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).
Location: 519 West Thomas Road, Phoenix
Open: About two months
Eats: Mexican food & gourmet coffee
Mexican-food aficionados in Phoenix are well-acquainted with Sonoran-style Mexican food, a borderlands cuisine notable for its heavy use of beef, gooey yellow cheese and flour tortillas. Other regional manifestations of Mexican food can be harder to find around metro Phoenix, but the scene is slowly but steadily becoming more diverse.
Presidio Cocina Mexican Food is a new spot serving what you might call Michoacán-inspired Mexican homestyle cooking. The restaurant, which is owned by Sergio Nava and Karen Lemus, offers a menu of made-from-scratch dishes, most of them based on old family recipes refined by Nava's mother, Lucina, a native of the west-central Mexican state of Michoacán.
The small cafe, which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is tucked at the end of strip mall across the street from the St. Joseph Hospital and Medical Center campus. Inside, the cafe is austerely decorated with a few ornamental mirrors and wall sconces, with most tables offering a view of the open kitchen.
You won't find anything too unusual on the Presidio menu, which features Mexican staples like huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tamales, and flautas. There's a strong emphasis on braised pork, a Michoacán specialty (the state is credited with being the birthplace of pork carnitas), along with regionally-favored ingredients like pasilla chilies, tomatillos, and cotija cheese.
Appetizers include queso fundido, Mexican street corn, taquitos, and guacamole. One of the more intriguing starters are the totopos con chile, a plate of tortilla chips bathed in a deep-red guajillo chile sauce, then topped with black beans, onions, cilantro, sour cream, cotija cheese and a squeeze of fresh lime. It's a simple comfort food indulgence that will stain your fingertips red, but that certainly won't keep you from enjoying the dish's pleasing tangle of saucy, creamy flavors.
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Lunch and dinner options include chile verde, quesadillas stuffed with chicharrón, enchiladas, and a chile relleno plate, among other options. On a recent lunch visit, the chile relleno was flavorful and tender, the poblano pepper stuffed with queso fresco and bathed in a savory ranchera sauce.
The "Three Little Piggies" taco plate, which seems to be a house favorite, was similarly well-executed. The plate comes with your choice of three pork tacos, with options including carnitas, al pastor, cochinita pibil, and chorizo. We opted for the carnitas, al pastor and cochinita. The al pastor was juicy and crispy, with a lightly sweet pineapple glaze that was well-balanced with a guacamole and tomatillo salsa. The cochinita pibil, a Yucatán standard, was finely shredded and wrapped in sweet, citrusy notes, and the carnitas were well-seasoned nubs of pork, and pleasantly crispy at the edges.
Presidio is also a source for gourmet coffee, including espressos and lattes, made with coffee beans imported directly from Guatemala. You'll also find a rich homemade horchata made using three different types of milk, which you can enjoy with a plate of buñuelos, a popular Christmas treat in Mexico. The thin, rosette-shaped fritters are sweet and crispy, topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream.
Nava and Lemus say that Presidio is in the process of applying for a liquor license, so expect to find specialty brunch drinks and margaritas added to the menu in coming months. So far, Presidio's menu of dishes made with homemade sauces and carefully prepared meats seems to be drawing a steady lunch crowd. We're looking forward to seeing what else this central Phoenix spot has in store.