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: La Condesa Gourmet Taco Shop The Food: Casual specialties from various parts of Mexico. The Backstory: An up-ish-scale taco shop that promotes local artists. The Price: $4-5 per taco
I was really excited about La Condesa - mostly because every time I found myself on 16th Street, I'd pass it right up and not realize it until I was blocks away. That added to the element of surprise on my first visit (and the first time I didn't pass it up.) Victory!
It's a space not for the claustrophobic. But as much as it is tiny, it's decorated with every single detail in mind. The bar stools, for one, have gorgeous hide cushions, with bronze (or bronze-looking) buttons. The bar itself maybe seats 10, and if you make it there during happy hour, you mustn't forget to order the house margarita -- one of best margaritas you'll ever have (it was for me, at least).
Be prepared to wait.
This is the only drawback to the beautiful genius that is La Condesa. It's a good thing the art on the walls is so mesmerizing, because if it weren't, and I didn't know what the food was like, I'd up and leave.
Nonetheless, I'm glad I stuck around. (It doesn't hurt that there's an entire gourmet salsa bar at your fingertips. Try the strawberry salsa. Thank me later.)
There's plenty variety throughout the menu. In fact, it's kind of like a mini map of Mexico. You've got your Baja specialty, and then your Oaxacan specialty, and then there's your Yucatan specialty... so brush up on your geography.
I dove right into the heart of Mexico with the Oaxaca mole, the Aztec Tinga, and the Mayan Cochinita Pibil tacos.
I'll start right off by saying I'm not a fan of chicken tacos... they seem sacrilegious to me. I'm a carnivore by nature, so bovine and little Miss Piggy are my proteins of choice (most especially when paired with a tortilla). Chicken probably comes last on the list - that being said, if you're a chicken fan, you'll love the Azteca Tinga taco. It's juicy and garlicky.
The Oaxacan block mole taco was scrumptious - and yes, also chicken (and dogfish, too!), but there was enough mole in there for me to forget I was eating chicken. My mom typically makes mole a littler redder and significantly spicier. La Condesa's mole is black and chocolatey, and more on the sweet side (practically nonexistent on the spicy side). It'll take a few swigs of that delicious house margarita to help this taco down, but the fact of the matter is, it's delicious and a treat.
Cochinita Pibil is one of my favorite preparations of pork.... ever. There's something about the banana leaf that it's cooked in and the marinade that makes me do that Italian-lip-and-kiss gesture when something is buonissimo. La Condesa makes a banging good cochinita pibil, and my recommendation is that if it's your first time trying it, this is a good place to start.
Slip in at an off peak time, avoid the wait, and sit down to a taco dinner that'll have you begging for a Mexican mom and childhood.
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Eating 16th Street So Far: Eating 16th Street: Let's Begin at Pollo Sabroso La Frontera Taco Truck: A Hit and a Run Asadero Norte de Sonora: Family Friendly and Fit for a King Mariscos Playa Hermosa: From the Shores of Mexico to a Colorful Central Phoenix Restaurant Salsitas: Blame it on the Alcohol Pro's Ranch Market: Contents of a Fiesta Under One Roof Filiberto's: My Burrito of Sorrow La Cocina Economica: Bringing Familia from the Kitchen to the Table Hacienda El Bar-Ril: Central Phoenix Home to Diamond Tacos de Cabeza Dulceria Mayra's Y Mas: Small Place Packs a Huge Party