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). In this case, our visit took us to the older outpost of a Phoenix restaurant that recently opened a location in Chandler.
Restaurant: Modern Margarita
Two locations: 5410 East High Street, and 1 East Boston Street, Chandler
Open: High Street location open about four years; Chandler location open less than five months
Suburbia and hip dining? Sounds like a foreign concept, right? But there are exceptions to every rule. Modern Margarita in City North offers retro-style ambiance with its green walls, black and white vintage wallpaper and enchanting, modern papier-mâché chandeliers. Patrons can't help but do a double-take at the setting, wondering whether a cool place couched a few miles away from sprawling cookie-cutter neighborhoods could possibly exist.
Once the shock is over, the unexpected begins. It isn't a coincidence that the restaurant is named after its margaritas. All beverages are made with local ingredients with fresh flavors like blackberry, prickly pear, and cucumber. If you want to stick with traditional fare, the house margarita blends the right amount of tequila and agave nectar. Not into margaritas? The drink menu also offers beers, wines, as well as other mixed cocktails like Bloody Marias and Mexican Mules.
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In this laid-back environment, it's easy to have a few drinks and linger over the appetizers. There are plenty of starters like wings and nachos to ease into dinner. Chips and salsa are a natural complement to margaritas and you can't deny the handmade taste of the tortilla chips. It's a perfect refuge, dipping warm chips into a moderately spicy salsa and then sipping your margarita. It's unlikely the chip basket will remain full for long.
The temptation is to stop at the chips, but the slogan on the wait staff's T-shirts read "Tacos & Tequilas." Selections include chicken, pork, carne asada, vegetarian, and fried fish varieties. If you are craving something different, the menu offers "authentic chef's choice" tacos, a twist on typical taco choices. For vegetarians, the tacos aren't what you taste at chain restaurants — we didn't see any Kraft cheese or iceberg lettuce. Instead, we found gourmet tacos with roasted zucchini, portobello mushrooms accessorized with chimichurri, crushed tomato salsa, goat cheese, and pickled onion. And it's not all about the vegetarians: Beer-battered fish tacos are tender and flaky, with just enough aioli sauce for all the flavors to be in sync.
Modern Margarita is sleek and trendy, but not hollow in its food experience. The prices reflect the economy of casual dining fare, the drinks are good, and the food is flavorful. This is the right salve for those who want to escape suburban drudgery and chain restaurants for a few hours.