Welcome to the 2018 edition of The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.
15: Taco Hazz from Ta'Carbon
Going to Ta'Carbon for lunch or dinner often involves squeezing into the restaurant's dangerously cramped parking lot, followed by standing in a formidable line to place your order at the counter. It involves angling for a spot at the always-crowded salsa bar, where, inevitably, someone is hoarding the guacamole salsa, which is always the first one to go. Sometimes it even involves eating in your car, because Ta'Carbon gets so crowded sometimes that there's nowhere to sit, and there's no way those tacos are making it home without being at least partially consumed.
Ta'Carbon, which has two locations on the west side, doesn't always deliver a seamless dining experience. But it delivers where it matters, and what matters here is meat.
Ta'Carbon is dedicated to the idea that red meat, seasoned sparingly and cooked over smoldering mesquite charcoal in classic Sonoran fashion, consistently yields wondrously smoky, flavorful bites. The heart of the Ta'Carbon menu is its gently charred carne asada, which cooked in enormous batches and then chopped to pieces. The grill at Ta'Carbon smolders behind the counter, seemingly never getting a rest.
It's well worth sampling Ta'Carbon's full spectrum of taco meats. Offal is front and center at Ta'Carbon, and it's very good: lengua (tongue) tacos are notably beefy, earthy, and succulent, and it's no wonder the kitchen runs out of the wonderfully fatty, juicy cabeza tacos. Try the huevos de becerro, or calf fries, tacos. They're delicious, when you can find them — the kitchen seems to keep them in short supply. You'll have better luck if you swing by early in the day.
A solid, all-around taco is Ta'Carbon's signature Hazz, a green chile beef taco that spills blistery nubs of carne asada, which are glued together loosely with melted white cheese. It's terrific, a taco of simple yet extraordinarily savory proportions.
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Sitting in the Ta'Carbon dining room has the loose, friendly feel of eating in somebody's living room. The sense of familiarity is bolstered by the fact that you order at the counter, and pay when you're done eating.
Most counter-service restaurants don't follow the honor system, but it's a brilliant model for a place that dispenses sublimely addictive bites, one taco at a time. It's not unusual to return to the counter two or three times over the course of a single visit. And you do so happily, even when it means standing in a long line.
Ta'Carbon, 2929 North 43rd Avenue, 602-682-7701, Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
5834 West Camelback Road, Glendale, 623-463-8134, Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m, Sunday noon to 10 p.m.
The Essentials So Far
50: Soul food platter at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
49: The Bear at Short Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Doughnuts
48: Grilled squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer
47: I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10
46: Coffee made from ROC2 beans
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff
44: Zookz at Zookz
43: Jade Red Chicken at Chino Bandido
42: Tasting menu at Quiessence at The Farm
41: Single-origin Papua New Guinea Bar at Zak's Chocolate
40: Green chile at Casa Reynoso
39: Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company
38: Hand-pulled noodles from China Magic Noodle House
37: Carne adovada sliders at Dick's Hideaway
36: Crispy Pig Ear and Amaro cocktails from Crudo
35: Chile-laced specialties from Cafe Ga Hyang
34: Martinis at AZ88
33: Nooner at Duck & Decanter
32: Eggs Maximilian at Harlow's Cafe
31: Beef Tacos from Asadero Norte De Sonora
30: Orange Blossom from Huss Brewing Company
29: Rye bread from Yasha From Russia
28: Scotch Beef and Mashed Potatoes from Tarbell's
27: Griddled Corn Cakes and Ramona Farms Super Food Salad at Phoenix City Grille
26: Soup from Reathrey Sekong
25: Lamb tongue sandwich at Haji Baba
24: The Special at Grand Avenue Pizza Company
23: Red chile at Elmer's Tacos
22: Marranitos at La Purisima Bakery
21: Kronuts from Karl's Bakery
20: Beef pies at Chou's Kitchen
19: Bavarian pretzels & schnitzel at Haus Murphy's
18: Red chili burro and sopapillas from Los Dos Molinos
17: Camelback Soda at The Sugar Bowl
16: Brisket Sandwich at Chelsea's Kitchen
15: Taco Hazz from Ta'Carbon