Mexican, Old and New

Where the baked chicken pueblo, green-chile halibut and stuffed filet got only within hailing distance of the culinary edge, the Oaxacan pasta seems to have leaped right off it. The only genuinely spicy dish on the menu (to their credit, the servers alerted us to that), it consists of about half a dozen ravioli purportedly filled with shrimp, scallops and pancetta. However, the human eye and tongue are not sensitive enough instruments to document their presence. A bucketful of overpowering wild mushrooms and a what's-this-doing-here tortilla inexplicably folded on the plate completed this head-scratching arrangement.

Desserts continue the Southwestern theme, with mixed results. Taos cannoli are two small tortilla shells, pleasantly filled with chocolate mousse, all moistened in a vanilla sauce. The Southwestern tart, yet another tortilla-shell concoction, comes stuffed with lime custard and meringue. Unlike almost everything else on the menu, it's a yawn.

Old Town Tortilla Factory is good enough to outlast its trendoid popularity. The setting is delightful, and the food is interesting, tasty and not unreasonably priced. It's a formula almost any type of restaurantgoer can appreciate.

Location Info


Old Town Tortilla Factory

6910 E. Main St.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Central Scottsdale

Los Sombreros, 1849 North Scottsdale Road, Tempe, 9941799. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

During its past two incarnations, this strip-mall storefront has been the short-lived home of a pizza parlor and an Afghan restaurant. But if the quality of the current fare is any guide, the plaza's landlord won't have to worry about remodeling for a new tenant in the foreseeable future. That's because LosSombreros' gringo-friendly Mexican food should satisfy even the pickiest, I-know-what-I-like customers, who long for cheap, tasty, uncomplicated south-of-the-border dishes.

It's a festive-looking place, with Mexican-tile floor, gaily colored walls and lots of touristy knickknacks. After a couple of mugs of Dos Equis on tap, the scenery looks even better.

Los Sombreros' menu is no different from a hundred other Sonoran menus in town. What separates Los Sombreros from its competitors is not what's on the menu, but what's on the plate.

A zippy salsa, thick with onions and tomatoes, helped us make short work of the basket of chips. If you prefer to pay for your chips, the nachos--topped with jack and Mexican cheeses, chiles, guacamole and refried beans--team nicely with a cold brew, too.

The soups are good enough to make you set your beer mug aside for a while. The Valley has only about an eight-week soup season, and two of Los Sombreros' models will help take the sting out of winter. Posole, a hearty, pork-and-hominy stew that's on too few local menus, comes traditionally garnished with radishes and cabbage, and fragrantly perked up by a bit of red chile. Even better is the tortilla soup, a chickeny broth thick with carrots, chiles, cheese, radishes and tortilla strips. It's a real delight on cool January evenings.

Too often, Sonoran platters come glopped under acres of cheese, beans and rice. You know what these plates look like; you poke around with a fork and ask yourself, "Is this the chile relleno or the enchilada?" Happily, that doesn't happen here.

You'll have no trouble locating the carne asada, terrific marinated and grilled skirt steak, served with vegetable chilaquiles (tortilla strips and veggies in a creamy sauce). At $9.75, it's the most expensive main dish here, and worth the price. Equally effective is snapper, rubbed with tasty seasonings and roasted in a corn husk. Someone in the kitchen knows when to remove fish from the heat--our piece arrived properly moist and flaky.

The usual Mexican suspects are also skillfully prepared. Pollo fundido is an enormous chimichanga, stuffed full of fresh-tasting chunks of chicken breast, laced with a chipotle-spiked cream-cheese sauce and topped with jack cheese. The red chile features tender pieces of beef in a well-modulated sauce whose heat doesn't overwhelm the flavor. Anything with carnitas--tacos, enchiladas, burros--is bound to please. The green-corn tamale is also praiseworthy.

Los Sombreros pays attention to the little things, as well. It offers three kinds of beans: refried, vegetarian black beans, and charros. The rice is especially good, not just some starchy afterthought sent out by a lazy kitchen.

I don't usually recommend Mexican desserts, but I'm flexible when it comes to the wonderful homemade Mexican chocolate ice cream here. Keep away from the sopaipillas, though. These seriously deficient critters look more like mozzarella sticks than the puffy pillows of steaming dough that you find in New Mexico.

You won't find foodies or the beautiful people in Los Sombreros. You will find sensible folks who know value and quality when they find it.

Old Town Tortilla Factory:
Chips and salsas
Baked chicken pueblo
Taos cannoli

Los Sombreros:
Tortilla soup
Pollo fundido
Roasted snapper
Mexican chocolate
ice cream

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