First Taste

First Taste: Topo Is Gilbert's Gopher-Topped, On-The-Go Spot

First Taste: Topo Is Gilbert's Gopher-Topped, On-The-Go Spot
Lauren Cusimano
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: Topo
Location: 301 North Gilbert Road, Gilbert
Open: Two months
Eats: Mexican-leaning street food, like burritos and elote
$10 to $20 per person
Hours: Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight

A place like Topo looks like it should be neighboring an old rest stop along Route 66 in northern Arizona. But instead, it’s found among the many dining options along Gilbert Road in the Heritage District — jammed between Bergies Coffee Roast House and Joe’s Real BBQ.

But that does not take away its charm.

Topo’s small, standalone structure and walk-up window look like something that should be listed on Roadside America — especially since it's topped by a giant gopher that didn’t take long to become iconic. The best part: The gopher's eyes glow brightly when backlit by the sun.

The restaurant has been open for two months, but the operation already feels streamlined. In other words, you won’t be waiting on the sidewalk long.

click to enlarge Drink choices are Mexican Coke, the magical Topo Chico, and Topo Chico Lime. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Drink choices are Mexican Coke, the magical Topo Chico, and Topo Chico Lime.
Lauren Cusimano
The menu is tight and a la carte, offering two types of burritos, two types of elote, some ice cream, some dips, and some drinks. But the menu items are still next-level — like the prickly pear soft serve with lime dip and Mexican Coke.

You’ll get your drink first, as a staff member will pop the top and hand you the bottle along with your receipt. Your choices are Mexican Coke, the magical Topo Chico, and Topo Chico Lime. Each are $3, and the recommendation here is Topo Chico Lime.

The two burrito options give you kind of a coin-flip choice — the Topo or the Topo Loco. It’s almost like the menu is taunting you with a go-big-or-go-home attitude. The Topo is simple: the signature dish here, obviously. It’s your choice of chicken or pork with beans, cheese, salsa. Easy, elegant for $7.

The Topo Loco, however, is chicken or pork with beans and cheese, yes, but then it continues: elote, Fritos, cilantro, tomatillo crema, and hot sauce. This will run you extra, totaling $8.50.

We went with the Topo, seemingly the house special, with pork. The first bite is all bean, and it still takes a few more to reach the protein. But when you finally do, it’s clearly some very good meat. It’s easier to dig out the pork with a spoon, as the dry-ish tortilla and beans are definitely afterthoughts.

click to enlarge A perfect bite of elote. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
A perfect bite of elote.
Lauren Cusimano
The elote is going to be your only side, if one is needed, or it obviously can serve as a street food snack. This is a cup of roasted corn, tomatillo crema, cilantro, cotija cheese, and chile powder.

And it is good. Like, take a pause good. If you can get a little bit of each thing — corn, cheese, cream, chile powder — in one spoonful, the elote can feel downright decadent. The first bite made the backyard scene even lovelier, the sunset slightly more stunning.

Dessert is fun here because you get to go back up to order, hoping a line hasn’t formed, of course.

The soft serve ($2.50) is almost irresistible, even if you’re not a dessert person. Choices are vanilla, prickly pear, or twist. Um, prickly pear, please. What results is tall spiral of mauve in a cute little cone. It’s so pretty it pains you to take a bite, but that bite is heavenly. The fruity soft serve is incredible to the last crunchy bite of the cone’s base.

click to enlarge It tastes as good as it looks. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
It tastes as good as it looks.
Lauren Cusimano
Dips are a fun accompaniment at 50 cents a pop. Choose from chocolate, lime, or prickly pear again. However, the soft serve is good — and on a hot day, probably messy — enough to walk away sans dip.

Maybe the only thing — aside from the bustling small-town atmosphere — that sets Topo apart from a roadside attraction is the fact that it’s cashless. Do not pull out those crumbled ones. This is the future.

So what kind of restaurant is Topo? It’s definitely not a burrito house, as ours was somewhat forgettable, but it’d be pretty hard to pass that service window without ordering the elote or a pink cone. You’d almost make the road trip for those attractions.
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Lauren Cusimano is Phoenix New Times' food and drink editor. She is a journalist and food waste writer based in Tempe. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.
Contact: Lauren Cusimano