Cafe Reviews

El Hefe: Tabletop Taps and Mexican Food with a Twist in Scottsdale

One does not go to El Hefe Super Macho Taqueria for dinner. One goes to El Hefe Super Macho Taqueria for the tabletop taps.

An ingenious invention that, like Eden's apple, simply must be sampled despite its most assuredly sinful outcome, the self-serve taps sit like condensation-kissed gas pumps of alcohol at each booth. And when the attractive and friendly El Hefe server swipes a card to free the tap and fill the computer-screen beer glass with your first 32 ounces of Coors Light or Dos Equis, it is not so much a courtesy as it is a challenge. You and your guests will be fighting to be newly appointed deputy bartender, and you'll have every intention of draining its lode, literally and digitally.

That isn't to say El Hefe, which was opened in March in the entertainment hub on Saddlebag Trail in Old Town Scottsdale by Riot Hospitality Group owners Jon Wright (of The Lodge) and Ryan Hibbert and Mike Troyan (of American Junkie), doesn't have a few decent food offerings to go along with the good times. But the bites take a backseat to the alcohol-fueled fun in this cantina-gone-Scottsdale.

Only when you've made your drink selection from an array of margaritas (including the 32-ounce beer-garita, which includes a bottle of brew floating upside-down in the glass), cocktails, "loaded cervezas" (shot-filled beers), a wall-size blackboard listing more than 70 kinds of shots, or, yes, the tabletop taps, can you decide on a munch-worthy pairing, served on a weathered wooden tray with the El Hefe logo branded into the sides.

If you were to design a Mexican-themed bar and restaurant in Scottsdale next door to Majerle's Sports Grill, the upscale sports bar of Suns legend "Thunder" Dan Majerle, and ultra-exclusive nightclub Wild Knight, with the W Scottsdale Hotel and Axis/Radius just a few Jimmy Choo clicks away, it probably would look a lot like El Hefe Super Macho Taqueria. With its play on the word jefe, the Spanish word for "boss," the high-ceilinged room with garage doors that open to a patio is adorned with aged wood, hot pink lights and paint accents, and seats wrapped in vinyl-covered floral cloth. Mexican pop culture references done up in black-and-white tattoo art as wall murals and on skateboards give the place an "edgy" feel that's actually more metrosexual than macho, let alone super-macho.

Which brings us to the Sonoran-style menu created by former Noca sous chef Steven Smith. Featuring a humble offering of surprisingly wallet-friendly traditional standards with a few twists, the portion sizes are decidedly un-super-macho, as well, but who wants to fill up when it's time to party down? With events going on regularly, if there's one thing El Hefe has an abundance of, it's things to do with drink specials.

The guacamole is good, used best atop nachos with tasty carne asada and roasted onions. The nacho platter is less filling than most, thanks to a light and delicious melted Mexican cheese mix. And the three Mexico City quesadillas filled with tinga (stewed shredded chicken) are satisfying and bring a nice, even heat. Take a pass on the queso fundido dip. Its bits of roasted poblanos and chorizo seemed trapped in a too-thick cheese sauce that even the accompanying folded tortillas could not so much as make a dent in.

If you want to eat light, might I suggest a "La Chica Flaca," or skinny margarita, in lieu of Hefe's house salad, which was too heavy on the greens and consisted of an unpleasant, stinging sensation in nearly every bite because of an overload of cayenne candied pecans.

If you must have tacos, there are six of them served street-food size in corn tortillas. At just three bucks apiece, you will find them, for the most part, satisfactory. The carne asada, the pork with sweet pieces of roasted pineapple, and the braised beef cheek with pickled red onions fare better than grilled mushroom or the barely-there duck tacos.

There's an average Sonoran hot dog, barely wrapped in bacon but featuring a zippy green chili avocado salsa. And there are tortas in carne asada, chicken, and breakfast styles, too. The carne asada torta (with the option of the fried egg) is the best bet; just be sure to ask for extra meat, since it most likely will arrive skimping on the carne.

Surprisingly, the best dish at El Hefe is the least Mexican one: the hamburger. Simple yet immensely satisfying, this perfectly prepared Angus beef patty is topped with grilled peppers and onions, melted Oaxaca queso and a bit of chipotle mayo and features a delicious sweet heat, thanks to jalapeño marmalade.

And although dessert may not come to mind in a place where most of the patrons may consider club-hopping a part of their exercise regimen, the churros, served with three ladylike jars of housemade dipping sauces (Mexican chocolate ganache, dulce de leche, and coconut curd) should be ordered for two reasons. One, because the deep-fried Spanish doughnuts are made to order — fresh and crunchy and sugar-smacking good — and, two, the churros come with a dreamy and creamy horchata milkshake.

And if you decide to dunk a churro, drop in a shot, or even add a squirt or two from the table taps into your shake, you would be forgiven for pushing the limits of partying.

After all, when at El Hefe, do as el jefe.