Okay, so it may not be Mexico City's posh, post-industrial minimalist dining mecca, Aguila y Sol, nor its Centro Historico's charming, pre-Columbian-inspired eatery, Los Girasoles. But Plaza Grill in north Phoenix is the place you want to head for if you're craving real Mexican food that tastes like, well, real food from Mexico, served with an elegant flourish on white tablecloths tastefully decorated with little vases of fresh flowers.
No Velveeta cheese crisps here. And don't be put off by the fact that Plaza Grill is in a rundown strip mall across from a screaming yellow pawn shop that orders people whizzing by to "Park and Pawn." Despite its low profile, this place features well-executed regional Mexican staples, like Yucatecan cochinita pibil, fork-tender pork slowly cooked in a citrus/garlic/achiote broth, and sea bass prepared al estilo de Veracruz, with fresh tomatoes, lots of garlic, peppers, onions and olives. Here, chicken mole poblano, a specialty of Puebla, is classically redolent of chilis and chocolate, as it should be, while the camarones al mojo de ajo, jumbo Guaymas shrimp backstroking in a divine garlic sauce, takes us back to dining on the beach in Baja. We also adore the freshly made guacamole, probably the best we've ever had, which is tangy with key limes, as well as Gil, Plaza Grill's omnipresent maitre d'/solicitous server extraordinario, who will never forget you once you've been here.
Ask to be put on Chef Luis Mata's list for his monthly multi-course prix fixe dinner, expertly paired with appropriate wine selections for each course.
One month Mata mixed it up, going solely Spanish, then followed that the next month with Mediterranean (including a Portuguese bacalao appetizer and an unforgettable Italian risotto) — we're still licking our chops and waiting for the next installment.