Arizona Mills' New Food Hall: Burritos By Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza and Sad Noodle Soup

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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: The "Food Hall by Villa" at Arizona Mills mall Location: 5000 S. Arizona Mills Circle, Tempe Open: About a week Eats: 10 new restaurant concepts Price: About $10 a person

Normally, we don't think twice about the food found in a shopping mall but when we heard that Arizona Mills mall in Tempe was unveiling a renovated, multimillion-dollar, 13,262-square-foot concessions area -- well, we just had to check it out.

Part of the intrigue comes from the fact that one of the 10 new restaurant concepts in the food court hall comes from James Beard Award-nominated chef Silvana Esparza. The concept, called Tinta Mexicana, offers build-your-own burritos, tacos, bowls, and quesadillas.

See also: Raspados Paradise Mexican Food: Finally, a Reason to Go to Arizona Mills Mall

We headed there first.

An entree with chicken from Tinta costs $6.25, which is a quarter cheaper than the $6.50 charged at Chipotle. On the other hand, Tinta's carne asada will set you back $7.55, slightly more than Chipotle's steak. Averaging it all out the prices are pretty much even so this Chiptole-esque mall stop is clearly trying to beat the competition on quality not price.

According to the bag on the counter, the restaurant is getting their tortillas from the reputable La Sonorense Bakery in Phoenix. Flour tortillas are used for burritos, while corn are used for the three soft taco entree option.

Based on looks, we chose to stuff our burro with chicken, which we were surprised to see the employees cut to order. We also added black beans (pinto are also available), rice, and a slew of other toppings. This is where Tinta steps it up by offering a larger number of burrito toppings than it's well-known competition. We love that you can add onions and cilantro, three different kinds of salsa, pico de gallo, corn, diced tomatoes, and even pickled veggies. Cheese and sour cream are also on hand, as well as guacamole for an additional $1.25.

We were disappointed however to find that the rice in our burrito was partially under-cooked. And biting into hard grains of rice really took away from what was otherwise a very good burrito. The chicken was moist and flavorful, seasoned-well and grilled expertly and each of the salsas had its own bold flavor. The burrito was more than enough food for one hungry diner.

Next we headed to Mo Burger, the largest restaurant in the mall's food hall. It's the most upscale of all the dining options, with beer and wine available on tap and a separate seating area complete with booths and a counter/bar.

The menu includes three types of signature burger creations, an option to build your own, and a few starters. For dessert you can snag a frozen custard.

Having already built a burrito, we decided to go with one of the pre-set entree options. And once we noticed the Mo Crunch Burger, we knew we had to try it. The burger includes two patties (all signature burgers do), guacamole, pepperjack cheese, and Doritos. Yup, as in the chips. For $6.95 you don't get any sides so we also took an order of the fried portobello mushrooms.

The burger wasn't nearly as weird as we thought it would be and in fact we really enjoyed the crunchiness of the chips. The patties were small and lacking any substantial flavor, but the slight heat from the cheese did a nice job of covering that up. As for the guacamole, it tasted exactly like the kind you buy in a pouch at the grocery store. Each component of the dish was lackluster, but together somehow made an acceptable -- if greasy -- creation.

The tempura batter portobello mushrooms we enjoyable while piping hot, but once they began to cool the grease made them soggy and therefore pretty much inedible.

Finally, we stopped by Sukotto Japanese Grill for one last meal. This is your go-to spot for grilled-to-order terkiyaki but that's hardly all the restaurant serves. You can also get sushi (if you're willing to try raw fish at a mall food court hall) and noodle soups.

We ordered a shrimp noodle soup bowl ($6.95) but can't recommend you do the same. The thick broth tasted like it may have been flavored via cube and the noodles were a strange variety that looked and tasted like skinny spaghetti. The toppings consisted of a few leafy vegetable, making this a lousy way to spend your money. There was at least an abundance of shrimp -- except they were overcooked and chewy. This was hands down the saddest bowl of noodle soup we've ever eaten.

As far as ambiance goes, the Food Hall by Villa isn't exactly first-date-worthy but it is an improvement from the past. The new food court has been entirely renovated from top to bottom to give the whole place a more upscale, modern look.

Other options at the new Arizona Mills food hall include:

  • Villa Italian Kitchen (Italian, pizza, pasta)
  • Green Leaf's (salads, sandwiches, wraps, paninis)
  • Bananas Smoothies & Frozen Yogurt
  • South Philly Steaks & Fries
  • Far East Asian Fire (Chinese/Japanese similar to Panda Express)
  • Church's Chicken
  • Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

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