El Zaguan

In Spanish, a zaguan is a passage that typically leads from a building’s entrance to an interior courtyard or central patio. On Adams Street in the downtown Phoenix business district, the small storefronts lack that architectural feature, but that has not stopped one new restaurant there from using the word to create the sort of welcoming atmosphere that might be associated with walking through an actual zaguan. El Zaguan has joined the small restaurant row on Adams, catering to populations of workers returning to offices, as well as those who never left.

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The Bread and Honey House

On the east side of Phoenix, next to a neighborhood called Delano Estates and in the shadow of the SR143 freeway, there’s a little building on Van Buren that has served for decades as a dining space. It was once a tiny Mexican restaurant, but more recently it has been re-imagined as a breakfast and lunch destination offering a blend of American and Mexican comfort foods. The result is the Bread and Honey House, a small establishment that opened just half a year before the pandemic and has adapted, endured, and expanded over the past few years.

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Tacos Chiwas

Although it’s the largest Mexican state in terms of land area, Chihuahua doesn’t quite touch Arizona. There are about 17 miles of New Mexico that separate the southeastern corner of Arizona from the nearly neighboring state south of the border. For that reason, Sonoran influence is felt more readily in Phoenix. Nevertheless, Chihuahua’s distinctiveness, including its food culture, should not be ignored. Tacos Chiwas, owned and operated by a married pair of restaurant partners with origins in Chihuahua, brings some of those traditions to Arizona.

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Tacos Calafia

In Tijuana, a calafia is a small bus, part of a transit system that is less formal than the fixed bus and rail routes in most of the United States. Just across the border from San Diego, Tijuana is sometimes stereotyped as just a place for a quick tourist trip to Mexico. In actuality, it’s the sixth largest metropolitan area in the country and a place with its own distinctive street life and culture. Tacos Calafia celebrates the food of Tijuana in its menu and the city itself in its decor. Its location on 7th Street just south of Roosevelt brings some Tijuana to downtown Phoenix.

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Taco Boys

How far is the average diner willing to walk for a really good taco? It depends on a lot of factors, including ability, weather, and the character of the neighborhood. Half a mile is generally considered the upper limit of walking distance around a transit station, assuming a favorable environment. At the east end of Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row, Taco Boys has been offering carne asada and other Mexican specialties good enough to justify a half-mile trek from the Roosevelt/Central light rail station.

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Maskadores Taco Shop

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.

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Tortas Paquime

Tortas, the hearty sandwiches of Mexico, are typically found in small, independently operated restaurants. So far, there’s been no “Torta Bell” to standardize these street foods and sell them from drive-thru windows under a national brand. That’s probably a positive, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for innovation in the torta experience. Tortas Paquime is a small local brand of torta restaurants with a handful of locations throughout Phoenix, one of which happens to be just a quarter mile north of the planned Baseline/Central Station on the South Central Extension.

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M’Olé

Mole, the Mexican sauce often associated with ground chilies, spices, and even sometimes chocolate, can be a complex dish. Secret recipes, tacit knowledge, and a certain amount of improvisation can create the nuance that makes each mole unique. It’s a welcome surprise then that mole is the namesake dish at a simple order-at-the-counter lunch spot on the ground floor of a downtown office tower. The restaurant’s name, M’Olé, is both a nod to the signature sauce and a play on the Spanish interjection used to express approval or celebrate victory.

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Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa

When a great taco shop comes to mind, it’s usually a taqueria that’s associated with a beef speciality like carne asada or maybe pork prepared al pastor with meat sliced from a trompo. Most taco joints also offer pollo asado, marinated grilled chicken, as a taco filling, but often it seems like an afterthought — not badly prepared by any means, but seldom the business’ signature dish. What makes Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa so interesting, then, is that it deliberately and proudly specializes in chicken tacos, with poultry dominating its short menu. Continue reading “Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa”

Taqueria La Hacienda

 

When should a food truck make the transition to a fixed, bricks-and-mortar location? That’s a simple question with a complex answer that may be different for each individual case. In some situations, it happens quickly, within just a few years. Other mobile operations never settle into one place, and once in a while, owners go in the other direction: closing a restaurant and switching to a food truck. With taquerias, however, there often seems to be a middle ground that involves operating in a truck but keeping the vehicle parked at the same location every day. Continue reading “Taqueria La Hacienda”

Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca

In the indigenous Mexican language Nahuatl, the word “atoyac” describes a place by running water. Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca, a Mexican restaurant located on Glendale Avenue in Phoenix, isn’t particularly close to water. Even the nearest canals are about three miles away. It is, however, just across the street from another type of transport corridor, the 19th Avenue / Glendale light rail station. With or without water, this is a decidedly authentic and casual place that stands out among the numerous Mexican restaurants throughout the metropolitan area. Continue reading “Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca”

Mangos Mexican Cafe

Downtown Mesa has become a center for public art in recent years. The blocks on and around Main Street have been occupied at various times by colorful pianos for anyone to play, DIY prototypes on a large scale, giant inflatable figures in prominent places, and recurring art festivals. With all that art around, it’s helpful to have a place to eat, especially one with a central location and sidewalk patio.  While a few new restaurants have arrived to offer expanded choices, one of Mesa’s downtown diehards continues to be Mango’s Mexican Cafe.

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