When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and 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, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: La Ristra New Mexican Kitchen Location: 638 East Warner Road, Gilbert Open: Four months (soft opening) Eats: New Mexican Price: $11 to $30 per person
The name John Gabaldon may not mean much to Valley diners, but his great aunt's name might ring a bell.
Victoria Chavez founded Los Dos Molinos (named after two antique chile grinders) nearly 40 years ago in Springerville, Arizona. Since then, the family's built a fiery reputation for New Mexican-style cuisine at locations throughout the Valley.
Now Gabaldon, along with members of his family, is hoping to carry on the decades-old tradition at La Ristra, his new restaurant in Gilbert.
One look at the menu and you couldn't be blamed for thinking La Ristra (the name refers to an arrangement of drying chile peppers) is more or less Los Dos Molinos with the addition of a few Spanish selections inspired by Gabaldon's birthplace.
All the Los Dos favorites are here: the carne adovada ribs, the red or green chile plate, the carnitas, etc. And the restaurant's more traditional dishes -- enchiladas, burritos, and chimichangas, served with New Mexican chile sauce choices of red, green, or "Christmas" (both) -- make appearances as well. It's pretty safe to say that as long as the kitchen is successfully executing the family recipes (which include two of the three complimentary salsas), you can expect the same stellar outcomes.
Like the blue corn enchiladas ($12.99). Topped with an egg, get them stacked, topped with juicy tender beef, and served with rich and spicy red and green sauces for a hearty New Mexican meal that easily can be shared by two. Sides of pinto beans and rice are bland and rather uninspired, but a pillowy fried sopapilla makes for a tasty scoop.
Not nearly as successful is La Ristra's signature green chile burger ($10.99). Recommended by my friendly server and topped with cheese and Hatch chiles, it's woefully under-seasoned patty and dry, low-quality bun proved to be poor stage-setters for the pepper Gabaldon's family harvests from New Mexico's village of Hatch each year. A side of equally seasoning-less skin-on potato wedges seems hardly worth mentioning.
Located on Warner Road just west of Lindsay Road, La Ristra's large, welcoming space is divided into two sections: a dining room (not finished on my visit), and a bar featuring more than 100 different tequilas, bottle and draft brews, and margaritas.
Given its Los Dos Molinos edge, La Ristra is halfway there when it comes to establishing itself as a noteworthy spot for New Mexican eats. But for a place that Gabaldon can truly call his own, he'll need to put more work into the recipes that don't come from the Los Dos Molinos cookbook.
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