The ultimate creation at Maskadores is the shop’s bandera burrito. This meal is topped with both red and green sauces, a sprinkling of cheese, a dollop of guacamole, a little pico de gallo, and a central band of sour cream. All these ingredients are arranged in a vibrant tricolor pattern that evokes the Mexican flag. Another cylindrical structure, the taquitos combo, is like the bandera burrito in terms of being a moist and messy (in a good way) with layers of beans, minced cilantro, pico de gallo, and shredded cheese tiered and tossed on top of the rolled tacos.
Additional options on the menu include familiar favorites such as enchiladas and quesadillas. The latter also comes in a smaller size known as “tacodillas,” mini-quesadillas that can be eaten with one hand and mixed-and-matched with one filling in one and a different filling in another. While much of the menu has a border feel, a menu item from more central and southern portions of Mexico is the sopes. These thick, concave discs of masa are fried and then served fresh and warm with a choice of meat, beans, cheese, and various garnishes on top of them.
Although Maskadores is a loosely organized chain in which some locations serve alcohol, neither of these two taquerias currently has a liquor license. Instead, there are fountain drinks and Mexican beverages like horchata available. Desserts in refrigerated cases vary by location may include items like flan at the Thomas location in Midtown or mango cheesecake up at 19th Avenue and Northern. These chilled drinks and desserts serve not only as sweet indulgences, but also effective fire extinguishers for the lingering burn of the fiery salsas they follow.
For most people who now wear them in indoor public spaces, masks are meant to be a temporary means of coping with a public health problem. For Mexican wrestlers, they’re part of an enduring culture. A few luchadors have even found an entrepreneurial way to connect the two phenomena by crafting and selling face coverings inspired by La Lucha Libre. There may continue to be uncertainty and disagreement about wearing masks in public venues other than the wrestling ring, but just about everyone can appreciate tacos with a masked wrestling theme.
November 22, 2022 Update: The Maskadores Taco Shop at 19th Ave / Northern has closed. The Thomas Road location remains.
53 W. Thomas Rd., Phoenix AZ 85013