Taco Shell Shock

Downtown Phoenix dining hasn't gotten much respect, historically

On later visits, a cheese crisp appetizer topped with roasted green chile strips is passable, and a chorizo pizza is terrific. Whole chile strips, chopped tomato and onion, aggressive spice and lots of wonderfully dusky chorizo frolic under gooey Jack and Cheddar cheeses. My companion and I are happy.

Even when our server makes a highly unprofessional bitter-beer face after I ask about the Sonora enchilada entree ("it's a layered kind of thing, really nothing special," he reports), I feel right at home. It's a totally Tee Pee kind of honesty.

So when Tee Pee deploys its first bomb, there's no time to scramble for cover. It comes quick and brutal, in the deafening thud of a green chile burrito combo plate. It's the same meat as in my Mary-Lou, but viciously dry and chewy, snarling at me from the table. Refried beans and rice have sat in the kitchen far too long, arriving dehydrated and barely able to gasp their salty insults. My taco, too, is a gruesome smattering of oatmeal-like ground beef in a weathered tortilla poncho.

The menu at Tee Pee Tap Room downtown may resemble its parent restaurant's, but the food doesn't.
Leah Fasten
The menu at Tee Pee Tap Room downtown may resemble its parent restaurant's, but the food doesn't.

Location Info

Map

Tee Pee Tap Room

602 E. Lincoln St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Central Phoenix

Details

Appetizers:
Green chile Mary-Lou $6.65
Chorizo pizza $11.25

Entrees:
Sonora enchilada $7.35
Fajitas $10
Machaca chimichanga $7.75
Chile relleno, à la carte $6
Tamale, à la carte $4

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My companion is having equal difficulty with his enchiladas. These guys are nothing more than onion and undercooked corn tortillas tripped up in a quicksand of way too much melted Cheddar and bland chile sauce.

"¡Muy sabrosas!"(very good!) the menu teases us about Tee Pee's beef fajitas. But it's a lie. Sullen strips of liver-textured meat obviously have been forced into duty; they'd much rather be hanging out in a dark alley somewhere, kicking over trash cans. The little hoodlums aren't helped at all by an overwhelming toss of sautéed onion and a truly noxious guacamole that's more soup than topping.

However indelicate his communication, it seems our server was right on target with his Jaegermeister-like grimace for the Sonora enchilada. Somewhere on the plate, a valiant little cheese-and-onion-glazed corn tortilla struggles, but soon expires under a tidal wave of hugely vinegared chile sauce. There are no layers, no content, no real food. What in the world is this dish supposed to be?

At least the Sonora "soup" is lightweight. Our table rocks when Tee Pee lobs its machaca chimichanga. While the chimi includes nicely juicy shredded beef tossed with tomato and onion, we find this only after dispatching meat-sniffing dogs to dig through the wreckage of soggy, much-too-greasy fried tortilla. The real problem, though? This chimi has wilted under a heat lamp, rendering its topping of sour cream, guacamole, cheese and buckets of enchilada sauce into an unappetizing quagmire.

By the time we confront our completely tasteless chicken taco, nothing can startle us. It looks like it should be good, my companion sighs, yet the poultry is bland and Styrofoam-textured.

And then come the tamales. Get hit by one of these, and it'll knock you cold. The green corn version, even with masa the texture of cotton balls dressed with skimpy chile, Jack and Cheddar filling, is harmless enough. But its chile sauce makes my eyes water with a horrid, metallic aroma.

A beef tamale is worse. Dry, shredded innards are like Easter grass, the masa resembling corn bread. And though the hefty package contains generous amounts of meat, it's like chewing on an Army boot. No thanks.

The downtown version of Tee Pee's famous chile relleno is the nail in the coffin, as far as I'm concerned. Chile relleno is a subjective taste in the Valley, to be sure. We have so many versions of the dish, it's difficult to assign an archetype. Usually, it's a pretty hearty undertaking of mild chile, cheese and egg batter, in that order. Often, it's deep fried.

Tee Pee's take is egg, egg, egg, with chile and cheese, baked as a soufflé. Yes, it's enormous (one relleno squats over an entire dinner plate). Yes, it's admirably fresh (each relleno is cooked to order; budget at least 15 minutes for preparation). Yes, it's light (without an official calorie count, it's a better dieter's choice than most other Tee Pee offerings). But what we get here is not what made Indian School's relleno famous. This dish is a ponderous mass of eggs, a gargantuan meringue of fluff tucked with a few teeny strips of chile and a couple of tablespoons of Cheddar. I take a few bites, then toss it away.

How much do I want to like this place? Based on its heritage, a lot. Yet, until Tee Pee downtown brings us the same food served at its original location, it's not worthy of our esteem.

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