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Sazón Bachata: The Caribbean Comes to Grand Avenue in Phoenix

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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: Sazón Bachata Location: 906 N. 15th Ave. Open: Week and a half Eats: Dominican Price: $10 to $20 per person

Opened for just a couple of weeks, tiny Sazón Bachata is easy to miss, as it's dwarfed by a next-door automotive business. But you won't want to miss it, because upon stepping inside, you'll feel like you're reuniting with relatives.

Family-owned and -operated, the eatery is one of a handful of Caribbean restaurants in the Valley. It's inviting and informal, with the menu -- which changes depending on availability of ingredients -- written in chalk on the wall. If the writing is illegible, the staff will be more than happy to recite the day's available dishes.

When offered morir soñando ($3), say yes.

The drink, translated to "die dreaming," is made fresh daily and kept in a glass punch bowl in the refrigerator. It is made with orange and lime juices, evaporated milk, and sugar. Think Orange Bang, but fresher and not as thick.

Start your meal with a side of tostones ($3). The flattened and fried plantain bananas come with a bit of salt on top. The inside texture will make you think you're eating potatoes. Spread some fresh avocado on them ($3 per avocado) to give them a little more flavor, or dip them in ketchup. 

Chicken and rice are staples in the Caribbean diet, and the pollo salteado con vegetables ($9) with a side of moro de guandules con coco is a good way to go. The chicken was marinated well, with seasoned salt and pepper to enhance the flavors, and a few cuts of crunchy broccoli. Sautéed peppers add a fresh bite to the dish. The moro de guandules is rice with beans, made with a little coconut juice to give it that Caribbean taste. It's really the star of the dish, which will make you thankful there's a big portion on your plate.

The bistec casuela ($10) was another meat option we sampled. The steak was overcooked a little, resulting in a dry interior and, not as exciting as the chicken, but it, too, came with an abundance of peppers. 

We're interested to see what else the family cooks up. The little place seats a total of 17, with five tables. Art, Caribbean instruments, a Dominican flag, and quirky antiques -- like a Saved By the Bell-era cell phone -- decorate the restaurant, while Dominican news plays on a flat-screen TV. 

The owners will come by to chat and make you feel at home. If you're lucky enough to have other Dominicans dining in the restaurant at the same time, singing, talking and lots of laughing is sure to happen. Pull out a camera while you're there, and the family will want you to take a picture of them. The inviting atmosphere and fresh food make it easy to want to return.

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