Sometimes the use of the word new will persist long after something is no longer so new. Cities like New York and New Orleans are centuries old, but still new in comparison to the European places they were named for. It’s the same in Spanish. For example, the state of Nuevo Leon in Mexico was created in the 1500s. Turning from Mexican geography to Mexican food, El Nuevo Taquito has been in business in South Phoenix since the 1980s, making it no longer nuevo at all by restaurant standards, but still a worthwhile destination for a whole lot more than just taquitos.
The restaurant is found on the west side of Central Avenue two blocks north of the future light rail station at Broadway, a key stop on the South Central extension currently under construction. El Nuevo Taquito occupies a yellow/gold standalone building with red accents. Outside, there’s the promising sign of an outdoor grilling station. Customers who arrive at the right time may see a member of the staff tending some meat there, with the resulting smoke carrying an enticing aroma down the block. The interior has red-and-yellow chairs and posters devoted to boxing.
Near the entrance, there’s a counter with a menu on the wall. Customers order there and then wait for their number to be called when the order is ready. In the meantime, the salsa bar is a worthwhile stop. Some carrots and radishes, perhaps dipped in some of the creamy guacamole, make a sort of improvised appetizer or a vegetable side. Other accessories and condiments available at the bar include a thin, mild salsa verde and a more intense red salsa. There are also tubs full of pickled onions, shredded cabbage, and, of course, fresh wedges of lime.
The menu is a straightforward cross section of mostly Sonoran favorites broken into sections based on time of day and format. First, there’s a selection of egg dishes and breakfast burritos available at all times. That gives way to items oriented more towards lunch and dinner. A trompo used to prepare al pastor pork is visible in the back kitchen, reinforcing the positive vibe from the grill outside. Both suggest this place is serious about the preparation of its meats, including not only carne asada and al pastor, but also carnitas, lengua, tripe, cabeza, and pollo asado.
Two of the best ways to sample any of these are the tacos, which are discounted every Tuesday, and the platillos, a generous platter of meat with rice, beans, and tortillas. The tacos are simply prepared with toppings of onion and cilantro and sold individually. The platters, on the other hand, provide a complete meal with side dishes and opportunity to assemble the components in whatever ratios are desired. Either option is a good way to explore the various protein selections and then add flavors by accessorizing them with the bounty of the salsa bar.
While these dishes showcase the meats in their most basic formats, the quesadillas and burritos encase them in pliant flour tortillas. The burritos incorporate beans, onions, and cilantro within their confines, and the quesadillas are naturally about the interplay of melted cheese with the selected meats. The tortas dispense with tortillas entirely in favor of a gently toasted oblong bun housing the chosen filling. The only disappointment experienced in several visits has been the fajitas, in which the meat was dry and tough without the excitement of a sizzling platter.
Shredded beef and chicken are the two fillings for dishes that require a bit more preparation. Interestingly, the rolled tacos are identified as flautas rather than the synonymous word taquito found in the restaurant’s name. A similarly prepared dish with a different shape is the tacos durados. These hard-shelled tacos, like the flautas, are served as part of a combination plate with a salad of shredded lettuce under cotija cheese. The enchiladas feature the same filling choices rolled into soft tortillas and baked with a red sauce and a topping of melted cheese.
Apart from all these land-based choices, there’s a separate section of the menu devoted to seafood, predominantly shrimp dishes. Camarones al la plancha is a simple preparation of grilled shrimp, while the rancheros shrimp dish envelops the crustaceans in a vibrant sauce with tomatoes and peppers. While most of the shrimp dishes take the form of combination platters with rice, beans, and tortillas, there are also some smaller a-la-carte items like tostadas topped with a tangy ceviche full of diced fish, cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes with plenty of lime.
El Nuevo Taquito offers fountain sodas and a continuous selection of three classic aquas frescas: horchata, jamaica, and pina. There is no liquor license. Dessert selections, usually found on display at the counter, come from an outside purveyor, necessitating a separate cash-only transaction for their purchase. That extra effort is worthwhile for a slice of chocoflan, a hybrid of rich chocolate cake and a layer or custard; a serving of tres leches cake, a Mexican dessert classic; or candied green apples with a spiced flavor from a dusting of Tajin seasoning.
With its basic fast food restaurant layout and minimalist decor, El Nuevo Taquito doesn’t stand out in obvious ways from the myriad Mexican restaurants that line South Central Avenue. Instead, it does its job quietly and consistently with an array of popular foods prepared with generally high quality. Having done that for nearly four decades, the restaurant may have roots in the past and no longer truly be nuevo, but it’s an important part of the area’s present-day lineup of independent restaurants and small businesses along the South Central corridor.
4118 S. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85040
Broadway/Central Station (under construction)