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: Taco Guild Location: 546 East Osborn Road Open: About two weeks Eats: Tacos Price: $11 to $30 per person
Taco Guild in Central Phoenix is a kind of spiritual vision of a gastropub, a grand room of stained glass windows, soaring wood beams, and an altar that serves as a bar for top-quality tequila and cold craft beers.
Occupying a former 19th-century church at the northwest corner of Seventh Street and Osborn Road, it's the latest project from the folks at Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill, the Scottsdale-based restaurant chain.
Taco Guild's well-blended mix of nostalgia and modernity is as welcoming as it is unique, embracing the idea of sustainability and repurposing of space in a way that's not often seen in plow-it-down Phoenix. And when you push through the door, you can't help but stop and stare -- even after the hostess has shown you to your table.
Like the building itself, Taco Guild's casual upscale menu, a tidy listing of starters, tacos, and sides, is a mix of the traditional with more of-the-moment sensibilities. So if your idea of a proper Mexican antojito involves regional ingredients and a price tag of around two or three bucks, you'll probably have better luck someplace else.
The complimentary chips and salsa are very good, even better when you know you can skip a starter of fresh but forgettable ceviche ($9.95) in lieu of another helping (or a second libation) from your friendly server.
The tacos ($3.95 to $4.95) are divided into classic and signature creations assembled with things like jalapeño bacon, fried Brie, and mango jicama relish piled into housemade corn tortillas, flour tortillas, or lettuce cups. With broad strokes of various flavors, there is little in the way of delicacy here, the success or failure of each taco more or less depending on its initial blast of ingredients versus its subtleties. And if you want to kick them up a bit, there are three kinds of hot sauces to apply at will.
The best tacos of the bunch may be the sweet and moderately spiced Thai snapper with coconut green curry and slaw; a well-seasoned lamb (molida) put together with blue cheese, Creole aioli, and crisp strands of sweet potato; and an assemblage of pristine grilled seasonal veggies (mine included delicious Brussels sprouts) accented with smoky and spicy hummus.
For sides, skip the sleepy green chile rice for tasty grilled corn sautéed in habenero butter.
Less outstanding, but still acceptable, are the Chipotle Cherry Steak and the pork adovada tacos, whose intensity of blue cheese and chile aioli (in the former) and habanero banana mango relish (in the latter) detracted from their starring proteins. And if you're considering the shrimp tacos, know that you've had better elsewhere.
Taco Guild already seems to be catching on as a hangout for the locals. On my visit, the place was packed with families and friends who seemed to be enjoying the scenery as much as the food and drink. I'm looking forward to returning.
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