First Taste

Joyride Taco House in Gilbert Starts Out Sputtering

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: Joyride Taco House Location: 302 North Gilbert Road, Gilbert Open: About a month Eats: Mexican Price: $11 to $30 per person

Joyride Taco House, like most projects from restaurateurs Craig DeMarco and Lauren Bailey -- think Postino, Windsor and Churn, and Federal Pizza -- does an excellent job of being stylish without coming off trendy, all while making you feel as though you belong there.

Located in downtown Gilbert's Historic Grainbelt Building (along with sister restaurant Postino East), the space, featuring a color-splashed room with garage doors on either side, two patios, and a centrally located bar, would be hard-pressed to be any more inviting. And décor items such as orb-shaped copper lights, graphic-patterned wallpaper, and eclectic artwork put a bit of funk in the Joyride trunk.

But the eats, which put a modern twist on traditional Mexican favorites, could use a bit of a tune-up.

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Joyride's menu is a tidy selection of shared plates, tacos, salads, burritos, and tortas, with many dishes featuring unexpected ingredients such as purslane, Spanish Mahón cheese, and Anasazi beans. Sadly, many of the items read better on paper than they come off tasting.

If you'd like a little guacamole to go along with your complimentary chips and very good fire-roasted salsa, it might be best to go the conventional route. Spending an extra buck for the crispy cheese-topped Joyride Style ($8), which promises, but fails to deliver on, ingredients like charred tomato, jalapeño, and sriracha, hardly seems worth it. The same could be said of the uninspiring trio of ceviches ($12.50), in which offerings of rockfish, ahi tuna, and scallop taste as if they'd been abandoned by each's supporting ingredients. Also, the dish comes with more chips than you'll know what to do with.

If you must have a taco ($3.50 to $4.25), know that the made-to-order corn tortillas are excellent, but for a self-described "Taco House" boasting ten kinds of them, you might wish the offerings weren't so hit-and-miss. The not-very-crispy crispy fish is better than the dry cochinita pibil, and the chicken tinga, labeled as "kinda hot," doesn't have much flavor at all, save for an excellent topping of house lime aioli called "white magic," which can found on dishes throughout the menu.

I preferred a satisfying burrito ($8) with bits of rotisserie chicken, veggies, and pico and amped up with splashes of Cholula hot sauce, to any of the tacos I tasted.

The one area Joyride can set on cruise control is its stellar cocktail program. Featuring a solid selection of cocktails, wine, American and Mexican beers, tequila, and tasty agua frescas that can be boozed up as you please, finding adult refreshment is an enjoyable endeavor.

Joyride's got the look of a DeMarco/Bailey restaurant, but the food needs some work to make it as successful as Central Phoenix's Federal Pizza was when it came out of the gate last October. I'm looking forward to returning to see its progress.

(Full disclosure: Minerva Orduño Rincón, who works at Joyride Taco House, is a regular contributor to Chow Bella.)

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld