Distrito

If Old Town Whiskey is Garces' version of the sophisticated adult, then Distrito, his Mexico City-inspired restaurant named for the capital's designation as "Distrito Federal," is a splashy 20-something who loves to party.

Perfectly appropriate for its Scottsdale address, Distrito's neon white sign leads its guests down wooden steps, past a wall of brightly painted Día de los Muertos skull masks, and into a sprawling this-is-where-the-action-is interior. A marquee-style sign over the bar, which features more than 100 varieties of tequila, sits next to a margarita stand and near another where tortillas and guacamole are made. An eclectic array of bright pink, glitter, and plaid and floral patterns find their way onto tables, seating, and walls, where a huge display of small, colorful balls of felt sits center stage and rear windows lead out onto a patio that overlooks the grassy park of Scottsdale Civic Center.

Old Town Whiskey pairs strong pours with upscale tavern fare.
Jackie Mercandetti
Old Town Whiskey pairs strong pours with upscale tavern fare.
For the most part, Distrito’s cuisine delivers on both inspiration and flavor.
For the most part, Distrito’s cuisine delivers on both inspiration and flavor.

Location Info

Map

Old Town Whiskey

4000 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Category: Restaurant > Bar Food

Region: Central Scottsdale

Distrito

4000 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Category: Restaurant > Brunch

Region: Central Scottsdale

Details

Old Town Whiskey and Distrito
4000 North Drinkwater Boulevard, Scottsdale
480-970-4444
www.jdvhotels.com/dining
Hours (Old Town Whiskey): 3 p.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday

Hours (Distrito): Weekday breakfast: 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.; weekday lunch: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner: 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; weekend brunch: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Old Town Whiskey
Cheese puffs: $5
Duck fat fries: $5
Cobb salad: $12.50
Old Town Burger: $14

Distrito
Chilango Chop: $8
Pozole verde: $10
Tacos de carnitas: $8
Pollo ahumado a la yucateco (half): $16

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Big, colorful, and at times incredibly loud, Distrito's lively ambiance grabs your attention before its "modern Mexican" lunch and dinner menu of small plates does. This is a bit of a shame considering Garces' cuisine — twists on the street food of Mexico City and Mexican barbacoa (barbecue) — delivers, with a few exceptions, on both inspiration and flavor.

Because Distrito is a tapas affair, bringing a gaggle of pals along to share in numerous dishes makes the experience a more communal one and most suited to the restaurant's effervescent environment. But if you've come with more of a "me" mindset, then it will be suggested that you order two or three dishes.

If your tortilla chips are fresh (unlike on one of my visits), you could start with a decent traditional guacamole or spicy salsa Mexicana, or skip them both and jump right into the good stuff.

On the lighter side, there is a wonderfully bright salad — an array of greens, sweet green apples, cranberries, and spicy pecans dressed in a spirited honey-lime vinaigrette — called the Chilango Chop, the name a nod to the inhabitants of Mexico City. And there's a stellar yellowfin tuna ceviche, with raw slices of the fish set up like a row of squat red chairs on a carpet of diced pieces of coconut gelée and tomatillos, the tiniest tostadas, and the clever addition of a miniature scoop of refreshing lime sorbet.

Although difficult to share, you should order the green pozole anyway, even if it means just a taste or two of Garces' version, where, in a rich and deeply flavorful tomatillo stock, float pieces of pork belly with crispy skins, littleneck clams, smoky chorizo, and satisfyingly stinging discs of serrano peppers, with a side dish of lime, radishes, and onions to add as you please.

I expected more from Garces' two gourmet huaraches (a dish originating in Mexico City and named for the popular Mexican sandal), oblong beds of masa with various toppings. While some of the ingredients certainly were divine — forest mushrooms, black truffle, and braised shortrib — the huaraches as a whole were rather uninspiring. Better to order the mahi mahi tacos in a light, crispy breading with chipotle remoulade and creamy slices of avocado or, better yet, a trio of tender pulled pork street tacos with black beans and pineapple salsa atop warm, handmade tortillas.

Thanks to Arizona's weather, the Scottsdale Distrito, unlike the original location in Philadelphia, features a barbacoa, or barbecue section on the menu, with meats cooked in a smoker and rotisserie on the patio. Skip the Black Angus beef brisket — although perfectly prepared, it was lacking in the dry adobo rub — and order the spicy and garlicky chorizo rojo or the traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish cochinita a la pibil. Earthy, smoky, and sweet, pieces of Berkshire pork shoulder arrive in a small pool of the meat's achiote and pineapple barbecue sauce and come topped with crunchy onions and peppers.

Similar to the pozole, Garces' Yucatan-style smoked chicken, available as a half or whole, may be difficult to divvy up, but the meat's nearly creamy texture, crispy skin, and a dynamic marinade of orange and guajillo chili pepper warrant a bite and easily make it one of Distrito's best dishes.

If you are hungry for stellar sides, take a pass on the average plantains topped with a bean spread and queso fresco and order the esquites (sweet and spicy corn cakes) or the creamy and highly delectable poblano corn rice.

When it comes to dessert at Distrito, two are more fancy than flavorful, which makes the decision to walk over to nearby Old Town Whiskey for a simple homemade ice cream shake an easy one. Looking more like a breakfast yogurt parfait than an after-dinner dessert, the frutas con crema (with a Mexican interpretation of the classic Italian panna cotta) was sour enough to be left alone after one bite. And a vanilla flan strewn with diced mango and too-hard almond cakes, a smudge of dulce de leche, and a half-scoop of ice cream proved to be confusing to consume and, when it did happen, without payoff.

The service, although friendly, is often chaotic, and seems far too casual for an establishment where fare from a celebrity chef like Garces doesn't come cheap. Distrito may have the ambiance of a party, but in this case, it shouldn't mean the hostess is experiencing it in the same manner the guests are.

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