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You'd think that my recent run-in with a jalapeño at a central Phoenix hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint would've killed my appetite for the spicy stuff.
It did. That hideously hot little bugger brought me down within 15 minutes of eating it and wrecked me for a day. To be sure, I learned my lesson, which is to avoid hot peppers on an empty stomach, unless there's a carton of milk nearby. And now, with my fortified taste buds, I'm craving the heat more than ever. Bring it on!
Somewhat masochistically, the jalapeño incident got me thinking about Si Señor Restaurant, a Chandler spin-off of the Castillo family's Las Cruces, New Mexico-based operation. I'd tasted their fabulous green and red chile con carne before, and needed another fix.
600 N. Alma School Road
Chandler, AZ 85224
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily
For the uninitiated, New Mexican-style Mexican food is all about the famous Hatch chile peppers (named after the southern N.M. town) that are a signature crop for Arizona's neighbor to the east. Although all the dishes at Si Señor aren't necessarily spicy, chances are you'll have a field day with the menu if you like hot stuff.
Beyond the food, Si Señor's a pretty pleasant little neighborhood spot, and if I lived in Chandler or south Tempe, I could see myself making it a routine stop. Located in a freestanding building on Alma School, the restaurant isn't flashy from the outside, although it's surprisingly bright and cheerful when you set foot inside.
Carved wooden chairs with painted sunflower designs fill the three dining areas, which are decorated with framed Southwestern-themed art and leafy green garlands along the windows. There's a floral design in the wrought-iron room divider, too. And the centerpiece in the middle of the restaurant is a blue-lit vaulted ceiling, painted to resemble the sky — like a miniature version of the Venetian in Vegas.
Talk about making a good first impression. Si Señor's freebies were some of my favorite things about the place. Every meal started with a lavish basket of chips and salsa, and ended with piping hot sopaipillas, fried triangles of dough that you drizzle with honey.
The chips were fresh and crunchy, served with four accompaniments. There was a tangy red salsa that tasted cool and almost sweet on the palate until three seconds into it, then — whoa! — the heat was on. The green salsa was even spicier, but since it was served warm, it was deceptively luscious. I couldn't resist, even as my tongue went half-numb. Good thing there was also creamy bean dip and chilled sour cream dip to quench the fire between bites of salsa.
Margaritas were also lip-smacking — there were 16 different kinds to choose from, and I tried a few, with the help of some parched friends. The basic Si Señor Classic, made with Sauza Gold, was smooth and thirst-quenching, while the "Blue" margarita, made with Blue Curacao, sweet and sour, and Sauza Gold, had a fruity, tangy appeal. A sugary frozen strawberry margarita went down a little too easily, like a slushy, but I was happy to nurse the sangria margarita, an unusual blended drink that's one of the house specialties. It was one of the more memorable margaritas I've had lately.
Compared to the killer chips and salsa spread, the Si Señor Sampler was a humdrum appetizer — half nachitos and half quesadillas. That meant more tortilla chips, slathered in beans and melted cheese, plus a pile of tortillas oozing with more cheese. The quesadillas quickly became soggy, while the nachitos quickly lost their crispiness. Fresh guacamole, as smooth as silk, was a much better choice because it tasted as good slathered on the entrees as it did scooped up with chips.
Red or green chile con carne can be ordered as an appetizer, with tortillas on the side, or as an entree, with rice and beans as well. Either way, these are don't-miss dishes. The red chile con carne had a rich, roasted flavor, with tender chunks of pork drenched in smooth sauce, while the green chile was hotter and chunkier, with bits of chile mixed in with the beef. I was happy to slurp up both and, frankly, I can't imagine coming here again without ordering one of them.
Mild green, spicy red, and ultra-hot Hatch green chile sauce, sans meat, were options on a number of the various combination plates. To be honest, I didn't think that Si Señor's tacos, crunchy flautas, or cheese-filled enchiladas were anything other than standard Sonoran fare, so for me, the lure really was the sauce.
A fat, crispy chimichanga, filled with juicy shredded beef, was definitely enhanced by a blanket of the alluring red sauce, as was the chile relleno plate. Instead of a single poblano pepper, like at most restaurants, this consisted of two slender Hatch Valley green chiles — a welcome change of pace, not to mention spicier than the usual chile relleno.
Hatch green chile also transformed a simple chicken breast into something craveable, with tongue-searing chile strips and melted cheese atop a moist, lightly browned piece of meat. Teamed with fluffy, tomatoey rice and warm, creamy beans, it was enough food for even a gluttonous appetite. I threw in the towel and had leftovers.