In the hunt for the latest trendy restaurants, our spotlight often misses neighborhoods that are home to some of the Valley's best kitchens — including those making metro Phoenix's best tacos. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be guiding you toward the Valley’s tastiest tacos, and the taquerías that serve them. Welcome to Taco Summer.
45: Tacos Sahuaro
Taquería: Tacos Sahuaro, 2320 North 32nd Street
Open Since: 2009
Style: Homestyle Mexican cooking, often featuring handmade tortillas
Signature Taco(s): Carne asada, chicharrón, chicken, and chorizo are standouts
Where do you go when you want to feel like you're having dinner at your tia's house? You go to a place like Tacos Sahuaro, an east side Mexican restaurant that's been a landmark on 32nd Street for nearly a decade.
If you spend any time in this part of town, the restaurant's brightly painted storefront and its prominent sign featuring a cheery-looking saguaro feasting on some Mexican food has no doubt become a familiar sight.
Inside the counter-service restaurant, the dim, largely windowless dining room is brightened up by yellow walls and neatly hung sarapes. In the evenings, a TV in the corner is usually tuned to the latest telenovela hit. You'll sometimes see diners gather near the TV, which lends the dining room a relaxed, family-room feel.
Tacos Sahuaro itself is a family effort, says Antonio Carbajal, one of the restaurant's co-owners.
Carbajal is part of a large blended family, he tells me, with roots in the Mexican states of Colima (where his mother was born), Michoacán (where his father's family hails from), and Guerrero (where his stepdad was born).
"But the recipes are all from my mother, Maribel Dorantes," Carbajal says in Spanish, a hint of pride in his voice.
Carbajal says he's probably most proud of the gorditas, sopes, and birria they make at the restaurant.
"We make all our gorditas, quesadillas, and sopes from scratch by hand," he says.
As for the tacos, the kitchen doesn't generally make every tortilla fresh to order. But if you really want your taco served on a freshly pressed tortilla, the kitchen is more than willing to accommodate. Just ask, says Carbajal.
On most days, the restaurant offers around nine taco meat options, including popular standards like carne asada, pollo asado, and al pastor, as well as harder-to-find offal like buche (pork stomach) and an extra-spicy chicharrón.
"My favorite is probably our carne asada," says Carbajal.
It's hard to get two people to agree on the exact parameters of a very good carne asada, the topic engendering never-ending debate among taco hipsters.
At Tacos Sahuaro, the steak is chopped up finely so that it takes on an almost crumbly texture. The grizzled, bubbly nubs are both juicy and crispy, and kissed with a delicious, smokey char that evokes memories of a thousand backyard barbecues. It's hard not to love the carne asada at Tacos Sahuaro.
Another highlight are the chicharrón tacos, served home-style and soupy, the way so many of us grew up eating the slippery cueritos (pigskin). The melty slivers of pork are irresistibly tender, served in a medium-spicy red chile sauce that might make your lips go slightly numb for a few seconds.
If you live for a taco that delivers equal parts flavor and spice, try one of the house chorizo tacos. The ultra-flavorful, sweet-spicy chorizo is loosely packed and nicely charred on the griddle. And, although it might seem like one of the least exciting options on the taco menu, the pollo asado tacos are a small revelation. The chicken is finely chopped and aggressively seasoned, then skillfully crisped so that none of the flavor or juice is lost to the griddle.
When I press Carbajal again about whether there's a definite, must-try taco at El Sahuaro, he laughs.
"Todos estan buenos," Carbajal says. They're all good.