Macayo's Family Makes Good at Arcadia's Milagro Grill

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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: Milagro Grill Location: 4280 East Indian School Road Open: Around a month Eats: Mexican-American fusion Price: Between $11 and $30 per person

See also: Mexican-American Fusion Restaurant Coming to Arcadia

There's a good reason Reed Johnson and siblings Ryan "Bubba" Johnson, Jaret Johnson, Brynn Johnson, and mother Nana Johnson opened their new Mexican-American fusion restaurant in Arcadia: They grew up there.

No strangers to the restaurant business (the four siblings are the grandchildren of Arizona restaurateurs Woody and Victoria Johnson, founders of the Mexican food chain Macayo's), the Johnson clan couldn't have selected a better spot for their new venture. In the last few months, the stretch of Indian School Road between 36th and 56th streets, has become a popular place for new restaurants.

And it's here in Arcadia, and in the former home of Joey's of Chicago, that the Johnson clan is making a go of Milagro Grill (Milagro means "miracle" in Spanish). And the neighborhood appears to be loving it.

Milagro's menu, created by chef James Fox, who was most recently at Big Earl's BBQ, features the flavors of Mexico mixed with American classics in appetizers and entrees as well as flatbreads, skewers, salads and soups, tacos, and side dishes. You'll probably pay a few dollars more than you would expect for most dishes, but then it is Arcadia.

There's also a healthy list of wines, cocktails, margaritas, and beers -- including a Milagro Private Label draft.

(Note: Milagro Grill is dark as sin at night. I have omitted or kept the food photography small so as not to confuse or frighten the reader.)

When my most helpful server recommended I start with the PB&J de Puerco ($10) appetizer, I nearly slipped into a dramatically audible sigh (who doesn't have a PB&J-and-something starter these days?). It was, however, unexpectedly delightful. Halved and larger than what you might expect (the size of a sandwich), thick, downy bread held together a most unique combination of luscious slices of pork belly, tomato jam, peanuts, arugula, and chiltepin peppers that worked together flawlessly for a salty, spicy, and smoky flavor highlighted with notes of sweet.

There are also three very good pollo tacos ($9). They are very small but feature lively and colorful bites of achiote chicken, white bean, red pepper, cabbage, and wonderful pickled red onion. Due to their miniature size, these might go over better as an appetizer or paired with an a la carte side dish or two.

Most disappointing was my Chuleta entree. The country-style ribs with a pineapple and orange sauce paired with chilaquiles and topped with an egg sounded like the perfect breakfast-for-dinner meal. Sadly, it was nothing more than a lukewarm plate of exceedingly fatty ribs coated in a sweet sauce next to a fairly flavorless pile of chilaquiles being sold for the ridiculous price of $24. Lesson learned.

After dinner, I might have preferred another cocktail to my Concha Frito, a dessert my server raved about, but, like the Chuleta entree, proved more palatable on the menu than the plate. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough cinnamon-salted caramel to assist in improving the flavor of the airy and bland sticks of concha (the Mexican sweet bread) bread pudding French toast. And the thin, fried slices of banana seemed like an afterthought.

Very dark, decidedly lively, and with a helpful and friendly staff, Milagro Grill is usually packed with folks from the neighborhood having a bite to eat amid dark wood and brick decor, sitting in the bar area surrounded with windows, or lounging on the restaurant's new 1,400-square-foot patio with a view of Indian School Road.

For now, I'd pop into Milagro Grill for a snack or a small dish with a cocktail or two and leave the entrees for another day. The restaurant already has a fan base that wants it to succeed; now all the Johnsons have to do is continue to work to make Milagro Grill the must-visit "miracle" in their native neighborhood of Arcadia.

Looks like they're well on their way.

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