First Taste

First Taste: Global Comfort Food With New Mexican Roots

Tucked Away's colorful bar is a good place to be.
Tucked Away's colorful bar is a good place to be. Chris Malloy
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: Tucked Away Craft Kitchen & Bar
Location: 3630 East Southern Avenue, Suite B106, Mesa
Eats: Casual New Mexican with global touches
Price: $10 to $25 per person
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday

Actually tucked away beside a Safeway on Southern Avenue in Mesa, Tucked Away Craft Kitchen & Bar is a vibrant space. Sure, there’s the aerosol mural swirling behind the bar, cartoon eggplants and Swiss chard webbed with vivid veins. Sure, there’s a bold orange and cerulean design theme flanking the mural, wrapping the L-shaped bar. But there’s also lot of life and color in the eclectic food.

click to enlarge A pair of tostadas with green chile pork. - CHRIS MALLOY
A pair of tostadas with green chile pork.
Chris Malloy
One color: green. This is the deep hue of the Hatch chiles warming the green chile mac and cheese and a burger on brioche.

Another: red. Some of the chiles from New Mexico are red, like those of a red chile pork tostada and stacked enchilada plate. The red, too, extends to the flecks in the kimchi of a Korean fried chicken sandwich, the tomatoes in a Spanish-style pan con tomate, the cabbage in a cold soba noodle salad.

Tucked Away Kitchen is a casual but intimate restaurant with a focus on craft drinks, chiefly beer, and food anchored in New Mexico. The food veers well beyond the borders of the Land of Enchantment, with global touches and full dishes reaching to East Asia here, the Iberian Peninsula there. Both Chef Gabe Madrid and owner Sean Hayes are from La Cruces, New Mexico. While working within the empires of chefs like Bobby Flay and Jose Andres, they developed a taste for flavors of the far world. Hayes owns the month-old restaurant with his wife, Jo Franko. The two also own the Mesa craft beer bar Tipsy Cactus TapRoom & Bottle Shop.

Tucked Away is the kind of place where you want to sit at the bar. The seats are high. They bring you closer to the mural. The low-key vibe is thicker there. It's the kind of atmosphere of a brewery on a Saturday, when  mortal anxieties quiet and awareness of time seems to slide away.

click to enlarge A heavily toasted Cubano and serious homemade chips. - CHRIS MALLOY
A heavily toasted Cubano and serious homemade chips.
Chris Malloy
Generally, the food bends toward comfort food. For example, the three dinner entrees are meatballs, fried chicken, and enchiladas. The menu changes a little from lunch to dinner, keeping the same homey spirit throughout.

Keeping this baseline, the menu will chameleon into new iterations every quarter. “That’s the goal,” Hayes says, “for the whole food and drink menu to change every three months.”

To open, there are a few starters that can double as shareables. Tostadas come with wavy rims, almost looking like crisp yellow flowers. Their twin bowls are filled with soft pinto beans and, if you order right, red or green chile. The pork of the green chile is soft, so soft you can forget it’s there. Chopped lettuce gives some cool snap. This is a classic, satisfying Southwestern tostada.

Something to consider opening with is chips. Actually, you should definitely start with them. Though they pack so much salt that you can taste it on your lips minutes after the chips are gone, they are a great version. Each round is bubbled and oil-slick. They have a crisp shatter, some with slight chew in the middle. The red pepper aioli that comes with them is otherworldly, by far the best thing I tasted at Tucked Away. It's like smelling a freshly cut red pepper but in dip form, cool and mellow, rounding the salt and hot oil.

click to enlarge A mango margarita made with habanero-infused tequila. - CHRIS MALLOY
A mango margarita made with habanero-infused tequila.
Chris Malloy
Sandwiches dominate lunch and dinner menus. A good bet is the Cuban. The one here is heavily toasted, with black char leaping across the top of the hoagie roll. That roll harbors lots of pork, the dominant flavor here, so prevalent that it could be reeled in more by the mustard and cucumbers.

The solution? Save some of that aioli. Or ask for more.

I wouldn’t leave Tucked Away without drinking a local craft brew or cocktail. You could really post up at this bar for a long lunch, reading or phoning or chilling with a friend or two. The margarita made from habanero-infused tequila and mango is ideal for this, or for anything. It has a swaggering personality, glowing a neon amber. Its mango is huge and impossibly lush, yet harsh with the tequila and the heat lightly sizzling in your throat. 
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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy