Diners Discuss How to Get a Reservation At Bacanora, the Hottest Restaurant In Phoenix | Phoenix New Times

Bacanora Wins a Lot of Awards. ‘Toughest Reservation to Get in the City’ Might Be One of Them

Long waits and monthly reservation drops are par for the course when battling for a table at Bacanora.
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On a sultry, mostly sunny Saturday afternoon this fall, Brandon Blitz and his brother Travis found a shady spot under the tree at the entrance to Bacanora, the much-lauded Sonoran restaurant on Grand Avenue. The doors wouldn't open for another 10 minutes, but the Blitzes were there at 4:50 p.m. to ensure they'd be on time for their reservation.

Just a few hours prior, however, being at the James Beard Award-nominated restaurant was on neither's radar. Brandon had been trying to get reservations at Bacanora for seven months, putting himself on waitlists for multiple dates through the restaurant's reservation platform, Resy. A coveted table always eluded him.

Then at 2 p.m., he received a notification that a table for two may be available at 5 p.m. From previous experiences, Brandon knew time was precious. If he didn't act soon — within a minute or two, max — another waitlister would snatch it up. His wife could not go. But she didn't want to let that stop him. According to Brandon, she commanded, "You cannot miss this. You have to go." He secured the booking and called Travis.

"If I waited 30 more seconds, it would've been gone," Brandon says of the reservation. Travis had planned to spend his Saturday evening preparing for a major out-of-town work event. But upon hearing the B-word, he knew where priorities lay.

"I have a lot of stuff to do," Travis says, emphasizing the words "a lot." "For any other place, I wouldn't do it. But I'll drop anything for good food."

The Blitzes, who live in Phoenix, hoped to order everything they could for their first Bacanora meal. They were going to make the most of Brandon's successful effort, as they weren't sure when this opportunity would come their way again.

"This is the hardest place to get a reservation at. And we eat out a lot," Brandon says. Travis frequents other restaurants where securing reservations is difficult, and he often finds success walking in and eating at the bar. "But not this one," he says, "you can't do that here."

'We Just Wanted to Get in'

Bacanora opened in March 2021, and from day one it's been a culinary darling of Valley dining critics who praise it for the bevy of charred delights emerging from a fiery grill and creative, thoughtful takes on regional Mexican fare. A James Beard Award nomination this spring and best restaurant nods in Esquire, Bon Appétit, and The New York Times has shone a national spotlight on Bacanora, with locals and visitors alike vying for one of just 36 seats. The competition for a bite here is fierce.

The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday and serves brunch on Sundays. Stays are capped at 90 minutes to allow reservations to be honored in a timely manner. Tales of unsuccessful months-long attempts to capture online reservations or of queuing up early in hopes of getting lucky as walk-ins are plentiful.

When it comes to the award for "Toughest Reservation to Get in the City," Bacanora easily could be the winner. But there are strategies for snaring a seat.

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The sign near Bacanora’s door asks guests to wait outside while joking — or maybe not — about the possible wait time non-reservation holders may face.
Georgann Yara

For Brandon, getting on the waitlist for several dates and responding nearly immediately to the Resy notice was his golden ticket. Phoenix couple Shaina and Matt Rozen know willingness to be early bird diners can reap rewards.

The Rozens showed up at 4:45 p.m., right before the Blitz brothers. They were the first to arrive, and within minutes, the line grew around and behind them. The couple knew the drill for those who aren't lucky reservation holders. For months, they had tried to capture a booking online with no luck. They waited as walk-ins numerous times.

Once, back in April, they were successful as they were the last ones to get seats amid a line that stretched down the block. That night, they had the ribeye — the same dish they planned on ordering this time. This time, they weren't deterred by a temperature of 92 degrees that felt closer to 100, a possible wait, or eating early.

"It's some of the best steak I've had. We will wait for good food," Shaina says. "We like supporting local restaurants and chefs who are doing something unique, so yes, it's worth the wait." Matt adds, "There's nothing like it in town, too."

At 5 p.m. on the dot, Bacanora hostess Rose Arivas emerged from the air-conditioned restaurant and greeted the crowd, which had grown to 27 people. She organized everyone by category — reservations and walk-ins — and systematically worked her way through the line, seating reservation holders first and then giving options to first-come, first-served hopefuls.

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At 5 p.m. sharp, Bacanora hostess Rose Arivas addresses the group of nearly 30 hungry patrons hoping to be part of the Saturday dinner crowd.
Georgann Yara

The Rozens' plan succeeded as they procured one of the three sidewalk tables. For walk-ins who don't mind braving the elements and skipping the booze, which is not allowed outside of the restaurant, a willingness to dine outdoors is one way to a secure table. Another walk-in gets lucky if a reservation is a no-show after the strict 15-minute grace period. Also, depending on the timing, some online cancellations are left open to accommodate walk-ins.

A combination of these options was the key for Leslie Guzman and her boyfriend, who drove from Tucson for the Kendrick Lamar concert at Footprint Center. Guzman knew they had to get to Bacanora by 5 p.m. or risk finding a pre-concert dinner elsewhere. Two weeks prior, Guzman saw all online reservations were taken. She put her name on the waitlist, but that didn't pan out. On the day of the concert, she received an availability notification, but by the time she checked, it was gone.

The couple arrived close to opening time and were numbers 16 and 17 in line. When they got to the door, Arivas took their names. After about a 10-minute wait, Arivas showed the couple to seats at the narrow window counter that faces Grand Avenue. They ordered cocktails, elote, and the popular 36-ounce ribeye, which they planned to split.

Guzman says she has never heard of a restaurant reservation or seat so difficult to get. But the service and friendliness of everyone they encountered made it a non-issue.

"We didn't care where we had to sit. We just wanted to get in," Guzman says. She knew about the accolades. "We're really, really excited."

'They Know It's Going to be a Wait'

Since Bacanora implemented a reservation system at the end of January, Arivas has had the task of managing the line. By now, Phoenicians know either to have a reservation or prepare to hang out. "They know it's going to be a wait. Those that don't mind waiting will show up and wait for two hours," Arivas says.

Business did not slow during the summer. Arivas is well aware of the impact numerous local glowing reviews and high-profile honors have had. But on that fall evening, the mention in Bon Appétit had just published. When asked if that would add to the already high demand, she grasps the repercussions. "Probably. Oh, that's crazy," Arivas says as she glances down at her reservation tablet.

On the first of every month, the restaurant releases all reservation spots open for the following month. On September 1, all available openings for October were gone in a half-hour.

The difficulty of procuring a reservation is not lost on chef and co-owner Rene Andrade, the man behind the grill. He's heard the stories about the exhaustive undertakings of customers to get in. He recalls Bacanora's pre-reservation days when the line of hopeful diners stretched 30 or 40 people long and lasted for hours. In order to resolve issues that precipitate from these kinds of waits, Andrade and business partners Armando Hernandez and Nadia Holguin went the reservations route.

"Everyone likes to plan nowadays, so we were listening to the consumer," Andrade says. "It's been like that since day one. We've been very lucky to have that happen to us."

And with all of the national kudos, the reservation system is a way for out-of-state visitors to experience Bacanora for themselves.

"We get people from New York City that fly in and layover here to have dinner, then go to wherever they're going," Andrade says. When Andrade is reminded of the recognition his restaurant and cooking has received, he exhales with a slight chuckle. It's a blessing laced with a little curse. He feels the need to be at the top of his game every single night.

"I never imagined this would happen to me. I've been lucky enough to be around the right people, and I work my heart out to show that," he says.

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Bacanora co-owner and chef Rene Andrade with the Chiltepin peppers he gets from his family's ranch in Sonora.
Jackie Mercandetti

Does he feel extra pressure?

"Yes, there are people who it takes a couple of months or three months to get in here. My job is like Eric Clapton rocking it ... to give them the whole experience they expect," he says.

When asked whether his restaurant is the toughest reservation to get in the city, Andrade agrees, but he attributes it to Bacanora's small capacity. Extending hours and adding another day to the schedule cross his mind as possible ways to ease the process.

Building a Food Culture

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Seatings are capped at 90 minutes to allow for a better flow and to adhere to reservation times.
Georgann Yara

Andrade spends a lot of time visiting restaurants in other cities, watching, observing, and keeping track of how they are serving their customers and what diners are asking for. He brings that insight back to Bacanora. He also believes that if he can get visitors to come to his establishment, they will also check out other restaurants in Phoenix, which will benefit the city's entire food and beverage community.

He talks about restaurants in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City, where reservations are not an option and long wait times are accepted. He sees Phoenix as a serious food city in the same league and wonders if that culture of appreciating the food enough to wait will ever find a home here. He accepts that it's his job to cultivate that.

"If that's the kind of city we want to be ... our job as chef-owners is to see how we can continue proving ourselves and also pushing ourselves," he says. "It's very important to me."

And for every Brandon Blitz and Leslie Guzman, there are a few more like Sonia Martinez, who has been trying faithfully — and unsuccessfully — to land an online reservation for two months. She's called the restaurant to make sure the reservation platform was working correctly and ask whether any seats were being held back. She's also inquired about the possibility of showing up and waiting. The answers she received: Yes; no; and you can try but ...

"Every time I look, it's always booked out," says Martinez, who lives in Mesa. "I'm not going to drive 20 miles to wait and not get in." Martinez is Mexican and Yaqui, and her mother's family is from Sonora. She's lived in the Valley for 16 years and is still on the lookout for Mexican cuisine that will knock her socks off. When she saw Andrade's menu, she got excited. Then the James Beard Award nomination hit.

"There's a Mexican restaurant on this list? I was shocked. I thought, this seems amazing,'" Martinez says. "I can't believe Phoenix has a restaurant like this, where you cannot get in. I'm excited that it does and am grateful, but at the same time, can an average person go to it?"

But what Andrade is doing with ingredients and the possibility of his dishes providing the satiation she's been craving since moving to the Valley wins.

"Yes, I will absolutely keep trying," Martinez says.


1301 Grand Avenue, #1

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