Ahwatukee's Secreto Won't Remain a Secret for Long

A new Ahwatukee restaurant may be named after the Spanish word for "secret," but it's too delicious to keep under wraps. Judging from the packed bar and buzzing dining room at cozy Secreto, word's traveling as quickly as a juicy piece of gossip.

And I suspect that this place won't stay a neighborhood gem for long — people might actually drive for this food.

I say this because it's New Mexican cuisine that's already quite near and dear to the hearts of Phoenix food lovers.

Lose yourself in a luscious plate of smoky carne adovada at Ahwatukee's new Secreto.
Jackie Mercandetti
Lose yourself in a luscious plate of smoky carne adovada at Ahwatukee's new Secreto.

Location Info

Map

Secreto

4232 E. Chandler Blvd.
Ahwatukee, AZ 85048

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Ahwatukee

Details

Secreto
4232 East Chandler Boulevard
480-706-2200
Hours: lunch, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; dinner, 4 to 10 p.m. daily; bar until midnight Thursday to Saturday; breakfast, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

The Stack:$9
Stuffed poblano chiles: $9
Rack of lamb: $29
Carne adovada: $12

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Remember Richardson's, the longstanding favorite in North Central Phoenix, famous for hosting Dubya on one of his presidential stops in Phoenix, serving up outstanding (and ass-kickingly spicy) Southwestern food, and ultimately succumbing to a three-alarm blaze last summer? If you're at all acquainted with that legendary spot, then Secreto will feel like a blast from the past.

(It's important to note that although the original Richardson's is no more, its spirit lives on at one sister eatery, Dick's Hideaway, while the actual menu is served at another, Rokerij. Next door to Rokerij, at a former Dairy Queen, a brand-new Richardson's will make a comeback later this year.)

Secreto brings the same kind of seductive dining experience to a part of town that's clearly eager for another indie restaurant to rally around, and the similarity is no coincidence.

Co-owner Barbara Brown is the ex-wife of Richardson's founder Richardson Browne (she dropped the "e" from her name), and during the 15 years she was married to the restaurateur, she handled the front of the house at Richardson's and collaborated on subsequent concepts.

"We opened Dick's and Rokerij together," she says. "He had Richardson's before we got married." About the split, Brown will only say that "it wasn't the most amicable." Browne declined to comment.

In Secreto, Brown has recreated an environment she's clearly fond of. What used to be a bright, stark Havana Café on Chandler Boulevard is now dark and intimate. The heady smell of burning pecan wood hits your nostrils as soon as you walk through the door. There are pale saguaro spines covering the windows, booths set into high, adobe-like nooks, and specials scribbled on chalkboards. And whether you're waiting for a table or just relaxing over a salt-rimmed prickly pear margarita, the cool copper bar is an inviting place to hang out.

Sound familiar? Indeed, Secreto is so reminiscent of Richardson's that the food is even served on heavy metal plates, often topped with a big tortilla. Call it a formula, if you will, but it works.

The only thing that doesn't quite make sense is the name itself. According to the menu, Secreto was inspired by the secret grapevine plantings of Franciscan monks who "could do without all worldly possessions . . . but not their wine," and defied Spanish law by smuggling vines into New Mexico in the late 17th century.

It's a great story, to be sure, but based on that, I'd expect a very extensive wine list, if not a flat-out wine-centric concept. On that front, the limited offerings came as a letdown. I hope that Secreto expands its wine cellar along with its clientele.

While I'm on a tangent, I'll get the other minuses out of the way: servers who needed a bit more polish, and side dishes that were pretty useless, especially compared to the stellar entrées they were paired with.

Why bother with a huge house salad of Romaine and watered-down ranch dressing? Or mushy mac 'n' cheese that hardly hinted of the promised green chiles? Or, worst of all, a stuffed "red chile potato" that was utterly bland, not thoroughly cooked, and made with a green chile? All of these should've been to die for.

My complaining ends there, though.

Generous appetizers started things on the right note, and threatened to spoil my appetite. How can I stop eating when I'm staring at a fire-roasted stuffed poblano oozing flavorful Mexican cheeses, chorizo, and cilantro crème fraîche? I just can't. And didn't. It was very tasty.

