Welcome to the 2018 edition of The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.
31: Beef Tacos from Asadero Norte De Sonora
One of the best things about eating in Phoenix is the neighborhood Mexican joint. Not the high-end restaurant that mashes tableside guacamole and serves $12 mezcal cocktails, not the taqueria with sleek lighting and an Instagram account, but your everyday restaurant where unseen people cook good food quietly. Where the salsa is hot. Where the Spanish is soft. Where an austere dining room tints gray at times, visibly, with smoke spilling over from the kitchen grill.
Phoenix has an unknowable number of these restaurants. One of the classics, owned by the Bravo family and serving food from our Mexican neighbor, Sonora, is Asadero Norte De Sonora.
The restaurant is on 16th and Monroe streets. You can probably find it by rolling down your car window and following your nose. The restaurant grills most of its meats over charcoal. If you come with friends, you can order grilled proteins family size.
At most tables – simple picnic-style benches, hazy by the windows where light catches thin grill smoke – you'll see tin foil trays filled with meat. This is parillada, a mixed grilled platter, available in half-sizes and full-sizes. Parillada comes with tortillas – flour or corn, or both. Grilled meats are the heartbeat of Asadero, and parillada is the best way to experience them.
Simply grilled classics like carne asada and a succulent skin-on chicken are unrefined, unpretentious. None of the food is done up here. The milieu is family kitchen. The simple grilled meats result in solid tacos, just what you expect rolling up to this place.
They’re good in part because chile de arbol salsa brings a fruity hint and a firestorm of heat. Guacamole is on point, nothing fancy, nothing you haven't tasted before. Tortillas are warm and wrapped in foil; their fragrance emanates once you unwrap the package and finger a round from the stack. You build tacos yourself, tonging carne asada and barbacoa from the elevated tinfoil tray.
Two of the better meats at Asadero are lengua (tongue) and cabeza (head). These are the only two meats that aren’t grilled. Lengua has a toned-down steak flavor with irony notes, massaged by tongue’s high fat content. It has a soft texture. Cabeza is even softer and milder than lengua, with a pleasantly muted flavor that allows the aromatics of the tortilla, lime, and cilantro to develop.
It’s fitting that a pair of unloved meats — two unrefined yet subtle offerings — are two of this quiet restaurant’s best.
The experience of eating in a neighborhood Mexican spot like this one adds flavor to the meal. In Asadero, you can be as chatty or as anonymous as you want. You can melt into the scene, kick back, and watch people snack on chips, or pluck takeout from the cashier and hurry back to their office or home for lunch. Whether you're new or a regular, it's the same.
Having neighborhood Mexican restaurants that cook solid food is an anchor of eating in Phoenix. Asadero, one of the quiet many, is an essential Phoenix experience.
Asadero Norte De Sonora. 122 North 16th Street; 602-253-4010
Hours: Thursday to Tuesday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; closed Wednesday
The Essentials so far:
50: Soul food platter at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
49: The Bear at Short Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Doughnuts
48: Grilled squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer
47: I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10
46: Coffee made from ROC2 beans
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff
44: Zookz at Zookz
43: Jade Red Chicken at Chino Bandido
42: Tasting menu at Quiessence at The Farm
41: Single-origin Papua New Guinea Bar at Zak's Chocolate
40: Green chile at Casa Reynoso
39: Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company
38: Hand-pulled noodles from China Magic Noodle House
37: Carne adovada sliders at Dick's Hideaway
36: Crispy Pig Ear and Amaro cocktails from Crudo
35: Chile-laced specialties from Cafe Ga Hyang
34: Martinis at AZ88
33: Nooner at Duck & Decanter
32: Eggs Maximilian at Harlow's Cafe
31: Beef Tacos from Asadero Norte De Sonora