Tradiciones Has Lost Its Spice

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Four years ago — when the economy was booming, the housing market was white-hot, and the dining public was insatiable for things like upscale steakhouses and stylish sushi joints — there was a major new player in the CenPho restaurant scene, a big, bustling Mexican spot called Tradiciones.

At the time, it seemed everyone in town was buzzing about this place, and there was often a wait for a table — which says a lot, given the size of the dining room.

Fajitas fail: Tradiciones is nothing like its former self.
Jackie Mercandetti
Fajitas fail: Tradiciones is nothing like its former self.

Location Info

Map

Fiesta Grill

1602 E. Roosevelt St.
Phoenix, AZ 85006

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Central Phoenix

Details

Tradiciones
1602 East Roosevelt Street
602-254-1719
www.tradicionesrestaurant.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Queso fundido: $7.95
Chicken fajitas: $8.95
Carne asada: $8.95
Combination plate: $7.95

Located next to the sprawling Pro's Ranch Market (both the grocery store and restaurant are owned by the Provenzano family), it was impressive on many levels, from the food (blessedly free of melted cheese) to the service (especially waitresses in colorful garb making the rounds with fresh-off-the-griddle tortillas). In fact, I predicted it would raise the bar for Mexican cuisine in the area.

"Tradiciones took the highlights of the best little Latino joints — atmosphere, authentic eats, nice employees — and put them under one big roof," I wrote in 2006. Since then, I've recommended the restaurant to countless readers and friends.

But things have changed at Tradiciones and, sadly, not for the better. I've noticed it over the course of the past several months, first as a case of chronic mediocrity and, more recently, as a series of utter disappointments. The atmosphere lacks that special oomph, and the food is simply pathetic. Some of it is inedible.

Just as the economy has sputtered, the housing market has hit rock bottom (maybe), and the dining public has seriously tightened its purse strings (note the proliferation of unadventurous, budget-friendly comfort food), Tradiciones has lost its mojo.

It used to have it in spades. Once upon a time, on my way in the front door here, I'd walk past the courtyard filled with folk art vendors, live musicians, and a bustling open kitchen where I could get an eyeful (and a deep, delicious inhale) of sizzling carne asada and hot, handmade tortillas. Tradiciones was a Phoenix gem, a showcase for Mexican food and culture that you just don't find in other cities.

Since we're on that subject, something else has happened besides the recession that's too important to ignore: Our state has endured considerable fallout from its controversial immigration policy.

Who knows how many Hispanic immigrants, both legal and undocumented, have packed up and left town, fearful of the crackdown in the wake of SB 1070? There are reports that entire neighborhoods are gathering tumbleweeds and businesses are closing because their customer base has vanished.

Before SB 1070 even took effect (but nevertheless a sign of the times), Pro's Ranch Market fired around 300 of its 1,500 Valley employees in April, after a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement audit found them to be working here illegally.

Is that high-profile raid the reason for Tradiciones' downhill slide? Is the economy to simply blame? Can fresh tortillas be made only by undocumented Mexican immigrants, who are now in short supply?

I'm not buying any excuse, because if SB 1070 were the only culprit — and not the restaurant's own management — then I might've seen a similar decline in quality at other favorite Mexican joints (which I haven't), and for that matter, at pretty much any other type of restaurant in town, given the prevalence of Latinos in the industry.

Just what am I talking about? My gripes go well beyond the noticeably subdued vibe that contrasted with my fond memories of this place.

I knew it from my first sip of horchata, the day's only agua fresca (used to be, they'd have several flavors to choose from): Something was off. It tasted almost metallic, as if it were made with bad water, and no amount of sugar could mask it. I longed for a Diet Coke.

The complimentary tomato salsa was decent, but it came with a basket of cold tortilla chips. Again, I was struck with nostalgia for the good old days, when servers would actually bring warm chips to replenish the basket. Not anymore.

Despite our hunger, some friends and I barely touched our sampler appetizer platter, an assortment of dried-out, oily taquitos, lukewarm beef mini-chimichangas, mini-enchiladas smothered with grainy, bitter mole sauce, and sopes heaped with lettuce, tomato, and cotija, which were just bland.

