By Eric Schaefer
By New Times
By Rachel Miller
By Eric Schaefer
By Heather Hoch and Lauren Saria
By Robrt L. Pela
By Heather Hoch
By New Times
In its simplest form, a guild is an association built upon a specialized area of expertise, often chartered by a monarchy, involving a rigid structure of journeymen, apprentices, and crafstmen. Such guilds proliferated in medieval times and, in many ways, laid the foundation for what we now know as trade unions. The very notion of a guild is a distinctly European idea and, in many ways, is the precursor to some of the great academic institutions of England, France, and Italy. So, before I continue with this cursory attempt at a history lesson, it's important to note one important detail: Guilds never made their way to Mexico.
Not that I take Taco Guild's name particularly seriously. I don't. The name is more marketing fluff than historical fact and is somewhat comical among those of us who view a taco as a cultural and culinary expression of beautiful simplicity, not academic rigor. Let's face it: Some of the best tacos come from a cart or a truck in dimly lit parking lots where the mere mention of Joe Arpaio's name can clear the whole block. Regrettably, it seems many of the offerings at Taco Guild were created by apprentices, not master guildsmen.
Maybe all the craftsmanship went into the setting, which is utterly spectacular. You dine in a converted church with lofty vaulted ceilings, heavy wrought-iron light fixtures, and faux frescos high above the centrally located bar, which serves as something of a shrine to tequila. It's beautiful, dramatic, and elevates Taco Guild to something that feels special, and the restaurant has the kind of lighting that makes everyone look good even before you've indulged in the tequila offerings. The restaurant comes from the folks behind the Z'Tejas chain. They spared no expense, and when it comes to atmosphere, the result is something different from the recent smattering of high-end taco joints like Joyride Taco House, Barrio Queen, and Taco Haus. Just make sure you don't get seated in the claustrophobic back room, which is cramped and notably devoid of character.
546 East Osborn Road
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Region: Central Phoenix
But ultimately, a restaurant is about the food, not the setting. Tacos are street food, not high art, and the best tacos often have some funk: lengua, cabeza, and other parts of the animal that make gringos squirm but shouldn't. There is funk to be found in Taco Guild's fare, but — regrettably — it's frequently in the form of culinary creative license, not offal bits. There are 10 featured tacos, neatly organized into "Old World" and "New World" categories, and the results are mixed.
Does blue cheese belong in a taco? I'll let you decide, but it worked well in the chipotle cherry steak taco, with crispy fried poblano chiles and a cool chili aioli. Giving the middle finger to my less-is-more bias when it comes to tacos, this beef taco managed to effectively balance a dizzyingly array of textures and flavor profiles. Blue cheese also makes its way into the Molida Lamb, one of the menu's simplest and most satisfying offerings, consisting of little more than well-seasoned ground lamb, blue cheese, and a light smear of Creole-seasoned aioli. If it sounds unconventional, it's because it is. But, to my surprise, it works.
Less avant-garde is the Guild Chicken, braised in annatto seeds, which add a subtle crimson blush but do little in terms of flavor enhancement. And that's just as well because the chicken was moist and dense with flavor, with textural balance coming from elote and avocado. The Urban Bean coffee-braised beef had the same effect; I detected no coffee flavor, but that really didn't matter given the pleasant contrast of mango salsa and sweet caramelized onion.
It's almost hard to utter the words "Peking Duck" and "taco" in the same sentence, but someone had the cojones to try to make it work. It doesn't, it but could have had there been a rich hoisin sauce, green onions, and cucumber. Instead, there's Brie, and the result is unsavory, at best. The al pastor suffered the same fate. The pork was dry and overpowered by chunks of pineapple instead of a subtle sweetness that comes from the pineapple that's supposed to gradually work its way into the meat from atop a trompo, the traditional spit from which al pastor is cut. The pork adovada was less of a flop; it packed some heat but could have done without with mango jicama relish.
Ordering three tacos gets you a free side dish. I found two tacos to be plenty — they're big — but if you do order a side, steer clear of the green chile achiote rice, which, despite the multi-syllabic moniker, is hard to differentiate from the myriad "Spanish rice" variations around town. In the plus category, the borracho red beans were hearty and satisfying, neither soupy nor gummy. You can add "street corn" for $1.50; served off the cob, it was well prepared and sweet but yearned for some salt and acidic balance.
Apropos of its gentrified clientele, the grilled romaine salad is a surprising showstopper. A successful riff on a traditional Caesar salad, this dish's whole romaine leafs are brushed with olive oil and flash-grilled to form a delicate wilted char and lightly dressed with a smooth cilantro dressing. I generally avoid salads as entrées, but topped with chicken or steak, this is a reasonably healthful choice for the taco-averse.
The home made hot sauces were the standouts when I went. Drink was good too. Duck/brie taco was very dry & stringy. Al Pastor was just cooked pork, nary any chile/pineapple in it. Braised beef literally smelled like a barn. Rice was crunchy & dry. Much better options exist.
I agree with Fahira. The space is fun but the food is nothing to write home about. If I want designer tacos I'll go to La Santisima. Otherwise, I'll take tacos from the Charlie's taco truck or La Frontera.
I love the ambiance at Taco Guild but food is nothing special. I have had way better and cheaper tacos!