"The Stack," a plate covered with beef, chicken, and chorizo enchiladas, was luscious topped with a fried egg, while different dips made the bacon-wrapped shrimp a great starter. Five big blackened shrimp were fanned out over excellent Spanish rice and smoky pinto beans, surrounded by spicy barbecue sauce, wonderfully potent red chile sauce, sweet, smooth tomato salsa, and a comparatively bland Hollandaise.

I also enjoyed the Southwestern crab cakes, which were so meaty they were almost falling apart. Blobs of creamy, mild chipotle aioli added an even richer taste to the sweet crabmeat, while a bed of fresh greens and a roasted corn and tomato salsa kept it light. An ahi tuna salad, with greens, jicama, and avocado, was tossed in a summery citrus vinaigrette, but not enhanced by a lackluster, verging-on-fishy piece of sesame-crusted tuna.

Pork was a much better direction than tuna. Several entrées either contain it or are based on it, and the ones I tasted were well prepared.

Carne adovada was my favorite, with huge, moist, fork-tender chunks of smoked meat in red chile sauce, slightly browned on the edges from the oven. While I recall Richardson's version was smothered in sauce (and extremely spicy), this was less about the sauce (and, therefore, the spice) and more about the glory of pork. I enlisted my friends to help me eat it, and everyone was more than happy to oblige.

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10 comments
az12
az12

We've been to Secreto twice, once on a double date a few months ago and again last night as a husband/wife date night. We really liked the food both times; however, my husband said his was too spicy this last time, which is odd since he loves spicy food. I tried it and I would have returned the plate. Maybe just a batch of really hot peppers?

My biggest complaint is associated with the adult beverages. I had the worst dirty martini - not sure how that can be goofed up? We then ordered a bottle of wine, which we liked so much we wrote down the name of it to find it at a store for our personal wine collection. Come to find out it only cost about $14 retail, although It cost $36 dollars for the bottle at the restaurant! If it was a $100 bottle of wine, a $22 dollar mark up would be expected, but for a $14 dollar bottle of wine? We were really turned off by that.

We will go again, but it won't be a "usual place" for us. I explained it to my friend as being a good place for a first date.

David Bickford
David Bickford

I tried Secreto for lunch today during a rare trip to Ahwatukee. No complaints about the food at all. It was quite good, and we brought home leftovers. The decor, however, seemed a stretch in a Chandler Boulevard strip mall. The ideas worked better in the older architecture of the former Richardson's site. It's hard to say exactly why, but I felt like I was in a replica of a New Mexican restaurant rather than an actual one. Of course, I can think of many divorced couples who try to stay at opposite ends of town. Maybe that has something to do with the restaurant's out-of-the way location on the world's longest cul-de-sac. My biggest suggestion for improvement: the music. Lady Antebellum and other highly-polished contemporary country reinforced the feeling that this place was just a bit slicker than it needed to be. I'm sure you and MoLo could come up with a better playlist for Secreto.

Ralphg
Ralphg

Went there for dinner.

Where is the fine line? Call it a "formula" NO,NO..call it copycat. Pecan wood, metal plates, concrete booths,dark, candles... Its a "Home Depot" version of Richardson's with an "in your face" to customers by the staff. "We are ( just like) Richardson's" was echoed from the first moment in the place.

How can the food NOT be like Richardsons....when its one of the cooks most likelt trained by Richardson ?...also echoed by the waiter.

Obviously the result of a vindictive divorce.....must have cost him BIG and now his "formula" is his distant competition...If you are in Awatukee, dirve to Phoenix...see the real "FORMULA"

Azchar1
Azchar1

Looking forward to trying this place!!!!!!! Thanks for the review...

Guest
Guest

You two are idiots, the review said it was overall good with a few minor negatives. Perhaps you should go back to your Applebees and Chiles

Mn
Mn

I agree, is it good or not???????

Guest
Guest

Pardon me, but HOW can you give a fine rating to a restaurant and have paragraphs of NEGATIVES. I would find ONE negative and discount all the "good." Either it is allgood or NOT GOOD. Pick one (multiple choice).

RP
RP

Is this place still open?

Carterdan
Carterdan

No for the money it blows..It's a cheap copy of the original. And the location..YUK!!!!The place the owners and the staff are plastic as the day is long...

 
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