Even worse was queso fundido with chorizo, served with flour tortillas that were obviously not freshly griddled or handmade. Buried beneath a pile of bright-red chorizo (why was it almost neon?) was a dense gob of melted cheese, so overcooked that it had started to harden around the edges. It was a greasy disaster that nobody wanted to touch, but I had the professional duty of taking a couple of gloomy bites. Ugh.

"Sizzling" chicken fajitas did not land on the table in any state of hot exuberance. Clearly, someone had already cooked the hell out of them, because the meat was dry. Just as awful was their unbearable saltiness. Meanwhile, an entrée-size chicken enchilada with mole also suffered from dessicated poultry that couldn't be revived with any amount of sauce or salsa. On the side was a scoop of lackluster refried beans and a pile of passable rice.

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13 comments
Mike
Mike

Flat

That is the word that describes every dish I've tried at Tradiciones. The menu looks great, but the actual preparations were as bland as anything one might be served at Macayo's.

After 2 visits in 2008, I gave up trying to figure out why this place had such a buzz surrounding it. The value proposition is much better in Ranch Market's deli/food court, where one can get much more flavorful (albeit generally less elegant) food at a fraction of the price.

Monkeymoan
Monkeymoan

Smells like dogfood with light salsa.

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Limp
Limp

Iol I couldn't agree more. Last month I went there didn't get my food until 45 minutes after the order had been placed. I had friends from Vegas fly in to visit and wanted them to experience a great redressing with great service, turned out we received nor only cold food almost an hour later, but the waitress never apologized it took the manager to apologize and give us the food free plus dessert. At this point I was done with the place never again . Atleast thank God my friend got his food on time, but with the awkward silence he felt bad eating knowing he was the only one to get his plate out of 7 of us! Worst place ever!

Stephen
Stephen

I have been there a half-dozen times over the past four years and not once had a decent plate of food, a decent drink nor decent service. It escapes me how it ever caught such a buzz.

John
John

I never thought it was all that and a bag of chips. Too many great mexican places to be eating the sludge they serve here at 1.5 tines the price of anyone else.

Happy Texan
Happy Texan

I remember a friend taking me there in 2007 during a business trip to Phoenix and I thought it was some of the best Sonoran style food I ever had. I was going to stop there in December on another business trip, but based on this article, I guess I'll go to Carolina's and get a burrito. Thank you for the article.

khittie
khittie

i've always thought the food there was below par. and their margaritas were dreadful. never liked the place. i wanted to. i gave it a few chances. just never liked the food. i did see don king there one night though. that was fun.

Gurn Blanston
Gurn Blanston

IIRC, they announced that they would no longer be serving freshly-made tortillas at the height of the whole 1070 hubbub, as if we were being spanked for our opinions. At that point, I said goodbye to Tradiciones, I don't need that kind of judgemental shit from people that are trying to get my money.

Looks like others are catching up.

ElExtranjero
ElExtranjero

Remember hearing about the major layoffs Ranch Market did a few months ago because of immigration "paperwork"??? They had to get rid of all the illegals working there, I know, because I knew of some of them. Am only assuming they got rid of most if not all the poeople working the kitchen at the restaurant. Now they've hired a lot of people from South America to work in their stores, so they probably did the same with the restaurant. Not to offend anyone, but South Americans don't cook Mexican food all that well. Not easy to run a kitchen, much less one of that size.

Now am glad I never visited that place. Eventhough am Mexican, I've always found that places like this mostly cater to "I hate you because you're Mexican, but will stuff my face with anything with cheese" white people and do not serve very authentic Mexican food. This crap only seems great to those who don't know any better. Chilaquiles with a blob of American cheese? Please. When I want good Mex I go to my Mom's house or visit some off the wall place.

Hock
Hock

I recommended Trandicionales to a friend a couple of months ago. He later texted me, asking what he had done to anger me, and stated he thought we were friends. He continued that the food was horrible, and barely edible. I defended my recommendation, saying I had been there many times although it had been a while, and he knew nothing about Mexican food. It appears my recommendation is stale. I feel disappointed and exonerated.

Jcs64
Jcs64

Looks like racism is alive and well on both sides of the aisle.

 
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