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.
33: Mr. Mesquite
Taquería: Mr. Mesquite (Old Town Scottsdale: 7345 E Shoeman Ln, Scottsdale and North Scottsdale: 7000 E Mayo Blvd Suite 1066)
Open Since: 2014
Style: Mesquite-grilled chicken and steak
Signature Taco: Chicken and steak tacos
In any city, late night street food options — really late, like two, three, or four in the morning — thrive alongside dependably busy nightlife venues that bring together high foot traffic and big appetites. Here in Phoenix these are the only two areas where you can find independent food purveyors open until the wee hours. (The exception being pop-up joints next to destination bars, like Taqueria Los Yaquis, which is parked permanently next to Charlie’s in the Melrose District of Central Phoenix.)
That said, in recent memory, neither Mill Avenue nor Old Town Scottsdale are the easiest areas for small business owners to break into thanks to the astronomical rent prices, which is why two brothers with an idea for a walk-up taco stand, focused first and foremost on finding the smallest possible foot print that wasn't a mobile cart.
In 2014, brothers Ahmad and Naser Alatrash, along with their then-business partner Miguel Sanchez, set up shop as Wadaa Street Tacos, squeezed into what was formerly a small office adjacent to the concentrated mass of some of the state’s clubbiest venues — Bottled Blonde, El Hefe, Maya, and Dakota among them.
“The one in Old Town was a gold mine and a hit from the start,” Ahmad says. He was approaching 18 and working at a Little Caesar’s when they first opened. His brother, Naser, had some experience in Old Town and was the one who signed their first lease.
“He knew about the foot traffic. He knew it would be a crazy spot for something.”
They tore apart the office and renovated it, creating a single room with a large open-air window order and watch the cooks maneuver the mesquite grills at high speeds and prep salsas in real-time.
“It was booming, and we had a huge following over there,” Ahmad says. “It was the best feeling ever. It was our company, instead of working for someone else… It was a blessing.”
Last year, the pair bought out their business partner, Miguel Sanchez, and decided to expand. They started by rebranding their Old Town location as Mr. Mesquite and then opened a second location in the earlier-to-bed North Scottsdale area.
“Now we’ve opened up a concept store,” Ahmad says.
In their North Scottsdale location, they decided to make a departure from their original concept, creating a sleek, fast-casual restaurant ala Chipotle. There you can still see the large, open grills, outfitted with wheels that are turned to move the grates closer and farther away from the heat source, but in this location there is an area to sit down, and the carne asada and chicken can be ordered in the form of a burrito, burrito bowl, or salad.
Just as they filled the void of late night, cooked-to-order tacos in Old Town, Ahmad feels that their new concept is something they could duplicate in other neighborhoods around Phoenix that lack good options for mesquite grilled meats and tacos.
In the meantime, the nightly queue for their mesquite grilled chicken and steak tacos in Old Town aren't getting any shorter, with a following that includes not only the average bar goer, but also the celebrities who performed at the nearby clubs and local sports stars, like shooting guard Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns and Tyrann Mathieu of the Arizona Cardinals. In a few short years, Mr. Mesquite has become as essential to Old Town's late-night scene as the bars and clubs that surround it.
Our Taco Summer picks so far:
50. Taqueria Don Beto
49. Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa
48. Tacos Tijuana
47. El Burrito Grande
46. El Horseshoe Restaurant
45. Tacos Sahuaro
44. El Pollo Correteado
42. La Fiesta
41. Taqueria Lucy
40. Tortas Ahogadas George
39. Taqueria El Chino
38. Joe's Tacos
37. Taqueria El Gallo de Lagos
36. Tacos Huicho
35. Puffy Taco Shack