Hey, readers, get ready. We're putting new meaning into the term "street food." For Chow Bella's latest mission -- "Eating 16th Street" -- we've employed a young woman who's literally eaten her way around the world. Alex Rodriguez has eaten borscht in Moscow, steak in Buenos Aires and a "life-changing panna cotta" in Bra, a small town in the Piemonte region of Italy. Now we've set her palate loose on Central Phoenix's 16th Street. Rodriguez will try it all, from Jefferson Street north to Thomas Road -- and report back, place by place.
The Place: Hacienda Bar-Ril The Food: Tacos The Backstory: Family-owned taco shop with a carniceria next door. The Price: $7 for 4 tacos and a Jarrito.
I struggled with Hacienda Bar-Ril for two months. Visiting a grand total of five times and seeing it open only twice, it frustrated me to drive down 16th Street every day and have to guess whether it would be open.
But finally, I lucked out on the right day at the right time and had one of the best tacos I've had on my "Eating 16th Street" adventure.
We'll start this pulgita of an open-air eatery with a little bit of background for context: It was a particularly warm Friday night. Hacienda has misters, so if you sit near them, you can't tell the difference between borderline heat exhaustion sweat and mist. I went with several friends -- all of whom were drenched. The place was hopping when I arrived at about 10 p.m. Families with small children were there, single eaters, couples, you name it. There is one menu, and it's painted on the wall. $1.50 for a taco. They were kind enough to put things like aguas frescas and sodas, and frijoles charros on the menu also, but let's stick to what's important: the taco.
You tell the woman at the cash register which tacos you'd like, how many, and then get your own drink. That's right. No table service around here. I ordered three tacos and a Jarrito de tamarindo. A friend of asked what tamarind Jarrito tasted like and the only way I could describe it was a tart, sweet apple flavor. The lady at the register will give you a receipt and tell you to take it to the man behind the open window just to your left. The man takes your meal ticket, looks at the number on it, and asks which meats you want and what kind of tortilla. Seeing that I'm a maiz girl for life, I said that I wanted corn tortillas, and carne asada, pastor, and lengua.
He told me he ran out of lengua, so instead I asked for cabeza. Then he told me I needed to pick four. But I thought I'd asked for only three when I paid.
"No señorita, aqui dice que pediste cuatro tacos," the man says to me pointing to the receipt (no, miss, it says here that you ordered four). Pues, I'm never one to turn down an extra taco, entonces porque no (well then, why not)? "
Otra de carne asada, entonces," (another carne asada, then) I said. A salsa stand serves as an island for salsas, sliced radish, cabbage, limes, and char-grilled jalapeños. As I said before, this is a service-free establishment, so you have to get your own plastic utensils and napkins.
The experience alone was well worth the wait (and frustration) to finally eat there. It was an added bonus that my tacos were fabulous. Cabeza (head) usually includes brain, lips, eyes, cheeks, and tongue (if the tongue is not already separated). They're usually all mixed together and steamed, so you won't see an actual eyeball looking at you or lips blowing you a kiss. It just looks (and tastes!) like meat. This particular taco was in fact my favorite of the four. The carne asada was second on the list -- quite tasty, and well-flavored steak. I've had better al pastor, but the carne and cabeza were too good to dwell on that.
Hacienda Bar-Ril, for me at least, was the type of place that looks kind of sketchy, but dazzles you with good food. It's like a slap in the face for ever doubting it. And that, friends, is the best way to leave a restaurant.
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