"Joyride" is a curious name for a restaurant, given that it is defined as "a fast and dangerous ride, especially one in a stolen vehicle." And when you account for the fact that Joyride Taco House is the latest venture from Upward Projects, the team behind Postino, Federal Pizza, Windsor, and Churn, it is to be expected that it will be smartly designed and hip, serving well-executed if not exciting fare. Exciting, dangerous, and well-managed sounds like a winning combination to me.

Except that Mexican food in the Valley is a risky proposition. Either diners are accustomed to run-of-the-mill Sonoran fare with gringo influences, à la Carlos O'Brien's, or they are so hung up on authenticity that nothing short of street-cart fare will suffice. Joyride Taco House — with a new location in Central Phoenix and a slightly older, identical spot in Gilbert — is neither, and it raises the question: "Is great décor enough to keep customers coming back?"

Because the food surely isn't.

At Joyride Taco House, the vibe seems to outshine the food.
Jackie Mercandetti
At Joyride Taco House, the vibe seems to outshine the food.

Location Info

Map

Joyride Taco House

302 N. Gilbert Road
Gilbert, AZ 85233

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Gilbert

Joyride Taco House

5202 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85012

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Central Phoenix

Details

Joyride Taco House
5202 North Central Avenue
602-274-TACO (8226)

302 North Gilbert Road, Gilbert
480-632-TACO (8226)
www.joyridetacohouse.com

Guacamole: $7
Shrimp ceviche: $12.50
Crispy Fish Taco: $4.25
Chicken tinga taco: $3.50
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

If there's one thing that Upward Projects does with consistency, it's design. Joyride Tacos is no exception. It's a cool space with a retro vibe (the CenPho location is housed in an old Humpty Dumpty restaurant), colorful tile on the floor, comfortable booths, and 1960s-era furnishings. The patio facing Central is a good place to be; the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine-inspired décor makes everyone look cool and relaxed, and on my visits, it was always bustling, even at odd hours.

And there are plenty of clever details, if you look closely. We were particularly amused by the "Gum Tacos" on every table: small paper circles that you can fill with your chewed gum. It feels good to be at Joyride and, more than the food, that's what would keep me coming back.

But you are here to read about the food, aren't you? Let's start with the tacos, since this is after all, a "taco house." The Crispy Fish Tacos, a fishy, soggy, gummy mess, lacked any discernible crispness and were heavy on the "fishy." I admire the decision to use rockfish as opposed to something more predictable like cod, but the fish is irrelevant when the technique is so misguided.

"White Magic," described at a "house lime aioli" and designed to top the tacos, was only magical in the sense that someone has managed to combine mayonnaise and lime and come up with a result that lacked flavor altogether. Magical indeed, for all the wrong reasons. Fish taco aficionados, beware: You're better off at Rubio's.

I can accept that one of the 11 different tacos on Joyride's menu might miss the mark, but when nearly every choice falls flat, it becomes apparent that something is awry.

Chicken tinga, which appears in several places on the menu — including as tacos — is a smoky, chipotle-infused dish that hails from Puebla, Mexico. Described by Joyride as "kinda hot," loaded into a made-to-order corn tortilla and accompanied by avocado and — you guessed it — White Magic, chicken tinga tacos actually were kinda bland. I might be a gringo, but I still have taste buds.

Sadly, the list goes on. Braised beef tacos at least had some detectable taste but could have benefited from a few more hours of heat to tenderize the tough cuts of meat. And the carne asada tacos, by far the best choice, had a sublime flavor from the citrus marinade that was quickly forgotten when I nearly exhausted my jaw muscles trying to work my way through the gristle.

So if a taco restaurant can't execute on tacos, what can it do? Well, the guacamole is close to perfection, a preparation that only deviates from tradition with the extraneous addition of jicama. Chips and salsa are complimentary, as they should be, and the fire-roasted salsa is addictive. We asked for refills on each visit, although we had to remind our server to bring them. You can pay extra for several other varieties of salsa, but there's no need when the free salsa is this good.

As for main dishes, I truly enjoyed the Sidewalk Surfer Chilaquiles. I thought the "tall food" trend died deservedly in the 1990s, but this hearty interpretation of a brunch favorite bucks current food fashion and goes down easily at any time of day. I'm not sure why even dedicated breakfast restaurants can't seem to make a proper sunny side up egg, but at Joyride they nail it — the runny yolk intermingling with layers of pinto beans, avocado, and chicken to form a messy but indulgent combination that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Back to the misses. Ceviche, when prepared properly, relies on a technique in which the citric acid from the marinade "cooks" the seafood, but at Joyride, it's nothing more than shrimp soaked with a brutally tart lime marinade. At $12.50 per order, you're better off skipping it.

