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The kitchen isn't quite as adept at timing the dishes as it is at preparing them. The concept of "courses" hasn't taken hold; if, say, your burrito is ready before your soup, out it comes.
But, frankly, this is nit-picking. Adventurous folks who love ethnic food won't care. And even a staff outfitted in tuxedos, trained to refold napkins and deliver food at exactly the right moment, won't lure those frightened souls for whom a combo plate at a Mexican chain is a walk on the culinary edge.
"One is most often punished for one's virtues," Nietzsche wrote. If that's the case, I can predict what's going to happen to La Guadalupana: This quiet restaurant is going to find itself punished by swarms of people clamoring for terrific, budget-priced south-of-the-border fare.
2243 N 16th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85006-1823
Region: Central Phoenix
B.F.I.T., 1982 West Main, Mesa, 242-0111. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
B.F.I.T. stands for Best Fajitas in Town. Are they? Nope.
This is the kind of place that makes me scratch my head in wonderment. Here we are in the heart of the Southwest, just a few hours from Mexico. But, instead of skillfully putting together dishes featuring fresh regional ingredients, B.F.I.T. sends out nondescript platters that make no lingering impression. There's nothing remotely distinctive about the food, which seems designed to play in Peoria--Illinois. Most everything is aimed at the tastes, such as they are, of transplanted Midwesterners.
B.F.I.T. looks more like a franchising concept than a serious south-of-the-border eating destination. The walls are colorfully painted with Southwestern icons: coyotes, cactus, lizards. A couple of near-life-size cutouts of a rope-twirling cowboy and cowgirl hang at one end of the room. A fajita grill stands in an island in the center, so you can watch the cooks at work.
But there's not much to look at. The appetizers are almost all deep-fat fried, and entirely institutional. Check them out, if you dare: fried zucchini, fried mushrooms, fried chicken strips, fried mozzarella sticks, fried onion strips, fried jalape¤os and fried green chile egg rolls. I have nothing against fried appetizers--if they're fresh, greaseless and tasty. These, however, have nothing going for them. Neither, surprisingly, do the fajitas. The three we tried were very disappointing.
The problem doesn't lie with the animal protein. A half-pound of beef or pork comes competently grilled and sizzled, with no fat or gristle. (Scallops, however, are those tiny bay variety, and they have almost no flavor.) So what's wrong with the fajitas? Just about everything else.
The platters contain massive, massive, amounts of unappetizing, oily fried onions. And, except for a couple of tiny strips of pepper, nothing else. There's nothing inviting about the looks of this skillet. Alongside is a bowl of diced tomatoes, sour cream and over-the-hill guacamole. No rice. No beans. Not even salsa. You'd think a place specializing in fajitas would knock you out with the presentation, quality and variety of its ingredients. Not here.
The other main dishes also barely nudged the needle on my excitement meter. There's a grilled shrimp plate featuring eight small critters, served with a mound of ho-hum rice and mixed vegetables. At $14.95, you're not getting much bang for your buck.
I suspect the chile relleno recipe wasn't lifted from a Mexican cookbook. But then again, it's not intended for Mexicans. A thickly battered, mild green chile comes stuffed with unseasoned ground beef and Cheddar cheese, oddly accompanied by a side of cheese sauce. It's dull. So is the huge chimichanga, which is no different from any of a thousand versions you've had.
Desserts? Why bother? The kitchen doesn't--nothing's homemade or particularly appealing.
Timid and tame, B.F.I.T. provides a Southwestern-Mexican food experience for people who really aren't interested in this kind of fare. That's not my idea of culinary philosophy.