When a new spot opens in town, we're eager to check it out, 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 — an occasion to sample a few items and satisfy curiosities (both yours and ours).
Restaurant: The Golden Pineapple Craft Lounge
Location: 2700 South Mill Ave, Tempe
Eats: Southwestern, Mexican, and seafood fare
Open: About three months
Price: $12 to $50
Hours: 3 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday, 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
The food and drink options on The Golden Pineapple’s menu have a very "San Diego" quality to them — lots of Mexican dishes and seafood fare and tropical-leaning craft cocktails.
But this new Tempe restaurant — housed in the former Riazzi's Italian Garden, which operated in the neighborhood from 1989 to 2017 — is actually quite local. It serves Chula oysters, Schreiner's Fine Sausage chorizo, and Arizona Sake (though we might have liked to see more Arizona products represented on the cocktail and wine menus). The place is brought to you by local operators as well: Justin Evans and the gang behind The Sleepy Whale in downtown Chandler and The Theodore in downtown Phoenix.
On a recent trip, we brought home three dishes — tamale fries, the brisket burger, and Grandma’s Tacos — as well as two craft cocktails, the Malaysian Mule and the Chet Baker. (Extra points for the compostable carryout containers.)
These tamale fries are special. They have soft potato innards surrounded by a heavy tamale encasing. They look soft, like the underbelly of a Christmastime tamale, but they're not. (I know because I jammed a fork into one and was firmly denied.) They are extremely crunchy — the shell is so biscotti-like you almost think you’d hear a snap if you broke one in half — and delicious.
A layer of Schreiner's chorizo, cured jalapeño, and hot-pink pickled onion slivers gives the fries a colorful top layer, though it’s tough to keep the crumbling sausage on the rectangular tamale fry in any way. The two elements must be enjoyed separately.
The brisket burger, ordered medium rare, was very juicy and topped with fire-roasted Hatch green chilis, Colby Jack cheese, caramelized onion, shredded lettuce, and pickled tomatillos — which provided the majority of the burger’s heat.
The thing was enclosed by a Noble Bun, which was almost too small for this burger, though the patty and toppings spilled over the sides, appealingly. The frites-style street fries on the side were thick, puffy, and well-seasoned; I dipped them in what I assume was an the avocado aioli sauce (nothing was labeled).
Grandma's Tacos called out to me for some reason. They're a good size and they give you three: well-flavored ground beef, lettuce, and tomato. The best part? The chunky salt on the outside of their crispy, oil-soaked shells, an excellent touch that I plan to adopt for my own tacos. Not as great: the chiltepin salsa could have used a lot more heat.
On to the drinks.
The to-go Malaysian Mule was bottled and required a bottle opener, maybe your own home copper mug if you’re that kind of person. It consisted of Tito's Handmade Vodka, kaffir lime leaf, Thai chili, lemongrass, house ginger beer, and lime salt. It smelled incredible, like a scented candle you wish you could drink. The ginger really slaps you in the throat.
The other, the Chet Baker, was selected for the many rums involved, which came from Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Guyana. All that rum, and yet it arrived in the tiniest little jar I’ve ever seen. For $11, it deserved the “Where’s the rest of it?” jokes we made at its expense.
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I grabbed the smallest juice glass in my house, and Chet still didn’t make the rim. I should have got the Paloma (and I'm still curious about the house-made grapefruit soda it's made with). The Chet was fine, though I wouldn't order it again. I did feel a decent buzz, at least — all that rum.
The portions at The Golden Pineapple are a little small for the price, but I should also note that these dishes are a little like triple-concentrated laundry detergent. They're more filling than they look. The offerings here are heavy and heavy-handed.
At some point, we’ll be returning for entrees like the Baja Fried Fish and Achiote Chicken and — in the cooler days ahead — its enticing, Tempe-famous patio.