Side dishes are abundant at Joyride. Twice I opted for orange cucumber salad, and both times I think the chef forgot the orange; it tasted of fresh cucumbers, unadorned. And the Bomb Black Beans were a bomb, not "the bomb": too thick, with no textural variation or smokiness. Instead, opt for the Mexican street corn. Technically, it's an appetizer, and served as a whole cob it's an awkward one at that. (Hint: Stand the cob up and remove the kernels with a knife at a perfect 45-degree angle without slipping and stabbing either your plate or your guests.) What it lacks in grace, it makes up for in flavor, despite corn being out of season.

Service is casual but friendly; everyone makes an extroverted effort to be happy (after all, it's a joyride, right?) and Joyride welcomes diners of all ages, making a special effort with kids. I expected our hipster server to groan at my table of two kids but, instead, he made a special point of welcoming them and even had the smarts to spell out "d-e-s-s-e-r-t" instead of offering it overtly.

And you'd be wise to order dessert, with or without kids in tow. The churros con chocolate were no better than what you get at Chase Field, but the Mo's Definitely is a must-order. Kudos to whoever had the wisdom to combine housemade vanilla pudding with caramel sauce, bananas, salted pecans, and a crunchy cookie crust and put it in a glass jar. I wanted seconds.

Befitting a restaurant where the vibe seems to outshine the food, drinks are not an afterthought. Aguas frescas can be ordered with or without a variety of alcohol options, and while the cucumber mint was too viscous for my tastes, the almond horchata was perfectly balanced, and the strawberry tasted freshly picked. The cocktail renaissance is already well understood by the powers that be at Upward Projects, and the cocteles quickly make you forget the lackluster food at Joyride. The Mazatlan Mule is a potent combination of tequila, passion fruit, ginger beer, and bitters — sweet but not cloying. The cucumber serrano packs some heat from fresh serrano chiles that sneak up on your palate after the cucumber and green tea flavors subside.

And there's always cerveza, available by the glass, pint, or pitcher. Although craft beers from SanTan, Four Peaks, and Deschutes are available, it's hard to beat Negra Modelo on draft.

If I sound lukewarm on Joyride Tacos, it's because I am. At nearly every juncture, I found myself disappointed with a lack of flavor and execution. I kept hoping I'd find something worth raving about, something that lived up to the name. I never found it in the food, but it's hard to deny that Joyride delivers a good time.

Does the food at Joyride live up to the name? Negativo. But that's not to say you can't still enjoy the ride.

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35 comments
ChiquisAZ
ChiquisAZ

Well - I am no food critic, but I know what my taste buds like, and they loved Joyride.  Granted, I don't try much because I am a super picky Mexican...I loved the Carne Asada tacos, and I loved the elote (street corn).  Yes you are paying for the atmosphere, but it is a "relax and have a good time" setting, and I would gladly pay for that.  I have been there several times, and only once was I disappointed, and it wasn't in the food - which has been consistently delicious every time, but in the service.  We sat there for about 30 minutes with a menu, and water as several of the staff overlooked the fact that we hadn't been helped.  What didn't help matters is that two families that came in after as had their orders, drinks and appetizers by the time someone even looked our way.  That won't keep me from coming back - but I think it should be something they do acknowledge.  Love their salsa, chips and guac, keep 'em coming!!!

abab
abab

I really don't understand why people hate on this place so much. Out of a lot of the popular hip taco places in the valley (Otro Cafe, Gallo Blanco, etc.) this is one of my favorites as far as the food (and the service) goes. The crispy fish taco I had at joyride was in no way soggy and was by far the best taco out of the 3 that I had. The ahi tostadas fucking rule also and I'm a huge fan of their drink selection. I don't know if Eric experienced a bad day here or what but in no way does this place's food suck.

boingo
boingo

Why does the NT staff keep changing the headline of this article on the front page....it seems I've seen three headlines, each one more negative.  The latest says "Joyride Taco House is a Flop"....which is completely inconsistent with the tenor of the actual article.  Is the NT headline writer auditioning for a job at Huffington Post?


As far as Joyride goes, the food is decent...my experience has been better than the writer's.  But the selling point is the atmosphere, and the day-long happy hour.

caycejane
caycejane

Maybe next time you should try their Ahi tuna tostadas or the Ahi tuna taco. Both items are incredible. Also their beef tamales and burritos are fantastic! They have a lot of great things there that I feel you missed out on. Did you try their mezcal tequilas?! Every time I've eaten there I've been impressed and I haven't ever had carne asada that makes my jaw want to fall off.

