By Heather Hoch
By Lauren Saria
By JK Grence
By Eric Schaefer
By Robrt L. Pela
By Eric Schaefer
By Laura Hahnefeld
By Laura Hahnefeld
Judy, who's expecting more of a Manuel's/Macayo's/Mi Patio experience, isn't initially sure what to make of the chips and salsa here. The crisp tortilla squares go down fine, dipped in a low-burning thin red purée, or a sweet-tangy tomatillo sauce. The duros have her stumped, though -- they're spoke-wheel-shaped, deep-fried flour pasta puffs with a color and texture like shrimp crisps.
And she's not sure she's smitten with her chile relleno, a hefty poblano stuffed with roasted corn and gooey white cheeses under a fluffy comforter of eggy batter and salsa. The flavor is there in fine form -- we decide she's simply not used to the flat, open-faced presentation or more subtle, earthy tone of the true Mexican cheeses.
Wow, but does she love the guacamole. Like everything at Los Sombreros, it's homemade, glittering with freshness and served in decadent portions. Judy and I can barely make a dent, and on later visits with a party of four, even, it's impossible to finish the mountain of chunky avocado cut with radish, tomato, onion and fiery chile. We cool our mouths slightly with tortilla soup, spiked with lots of chicken breast, fried corn frizzles, lime, jack cheese and silky avocado.
2534 N. Scottsdale Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85257
Region: South Scottsdale
480-994-1799. Hours: Dinner, Tuesday through Thursday, 4:30 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4:30 to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30 to 9 p.m.
The Los Sombreros chefs like a few things very, very much. Those would be sliced radish, chopped tomato and onion, and flurries of cilantro. They're everywhere: in the soup, in a delightful salad of matchstick jicama layered with orange segments and doused in a gutsy chile lime dressing, and in virtually every entree. I like the color, I like the crunch. Judy likes the familiarity of the garnish, especially after I present her with unexpected tacos de birria de chiro (braised goat, tender shredded meat served on tiny soft corn tortillas), and chilaquiles de camarónes (a comfort casserole of corn tortilla strips and shrimp simmered in salsa verde, jack cheese and crema).
The food is thrilling. There are wacky flavors from slow-simmered pork in pumpkinseed tomatillo mole. There's a disturbingly good homemade vanilla ice cream spiked with roasted pumpkinseed and pralines. A quesadilla of crisp-edged corn masa stuffed with braised portabella is enthralling, and where else are we to find such delicacies as smoked salmon tostada with chipotle cream cheese, or crab and mango salad with honey lime dressing?
Judy can't handle the lamb adobo. She likes the tender braised lamb shank on the bone but is overwhelmed by the muddy soup of sweet-spicy ancho chile it swims in. She's much more comfortable with carnitas, a friendly pile of slow-roasted pork made luscious with char-sealed edges savoring lots of fat and bone. The chocolate tamal doesn't do it for her, either, a log of fudge cake fashioned from real Mexican chocolate (think harsh baker's chocolate), imbued with corn flavor from the husk it rests on, and paired with homemade vanilla ice cream and whipped queso.
For me, this is my element. I love the experimentation, the wild ride of finishing a meal with hot chocolate made from Ibarra (unsweetened cocoa) and Almendrado tequila. I love getting an enchilada, not draped in American Cheddar, but in the velvet of tomatillo and crema.
Bring on the rain, the thunderclouds, and the carne en mole Amarillo (grilled steak in Oaxacan mole). Los Sombreros is so much like our monsoon storms. Unbridled, unexpected, sometimes unsettling, but always exciting. It's among the things I love about Arizona.