Phoenix contains hundreds of Mexican restaurants, and some are better than others. We're lucky to be a city with so many places to chow down on tacos, enchiladas, and all the great staples of our southern neighbor. At times, though, you encounter a Mexican restaurant that's a huge miss. Not these three. This trio of spots we've recently visited (or revisited) satisfies completely. Ranging from new-age to old-school spots, here are three Mexican restaurants sure to deliver just what you crave.
El Chino Restaurante y Cantina
(711 South Central Avenue)
El Chino Restaurante y Cantina opened this February in a sprawling 5,000-square-foot space in downtown Phoenix's Warehouse District. It's the first full-service restaurant and bar from husband-and-wife team Rafael and Lynn Ung, who also own the excellent mom-and-pop taco shop Taquería El Chino. El Chino Restaurante y Cantina already has the airs of a neighborhood hangout. On weekend nights, the daytime barfly milieu in the dining room gives way to the throbbing sounds of live music and DJs on the restaurant's stage. As for the food, El Chino Restaurante y Cantina's menu leans heavily on Mexican-American restaurant staples, including enchiladas, chile rellenos, tostadas, and carne asada tacos. The homemade red enchilada sauce, robust yet well-balanced, makes the gorditas in particular a knockout dish.
(202 North Central Avenue)
Céntrico, a Mexican restaurant that opened inside the historic San Carlos Hotel last December, joins a growing constellation of new restaurants and bars clustered near the intersection of Central Avenue and Monroe Street. Breakfast is served all day, and the lunch menu kicks in around 11 a.m. Chef Miguel Beltran's antojitos ("little cravings") menu includes standard plates like chips and fresh salsa, fresh guacamole, and queso fundido served with rajas and flour tortillas. The chilaquiles are laced with caramelized onions and Oaxaca cheese, slicked with a layer of beans, and topped with fresh herbs and papery rounds of shaved radish. Carne asada tacos, served on powdery soft flour tortillas, feature hunks of marinated skirt steak and juicy nubs of grilled nopal cactus. Céntrico wraps up service at 2 p.m. on most days, but it's a solid new Mexican breakfast and lunch spot in downtown Phoenix.
(3961 East Camelback Road)
When it comes to defining "taco," Richard Hinojosa of CRUjiente keeps things open: "A taco in essence is a good tortilla, a focused topping with accompaniments. You’ve got to be able to pick it up and eat it as a whole. That’s it.” Hinojosa opened CRUjiente Tacos in November 2016. He makes chicken tacos. He makes beef tacos. He makes scallop, octopus, and lobster tacos. He makes a poke taco with a taro root chip for a shell, a shrimp taco sopping with green curry. Hinojosa presses his own tortillas using heirloom blue corn masa. He has made flavored tortillas by mixing corn with cilantro, poblano, Fresno chile, cardamom, and dashi. Some of his food is traditional, like posole, ceviche, and guacamole, and some is more progressive. People, he says, are starting to open their minds about what Mexican food can be.