First Taste

First Taste: Guisados and Non-Taco Finds at Just Tacos in Phoenix

Chris Malloy
A chille releno taco, one of the guisado options at Just Tacos.
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out, let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened — an occasion to sample a few items and satisfy curiosities (both yours and ours).

Restaurant: Just Tacos and More
Location: 2910 North 32nd Street
Open: About three months
Eats: Tacos, burritos, sopes, and more
Price: $2 to $20
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday, closed Sunday

Just Tacos and More, a taqueria opened on Thomas and 32nd Streets in the last days of winter, has been quietly cooking food worth a night of takeout at the least. There are tacos and burritos, sopes and huaraches, queso nachos and fried, rim-pinched quesadillas. The menu is festooned with shiny hooks. The biggest item: guisados.

click to enlarge CHRIS MALLOY
Chris Malloy
Guisados are homestyle delicacies, often cooked in a single pot for a long time. They are then spooned onto tortillas, becoming tacos. Just Tacos offers six guisados, including classics like roasted peppers with crema and shredded beef. Generous portions top corn tortillas. Final touches vary by taco, providing fine edits with dots of guacamole, curls of pickled onion, showers of panela cheese, and more.

Chicken tinga is one satisfying guisado option, though, like others, it appears outside the guisado section in other forms. For it, splinters of long-stewed meat pack tight, fragrant with cooked-tomato depth and roasted-chile hints. A deeper chile musk touches compact, rich chicharon prensado, a guisado of cured pork stewed with its skin in guajillo adobo.

The spiritual cornerstone of the guisados selection might be chile relleno, made, like the others, from family recipes.

Violeta Cortez, who runs the restaurant with a total of six owners, calls the chile relleno guisado out as her favorite. Stuffed with panela, egg-washed, battered, and fried, a plump jalapeno lords over its slightly thick corn tortilla. The pepper is so bloated with cheese you can barely wrap the tortilla around it. To your bite, molten white cheese gushes.

Cortez and her team have had a wild start, one that doesn’t seem to have affected the way food tastes in mid-June. Just Tacos and More opened on March 9. “It was bad timing,” Cortez says. “We opened and then unfortunately we had to close down for a little over a month.”

click to enlarge Fried quesadillas can be ordered a la carte. - CHRIS MALLOY
Fried quesadillas can be ordered a la carte.
Chris Malloy
In early May, as the state moved to permit dine-in, Just Tacos opened again. Despite staccato beginnings, the strip-mall restaurant is plating food that pledges no special allegiance to any single region of Mexico, coming, instead, “from all over.”

Chiefly, there are tacos in many forms: crunchy, soft, small (street), rolled, 5-inch, meat, and fish. Some have meticulously preset toppings and go by names, and to these you can add your meat or fish of choice. Nopales and chorizo adorn the El Hefe taco. One fish taco comes with sweet and sour sauce.

click to enlarge Close up of a shrimp burrito. - CHRIS MALLOY
Close up of a shrimp burrito.
Chris Malloy
The burritos here are also worthwhile, made in a maximal style far more involved than the simple meat burritos of Sonora. One burrito, the Arizona, is loaded with carne asada bits and huge gobs of smooth potato. Fish burritos are hit-and-miss across town, but the one I tried here was a big hit. It harbored succulent curls of shrimp, tangles of shredded cabbage, and a creamy chipotle-warmed sauce — altogether surprisingly on-point. Burritos come standard, chimichanga style, and/or as a plate with two sides.

At Just Tacos and More, the “and more” can take you places. Like a shell-bowled taco salad. Like strawberry margaritas. Like carlota de limon, the neatly layered cake sweet with milk and lime. One place you should follow the “and more” is masa, ideally fried.

Though halfmoons of fried quesadillas brim with meat and zigzag with sauces, and though a 10-inch plank of huarache is a mighty thing, the move here is to go sopes. They are small, you can order many a la carte, and you can get different toppings on each. At the edge of each tiny masa cake, fried to exalt the soul of the corn, the dough lips up, pooling in your meat — perhaps al pastor or carne asada, or perhaps the chicken tinga or chicharron prensado cloned from the guisados section.

Good-old carnitas, too, makes for a promising sope topping. Laden with crema, avocado, and chopped herbs, the tender meat foils the lightly chewy warm corn cake.

Still, I would visit for guisados and go from there. The homestyle spirit of guisados just fits so well with the juju of this place, warm and slightly freeform, even if you can also find a food-stylist-reminiscent tripa taco here as well, one with tactical purple onions curls, atomized herbs flecking centrally perched guac dollops, and cascading cheese clumps.

“We’re family-owned,” says Cortez. “We love doing tacos. That’s the reason we all started doing this.”