First Taste

Ocotillo Serves Simple Food That Tastes Deliciously Complex

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: Ocotillo Restaurant and Bar
Location: 3243 N. 3rd St.
Open: About a week
Eats: A wide range of brunch and lunch dishes with fresh ingredients and a lot of flavor
Price: $15 to $20/person

Approaching Ocotillo's massive property is almost like walking onto the grounds of a museum. With a few different structures and a beautiful courtyard, the new Central Phoenix restaurant on the southeast corner of Third and Flower streets is overwhelming. It comes from co-chefs Walter Sterling and Sacha Levine, and it's Sterling's first project in the local culinary scene in almost five years. 

There's a lot to explore at Ocotillo, including a restaurant, beer garden, and coffee bar. The restaurant is currently serving brunch on the weekends and lunch during the week, with dinner service still in the works. We headed there for brunch on a Saturday afternoon and were seated immediately in a big white dining room with high ceilings. For a brand new spot that's a little hard to recognize as a restaurant from the street (more signage might be in order), we were surprised by how many people were dining.

Bright, open, and not obnoxiously loud, Ocotillo is the perfect date spot. Despite the presence of a DJ, we didn't have to strain to talk to our dining companion or hear our server. The service was friendly and attentive without being intrusive.

The wine list is extensive at Ocotillo, and it even comes with a page-long key explaining the flavors of the different choices. We went with a pitcher of red sangria ($18), which our server told us was made with a Grenache from Valencia, Spain. It was fruity and light, but not at all rich. In general, know what you're getting into before you order a pitcher of anything here: like the restaurant itself, the heavy, glass pitchers are massive and could easily serve three or four people. 

The brunch menu at Ocotillo is broken up into sweet and savory dishes, salads, vegetables, and sandwiches. The price points are really good: averaging about $8 for each dish, making it feasible to order a fruit or vegetable dish to start, then a lighter entrée for the main course. A lot of the menu items boast a short list of ingredients, and there's a nice range to satisfy everyone in a group, from burgers to quiche.  
We started with a roasted vanilla poached pear ($9), topped with goat cheese and almonds and drizzled with port syrup. The creamy goat cheese nicely paired the crunch of the almonds and smooth, sweet taste of the pear. It sounds heavy — and definitely should be shared — but you're not going to come away with a stomachache. 

We also had a bite of the melon, mint, and prosecco salad ($12), which embodies the elements of a lot of menu items at Ocotillo — just a few, simple ingredients resulting in complex flavors. The bubbly prosecco added a nice tang to the fresh melon.  Off the savory menu, we ordered brioche with spinach, an over-easy egg, bacon lardons (essentially little bits of bacon), and red eye gravy. The fluffy, sweet brioche came soaked in a light, broth-like gravy. The sweet half of the plate — the gravy and brioche — paired well with the savory spinach, egg, and bacon topping. There was a lot of flavor, and we were really impressed by just how fresh the heaping pile of spinach tasted. 
It's an impressive feat to open a restaurant so massive and with such a long menu and do everything so well. Ocotillo has, upon first taste, managed to do just that. We tried only a sample of what this spot has to offer, which leaves a lot of the restaurant to explore. The grounds are perfect for hanging out during happy hour, so we're excited for dinner and evening service to roll out. But between the weekday lunch menu and an intriguing coffee bar, there's a lot of ground for eager eaters to cover in the meantime.
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Lily Altavena