Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Safe Mex: There's no shortage of Mexican restaurants in the Valley. But there aren't too many outstanding ones. This week's Mexican-food trip (see Cafe review, page 81) got me thinking about just which ones they are. The following places may be somewhat light on atmosphere, but they all dish out south-of-the-border fare that's cheap, authentic and uncommonly tasty.

El Bravo, 8338 North Seventh Street, 943-9753. This kitchen whips up the usual suspects: tacos, burros, chimis, enchiladas, rellenos, tamales. But it's hard to find this kind of across-the-board quality anyplace else. The machaca burro is a gem.

Pan y Mas, 3111 East Greenway Road, 992-8899. Terrific, Yucatan-inspired dishes, and eye-rubbingly low prices. Cochinita pibil, achiote-marinated slow-cooked pork, is a dream. So is carne molida, seasoned ground beef stuffed into an enchilada and smothered with a bright red sauce. Posole is a treat, and the carne asada chimichanga may be the best in town.

Pepe's Taco Villa, 2108 West Camelback, 242-0379. Holy mole! That's what you'll say after you try the divine chicken enchiladas spooned over with the exotic mole, an irresistible blend of chiles, spices and chocolate. Green corn tamales, tacos Monterrey and barbacoa de cabeza are three more reasons to put this place on your list.

Via Delosantos, 9120 North Central, 997-6239. Great nachos, hefty burros, fragrant tamales and big-league enchiladas give this operation more than neighborhood appeal. And so do the potent 99-cent margaritas.

La Guadalupana, 2243 North 16th Street, 254-5114. Brush up on your Spanish and prepare yourself for some riveting dishes. Caldo Tlalpeno is spicy meal-in-a-bowl soup, stocked with chicken and veggies. The huitlacoche quesadilla--it's made with a corn fungus that has a trufflelike intensity--is one of a kind. And so are the huarache, a griddled masa patty stuffed with pork or cheese, and pamboso, a Mexican roll heaped with chorizo, fried potatoes, cheese and sour cream.

New Restaurants: Two places are finally getting ready to open at the Chinese Cultural Center (44th Street, just north of Van Buren). Lao Ching Hing promises Shanghai-style fare, while Sampan Seafood Restaurant will feature the ocean's bounty.

The folks behind Rosa's Mexican Grill, a first-rate taqueria in Mesa, plan to open a sprawling full-service restaurant early next year on McKellips. The proprietor says Rancho de Tia Rosa will feature gourmet Mexican fare, including seafood.

And foodies may want to check out Convivo, at the northwest corner of 16th Street and Glendale Avenue. It's the dream come true of Mark Bloom, who used to run the kitchen at Tarbell's. He calls the menu, which will change weekly, "upscale contemporary seasonal." Appetizers may include house-made semolina fettuccine with Key West shrimp; organic tomatoes and anchovies; and buckwheat crepes with grilled Maine lobster, pesto and creme frache. Among the entrees: free-range veal loin with grilled melon and pattypan squash; and roasted guinea hen with a barley/wild mushroom mix.

--Howard Seftel

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Howard Seftel