Taco Boy's launches new cocktail menu in Tempe | Phoenix New Times

Taco Boy's aims to stand out in Tempe with new high-end cocktail menu

The spot known for tacos and beer is bringing high-end spirits and craft cocktails to Mill Avenue.
Jared Gonzales, a bartender at Taco Boy's on Mill Avenue, gently places a marasca cherry atop his creation, the Quetzalcoatl. The drink is part of the restaurant's newly launched high-end cocktail menu.
Jared Gonzales, a bartender at Taco Boy's on Mill Avenue, gently places a marasca cherry atop his creation, the Quetzalcoatl. The drink is part of the restaurant's newly launched high-end cocktail menu. Georgann Yara
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The downtown Tempe location of Taco Boy’s sits between new luxury high-rise hotels and divey college bars that have defined Mill Avenue’s party district reputation for decades.

But with an upscale mezcal selection boasting top-shelf, hard-to-find labels and a new craft cocktail menu served alongside budget-friendly domestic beers, this eatery’s bar offerings also straddle the line between high and low.

When the taco shop opened in November 2023, it served the winning college crowd duo of inexpensive tacos and beer. But a few months later, the Seventh Street hangout's bar has grown up with a new, more sophisticated cocktail program.

The 25-bottle agave spirits collection is growing and features rare single-village mezcals from Del Maguey and Manchado bacanora. At $10 a pour, the well mezcal Firme espadin is on the cheaper end of the spectrum. At $40 per pour, four varieties of Rufina mezcal are the priciest.

The cocktail lineup covers vodka, bourbon, tequila, rum and gin drinks, almost any of which can be subbed for mezcal. The libations are made with fresh-pressed juices, syrups infused onsite and surprises like Meyer lemon olive oil and dried chipotle. Eye-catching embellishments like pineapple fronds and edible flowers are thoughtfully placed by bartenders with precise attention to detail.

“That’s the vibe we’re going for,” says Rebbeca Estrada, bar manager for the Mill Avenue location. “It’s something you’re not expecting right off the bat, walking into a taco shop and having such an amazing experience at the bar.”

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The Quetzalcoatl cocktail is made with rum, pineapple, lime, orgeat, Aperol, passion fruit and Bittermans Elemakule Tiki Bitters. It's garnished with marasca cherries and pineapple fronds.
Georgann Yara
Bartenders tested out the cocktails for a few weeks before debuting the menu in late April. The concoctions have gently gotten customers out of their comfort zones. For example, when someone requests a vodka soda, the bartender may suggest their tricked-out version, the Flor Preciosa made with vodka, hibiscus syrup and soda with edible flowers on top.

“You see these beautiful colors and the flowers… anybody would want this over a Tito’s soda,” Estrada says while gesturing to the highball glass showing off a vibrant dark pink layer on the bottom that fades upwards into clear soda with violet and yellow flowers on the rim.

This location has drawn industry customers from surrounding bars who are pleasantly surprised when they look up and see the labels on the bottles.

“Wait a second, you can do something real back there,” Estrada says of their reaction.

While the Taco Boy’s locations at 32nd Street and Thomas Road and 91st Avenue and Camelback Road are implementing similar bar programs, the Mill Avenue shop offers the largest selection, says Nick Cabrera, the local chain's beverage director.

“Sales show that people are asking for the higher tier mezcals,” Cabrera says. “Some are curious or excited (and say) ‘oh no way, you carry that here?’”

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Rebbeca Estrada, bar manager of the downtown Tempe location of Taco Boy's, stands behind some of the shop's agave spirits collection which features hard-to-find labels.
Georgann Yara

Letting their bartenders' creativity shine

Tempe has also been the proving ground in establishing the other cocktail programs. At each location, 75% of the cocktails are original concoctions by the bartenders at that restaurant, with the remaining being signatures by Cabrera.

Mill Avenue bartender Jared Gonzales’ creation, the Quetzalcoatl, is a union of rum, pineapple, lime, orgeat, Aperol, passion fruit, Bittermans Elemakule Tiki Bitters and a marasca cherry. Originally, he used Campari but thought Aperol would be more approachable with the familiarity of the Aperol Spritz. The orgeat’s almond sweetness brings a candy-like profile. Judging from customers’ feedback during the trial phase, Estrada says it’s projected to be the most popular cocktail on the menu.

Bartender Lex Ward’s version of an espresso martini is The Cowboy Killer, an ode to mornings spent on her aunt’s farm in California and seeing cowboys with their Folgers Coffee cans and cigarettes after sunrise.

Ward uses Giffard coffee liqueur, cinnamon dolce and agave syrups and espresso that’s brewed in batches onsite. The chile liqueur Ancho Reyes, which gives it a hint of warmth on the finish, and a stenciled dusting of cinnamon in the shape of a longhorn offer unexpected twists.

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The Cowboy Killer is the house rendition of an espresso martini made with Giffard coffee liqueur, homemade cinnamon dolce syrup, house-infused cinnamon agave syrup, espresso and Ancho Reyes.
Georgann Yara
Estrada serves mostly tourists and parents visiting their kids at ASU during her day shifts while Ward and Gonzales see the younger crowd at night. They say the spirits and new cocktail menu has appealed to all demographics.

When they were coming up with the menu, Gonzales admits they thought it was a bit more sophisticated than what would be a fit for their potential audience. However, it didn’t take long for the team to realize it was hitting a sweet spot.

“The reception has been super positive,” Gonzales says. “Like, ‘oh my god, I didn’t think I could get something like this on Mill, especially at a taco shop.’”

The decision to add spirits and cocktails is a response to customers, who have been asking for them at the other locations, according to Taco Boys co-owner Suminder Sodhi. The Mill Avenue restaurant is larger than the others, with plenty of space to accommodate the full bar.

“Our goal is not just to make money. We wanted to make sure our customers come in and be happy,” Sodhi says. “We wanted to make sure we cater to all the customers in the establishment, not just the students.”

The decision wasn’t without risk. At least that’s what industry professionals warned. However, the goal of creating a cocktail program that appeals to all fans and bridges the gap between the casual drinker and seasoned cocktail and spirits coneseur overruled skepticism.

“A beer rep told us you can try new things on Mill but often it doesn’t work,” Cabrera recalls. “But it’s exciting to give people something to try for the first time.”

Another factor was Taco Boy’s co-owner Juan Francisco Cornejo Jr.’s passion for and deep knowledge of agave spirits and cocktail bars, Cabrera explained. Cornejo hired bar consultant Moises Castro, known for his work at Bacanora, to get the ball rolling. Many of the bar staff are local bartenders from other cocktail-focused spots who ensure the vision is appropriately carried out.

Most spots along Mill Avenue accommodate customers seeking either a high-end drinking experience or a very approachable and less-pricey one. Taco Boy’s, however, has plunged into somewhat new territory with beverages for both.

“That’s the beautiful thing. We do not focus on fitting in, but standing out,” Cabrera says. “We’ve been doing our own thing as far as food goes, and having a full bar and fitting that middle of everything is a breath of fresh air down here.”

Taco Boy's Tempe

699 S. Mill Ave. #119, Tempe
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