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Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Vecina

This fiercely original restaurant, which opened its heavy front door in Arcadia in 2019, is a gem from start to finish. A one-of-a-kind menu is driven by vegetables, rooted in Latin America, and laced with countless dimensions of chile heat. It also drills down to molecular details like few other places in Arizona. For instance: elote, simple street corn, contains some 40 ingredients. Other dishes include unlikely elements, like a beautifully pepper-centric habanero salsa that gains its creamy X-factor from butter. Entering the minimal restaurant with a bar in the middle, you wouldn't expect such a nuanced approach. What you sense when you enter is smoke — grill smoke that perfumes the restaurant from the rig in the kitchen, where mesquite burns, which plays a role in almost every dish on the menu. Most of those dishes are small: potatoes with jalapeño crema, Peruvian-style hiramasa ceviche with an unspeakably lush coconut-based sauce, cauliflower crushed by 900-degree heat, a pepper-kissed romaine salad with Mexican Sriracha. Large-format plates go big. They've included a blackened pork chop with dazzling escabeche and, yes, carne asada rib-eye with thick ribbons of mesquite-perfumed fat. The beer list has rare finds, and a five-page wine list has options for every diner and every dish.

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