La Olmeca

In South Phoenix, the shopping center known as South Plaza has stood for decades at Southern and Central avenues as a legacy to late 20th Century design and land use. It’s an L-shaped complex with an iconic sign visible from Central Avenue. In addition to its retail tenants, South Plaza has also been a venue for car shows that celebrate cruising culture. With that heritage, recent proposals for redevelopment have drawn controversy. One current South Plaza tenant, La Olmeca, is decidedly less contentious with its menu of Mexican food.

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New Garden

Phoenix’s historic Chinatown, once centered immediately south of the downtown business district, vanished long ago. Its last vestige, a long standing restaurant known as the Sing High Chop Suey House, closed in 2018, and now the region’s biggest cluster of Chinese food is found 15 miles to the east in the Mesa Asian District. Nevertheless, New Garden, a restaurant just half a mile south of the old Chinatown keeps alive the tradition of chow mein, chop suey, and other dishes that formed the basis of classic 20th Century American-Chinese cuisine.

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Tacos mi Ranchito

A sometimes exaggerated and romanticized version of cowboy culture is often part of the draw for tourists visiting Arizona, and many Western movies were filmed in the Grand Canyon State during the genre’s heyday. Underlying the stereotype of the American cowboy, however, there’s an earlier tradition of Mexican cattle wrangling embodied in the idea of the vaquero, a skilled horseman adept at managing a herd of cows with a lasso. Today, a South Phoenix restaurant known as Tacos mi Ranchito recalls vaquero life through its decor and its beef-oriented menu.

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EZbachi

There seems to be no limit to what kind of food can be prepared on a truck. While mobile operations might traditionally have been associated with hot dogs, tacos, and other hand foods, chefs and entrepreneurs seem to thrive on finding ways to prepare items like pizzas or lobster rolls in the cramped space of a kitchen on wheels. Along Central Avenue, EZbachi has created its own niche with a food truck version of teppanyaki, the Japanese method of hot iron plate cooking that is a longstanding, if somewhat Americanized, tradition at chains like Benihana.

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El Nuevo Taquito

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.

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El Snappy

The Rio Salado, long neglected as an industrial zone separating South Phoenix from the rest of the city, has gotten a lot more love and attention in recent years. The development of the Audubon Center and a network of multi-use paths through the riverbed has motivated interest in birding, bicycling, and walking in a natural riparian setting. With any outdoor activity, there’s often a need for sustenance before or after in an environment where there’s no dress code and no pretense. El Snappy fulfills that need with its hearty and well-crafted Mexican food.

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Oasis Raspados

From the fiery New Mexican cuisine of Los Dos Molinos down by Dobbins Road to the incendiary salsa bar at Kiss Pollos in the Harmon Park neighborhood, the South Central corridor is a street full of spicy food. To offer some relief from the heat, both the kind found in chilies and the hot weather that dominates Phoenix half the year, ice cream and fresh fruit seem like some of the best options. Oasis Raspados offers both, along with some savory snacks, in a colorful and comfortable location in South Phoenix at the corner of Central and St. Charles avenues.

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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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Comedor Guadalajara

The second largest metropolitan area in Mexico and the capital of the western state of Jalisco, Guadalajara is big, busy, and beautiful with its art and architecture. It’s fitting therefore that a restaurant in Phoenix named for the Mexican city has similar qualities. From the outside, Comedor Guadalajara looks to be a basic beige box. On the inside, it’s a different story. The restaurant has three cavernous dining rooms, bustling even when operating at reduced capacity during the pandemic and decorated with beaded sombreros and colorful prints on the walls.

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Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles

Combining fried poultry with leavened breakfast food has become a trend so widespread that chicken-and-waffles is seen on even normally cautious hotel restaurant menus. Fans debate the dish’s place of origin, most often claimed to be either Baltimore or Los Angeles, and its cultural background, whether Pennsylvania Dutch or soul food. In Phoenix, the chicken-and-waffles pairing has decidedly been influenced by the latter, and Lo-Lo’s has been the restaurant to popularize the combination, even as so many other places have added it to their menus. Continue reading “Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles”

El Portal

Anyone familiar with downtown Phoenix knows the presidential streets that run east-west within the city core. The northernmost is Roosevelt, well known for the arts district transformed into a corridor of new apartment buildings. The southernmost presidential street, however, is not as well known. It’s named for Ulysses Grant, the commander of Union forces during the Civil War and the nation’s 18th president. Just south of Downtown and the Warehouse District lies not only Grant Street, but also Grant Park, which is both a recreational facility and a neighborhood. Continue reading “El Portal”

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”

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