Margie Milne
Margie Milne

Been there several times. Love it. Great patio and location and atmosphere. Great happy hour and drink options. Great veggie burrito and ahi appetizer. Love the cucumber chili margaritas. Basing review solely on their tacos versus Mexican taco stand is overly simplistic. I love it.

mlocks
mlocks

Couldn't agree more.  The food is terrible.  Such a disappointment given their other joints are so good.

Chris Yukubousky
Chris Yukubousky

Terrible. They put crap on the tacos and burritos that isn't listed on the menu. So, you either end up digging onions and tomato off of things or wait another 20 minutes for your good if you send it back.

Rosie Moreno
Rosie Moreno

Joyride is just "okay" as far as food goes, but I had great service. I enjoy other Upward Projects restaurants though. Maybe after seeing this article they will revamp some of the menu items.

Ferd
Ferd

Seems kinda harsh... overboard... like you have grudge. I don't believe a word of your swill. Typical of this liberal rag... lies

Gina Urquiza Waters
Gina Urquiza Waters

Joyride was meh, so was Taco Guild, nothing special, nor was their taste...plus prices kinda high for tacos, but lovely decor!! Gallo Blanco Cafe y Bar, my kind of tacos with great taste and salsitas are delish!!

cblonkenfeld
cblonkenfeld

I want the job of chef for at joyride Phoenix maybe they will see this comment and hit me up for a chat

Lucia Perry
Lucia Perry

The staff and management were really, really nice. It was very noisy. we had a salad that had hard, dried peas on it (bad choice of toppings, on their part).

Jimmy Green
Jimmy Green

Good thing there is rubios and Roberto's!

Bo Brafford
Bo Brafford

Terra - not sure if there are any good mexican food restaurants remaining in CenPho after this....#notacoforyou

Edna Mendivil-Lamar
Edna Mendivil-Lamar

❤️Joyride!! Food I grew up eating with a modern twist. Love me some elote

James Patrick Harris
James Patrick Harris

Taco Guild? Ha ha. They served me a beef taco that smelled like a barn & a stringy, dry duck taco the consistency of carne seca. Not to mention the music they pipe in is absolutely horrific. On the same visit I heard Bel Biv Devoe, country, Matchbox 20, etc. Country alone is enough to make me vomit. Joyride was a bit pricey, but delicious. I was with a party of 12 friends with heavily varied tastes on my first visit & everyone was highly complimentary of the food. Obviously, your mileage may vary.

Brandon Doyle
Brandon Doyle

The fish tacos are great there and they have a badass radio playlist. Some other tacos are so so but still a cool place to go chill

Gabriela Hernandez
Gabriela Hernandez

White people tacos. They're ok I guess but blah whatevs. Mostly about the ambiance and bougieness. Taco Guild has far better white people tacos.

Mike Woodling
Mike Woodling

I agree Jeremy. With the exception being that it's not really Mexican food. More like American food shaped like Mexican food. Ok, but very underwhelmed with Upward on general. Attention hipsters: Upward isn't hip. Get over the brand and focus on the fare.

Jeremy August Hartman
Jeremy August Hartman

My first impression: food was ok.. Prices were high. Fun place but won't go again. It is Mexican food after all.. It should be priced accordingly

Betsy Steele
Betsy Steele

Unbelievable review... We frequent Joyride often. As well as many neighbors and friends and hear nothing but great things about it plus it is our choice in 'New' Mexican cuisine... It's menu is very different, a refreshing take on 'normal Mexican' food and sooooo very good. I'm shocked by this review. The atmosphere is wonderful as well. The only thing I'm not crazy about is the wine selection.

Jodi Booker Ogle
Jodi Booker Ogle

I totally agree with this review. I didn't hate it, but nothing impressed me enough to go back. And no one can beat the fish taco at Tacos Atoyac.

Brian Cohrt
Brian Cohrt

Ate there once: overpriced, gimmicky restaurant ...

Jason Jantzen
Jason Jantzen

I think the reviewer put waaay too much emphasis on the name. Nothing about the restaurant elicits danger and it's not supposed to. It's a great place down the block from our office with delish tacos and great service--try for yourself.

Nick Roen
Nick Roen

Friggin Gilbert is getting overrun with foodies. Lolo's is coming soon too, oh man... all I see is traffic in my neighborhood. I repeat do not turn this place into Scottsdale or I'm gonna get pissed.

reverendvelvet
reverendvelvet

after three visits, it's clear Joyride is inconsistent but there's been marked improvement with each subsequent visit.

our visit to the Gilbert this past Friday was the best experience so far. there's a lot of other crappy new places you could try around town but i think Joyride is trending to the upside.

refusenik
refusenik

Based on this review, I will never set foot in a joyride taco house for the rest of my life.

 
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