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).
When Little Anita’s New Mexican Foods
announced it was coming to the Valley, fans were excited. Following the buzz, the restaurant opened on August 12, and commenters on the local restaurant's Facebook page
One posted, “It makes my heart so happy to have a little piece of home here in AZ!”
The chain began in Albuquerque in 1976 and has nine locations in New Mexico, four in Colorado, and now one in Chandler in the former Juan Jaime’s location near Chandler Boulevard and the Loop 101. A second location is expected to open later this year near 16th Street and Thomas Road in Phoenix.
After an initial visit to a nearly empty restaurant, however, it’s unclear why the Valley — which already boasts many delightful New Mexican eateries — needs the current or future versions of Little Anita’s.
The dining area at Little Anita's in Chandler features a mural by Leila Parnian.
The configuration at the Chandler outpost is the same as its previous tenant, with the dining room to the left and bar area to the right. The dining room pops with a graphic mural of a Catrina, the iconic Day of the Dead female skeleton, setting the backdrop, and bright pink, orange, blue, and turquoise plastic chairs echoing the schematic.
No actual strawberries were harmed in the making of this strawberry margarita.
The mural's colors are picked up on the swirling epoxy bar top, and both were done by local artist Leila Parnian. Her stunning work is showcased around town at Brunch Snob, The Porch, and Wandering Donkey Taqueria & Tequila Bar.
Unfortunately, the food does not match the impressive decor.
There’s no cocktail list, but margaritas come in a variety of flavors and are $7 during happy hour, which runs from 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays. The strawberry had a medicinal flavor and the mango was cloying; the fake flavorings were apparent.
The Trio includes guacamole, chili con queso, and bean dip.
Moving on to appetizers, a dish called The Trio ($9.50) included guacamole, chile con queso, and bean dip with chips. The guacamole was darkened and slimy, a giveaway that it was past its prime. The chile con queso tasted like the retro Velveeta-and-Rotel combo, but blander, no thanks to a miserly amount of flabby diced green chilies. The bean dip had a hint of spice but was watery, and a good portion of the chips were broken scraps too small to scoop the dips.
Next, the main dishes arrived. The No. 2 combination plate ($18.95) included a crumbly tamale, a chile relleno with no spice, a gummy cheese enchilada, and a taco filled with gray, unseasoned ground beef and lifeless iceberg lettuce stuffed into a stale shell. The menu also promised guacamole, but it was not missed.
The “Christmas” style sauces — red and green — splashed across the plate didn’t perk anything up. The green sauce was washed out, with no tang or heat, and the red sauce, which was actually orange, had no depth or richness. The rice was dry, the beans chalky, and both were bland. Topping everything with copious amounts of shredded cheese wasn’t helping.
Chicken enchiladas, like most plates, come with rice and beans.
One redeeming item was the Carne Adovada burrito ($13.95), which came stuffed with slightly smoky pork. Chicken enchiladas, however, were just as disappointing as the combo plate due to the lackluster sauces and excess cheese. And while the menu stated sopaipillas — puffy, fried pastry dough — came with all plates, none were delivered.
The food came out promptly. However, requests for basics such as utensils, napkins, and water all appeared to be a novel idea to our server. After delivering items, she scurried away and huddled over her phone with her back turned. She also chastised us for removing one of the plates from the placemat it was served on, saying that the beautiful epoxy bar unfortunately is not heat-resistant.
The epoxy bar at Little Anita's in Chandler is a work of art by Leila Parnian.
Perhaps the restaurant's charms were lost at the state line, but this subpar effort does nothing to celebrate the usually delectable cuisine of the Land of Enchantment. Sorry former New Mexico residents and Facebook enthusiasts, Little Anita's doesn't live up to the hype.
2150 West Chandler Boulevard, #1, Chandler