Best of Phoenix

Wild Card

Bullfighter and backpacker Carlos Manriquez, 33, is the chef and co-owner of two critically acclaimed Valley eateries: Scottsdale's Atlas Bistro, and Mucho Gusto Taqueria and Mexican Bistro in Tempe. Raised in Mexicali, Mexico, Manriquez has a degree in dairy husbandry from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He came to Arizona to attend Scottsdale Culinary Institute in '97, left once, and returned for business. With each restaurant, Manriquez has rolled the dice on Greater Phoenix, and won. Atlas has been open three and a half years, and Mucho Gusto has just turned yearling.

PHX -- indie haven: Other places are more difficult for restaurants, like New York or San Francisco. Of course, there's competition everywhere, but here, if you get a bad review or something, you also get the opportunity to fix it. So it's better for independents.

On backpacking: I backpack every summer. I've done Europe four times. Last summer, I went to the Yucatán. I've been throughout Mexico, and Latin America.

And working for free: While I'm backpacking, I always work at restaurants that I like, especially in Europe. It's my way of learning, of picking up ideas and techniques. I knock on the door, and tell them I want to work for free for a couple of days. All I want in return is for them to answer my questions. They're like, "You'll work for free? Come on in, no problem."

Fighting bulls: My father's brother ran one of the biggest bullfighting companies in northern Mexico. I'm an aficionado -- an amateur -- but the danger is still the same. I've got the cape and the sword, and my house is full of bullfighting pictures and posters. I've been hit many times, but my father took the biggest one. The horn opened his whole rib cage.

Sometimes, even running with them: This year, in Pamplona, Spain, I ran with the bulls 11 times. The best run you can do is when you are in the middle, not touching the bull, but very close. The bull is chasing you, but in a good way. I did see some serious gorings and people getting whacked. But I've already decided that I'm going to do it again next year.

We'd never have guessed: I'm an adrenaline junkie. I skydive. I love motorcycles. Anything my mother told me not to do, I did. When I was 6 years old, I used to be around a lot of military people in Mexico, and I was exposed to many guns. It was like, "Hey Carlos, let's go fur hunting with a machine gun."

Zona-vision: Arizona has a different attitude and is more open to other people, rather than being stuck up, like in California. I think that's why people are moving to Phoenix. I think I came at the right time. Arizona has something for me right now. I'm enjoying it.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons