First Taste

Fiesta Grill, in Tradiciones' Former Space, Is a Disappointing First Taste

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, 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: Fiesta Grill Location: 1602 East Roosevelt Street Open: Three weeks Eats: Mexican, Mexican-Korean fusion Price Point: $11-$30

Vacant since January 2011, the space attached to the Mexican superstore Pro's Ranch Market in Phoenix and former home of Tradiciones, the Mexican restaurant whose popularity waned over several years until its demise, is the new home of Fiesta Grill.

Billing itself as a sports bar and banquet hall, Fiesta Grill features a menu of familiar Mexican cuisine, mesquite flame-grilled burgers, and a few Korean fusion eats -- which, according to the Arizona Republic, owners Sirion (Sam) Lee, a developer in California, and Angel Martinez, who previously worked for El Torito, a chain of Mexican restaurants in California, added from Lee's native Korea.

A sports bar, a Mexican restaurant, Mexican-Korean fusion -- there's a lot going on at the new Fiesta Grill. Unfortunately, none of it gets done very well.

An exercise in blandness, the Sizzling Mesquite Combo, featuring a shrimp taco in jalapeño butter, a grilled steak and roasted pork taco, and, in place of the grilled chicken enchilada, an enchilada suiza with shredded chicken, elicited no standout flavors. In fact, it was difficult to tell where one protein ended and the next one began. Served with undercooked rice and missing the charro beans promised on the menu, the plate (save for the fresh tortillas and cotija cheese) brought to mind the middle-of-the-road fare served up at Mexican chain restaurants everywhere.

Korean-style dishes of bulgogi (marinated barbecued beef) tacos and kalbi (marinated short ribs) were equally disappointing. Aside from the faintest hint of sweetness, the bulgogi was difficult to discern from the flavor-starved grilled steak featured on the Sizzling Mesquite Combo. And after one bite of the tough and tasteless kalbi, I was relieved when I was told they had run out of kimchi, promised on the menu as an accompanying side dish.

Aside from the addition of three TVs, not much has changed in the cavernous interior done up in Mexican decor, making it hard to think of Fiesta Grill as a sports bar . Unless you are sitting at the bar, the screens are difficult to see. But that observation seems to be the least of Fiesta Grill's problems.

Given the number of options for solid Mexican food in the surrounding area (Pro's Ranch Market's in-store eatery right next door being one of them), Fiesta Grill will need to step up its flavor palette to stay competitive and avoid ending up the next casualty at the location.

What say you, Mexican food munchers? Have you been to Fiesta Grill yet? What did you think?

Follow Chow Bella on Facebook and Twitter.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld