Stormin' Norman's

Norman Fierros is in trouble. Again. The bad boy chef's eatery -- Norman's Arizona -- was seized last week by the Arizona Department of Revenue for non-payment of taxes. Its windows are shrouded with white paper, and a message on the answering service apologizes for the inconvenience, promising to reopen this Thursday, March 8. An official state sign in the window clues Norman's customers in on the bad news.

The mishap is only the latest in Fierros' 20-year string of dramatic restaurant openings, sudden closings, and unsettling incidents.

Just this past June, Fierros was touting plans to open a new restaurant in the Encanto Park area. He recently opened a patio adjacent to Norman's Arizona, at 40th Street and Campbell.

Fierros didn't return calls from New Times. Neither did the state.

But Norman's distress can't be from a lack of business. Phoenicians love his nueva mexicana dishes -- the handmade tamales, campechana, soft fish tacos, chocolate chimis -- that have won him praise from the New York Times and Bon Appétit.

Fierros has impressed us with his culinary arts since coming to the Valley in 1980, and particularly since opening his upscale Norman's in 1998, but he's never quite mastered the art of restaurant management.

The chef has become practically an urban legend since debuting his first eatery, Fina Cocina, a combo taco stand and art gallery located next to a drug halfway house. After moving to a larger location (the result of a bungled lease deal), Fina Cocina fell when the health department traced six cases of typhoid to his restaurant and one victim sued. Fierros, meanwhile, had allowed his personal liability insurance to lapse, so he filed for bankruptcy, even as he claimed another jealous restaurateur had spiked his salsa with the disease.

In between catering ventures, Fierros opened another well-received but ill-fated restaurant: Chata's at Central and Camelback. The night Chata's opened, Fierros found his investor's bankroll was stolen from another party's pension fund and that he didn't have a legitimate lease for the property. The restaurant closed.

Next up was the short-lived La Pila at Central and Palm, a restaurant patrons had trouble finding since its sign read Megabites, and no listing ever appeared for either name in the phone directory. For a while in 1996, Fierros even was a chef and consultant at the now defunct Diamondback Steakhouse at Scottsdale's WestWorld, churning out chuck box fare instead of chile rellenos with creamy queso blanco.

If Fierros' food wasn't so delicious on its own, his saga would have us salivating simply for its soap opera juiciness.


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