19. Presidio Cocina Mexicana
Taquería: Presidio Cocina Mexicana, 519 West Thomas Road
Open Since: 2016
Style: Michoacan-influenced dishes
Signature Taco: cochinita pibil and house-made chorizo
Over the last two years, several cantina-style restaurants have opened up in fashionable neighborhoods around Phoenix. Many feel unabashedly modern, distancing themselves from the rustic trappings that people tend to associate with sit-down Mexican restaurants in Phoenix.
One of the first of this new crop was Presidio Cocina Mexicana, which opened quietly in January 2016, across the street from St. Joseph’s Hospital. Set in a strip of small businesses facing Thomas Road, in-between 6th and 7th Avenues, it’s located in the transitional neighborhood of Midtown Phoenix, a few minutes drive south of the Melrose District.
The restaurant feels modern enough to appeal to the hospital staff from St. Joseph’s and groups of office workers from the towering skyscrapers that line Central Avenue — yet it's not the decor, but the Michoacan-influenced food that drives the concept here, creating an overall cozy, relaxed, and genuine feel.
This is what happens when two generations meet in the middle.
Main dishes might include lamb leg slowly braised in banana leaves, chile rellenos, or chicken served under a blanket of their house mole. Some of these entree meats, like thecochinita pibil
, a braised and pulled pork shoulder that’s been marinated in earthy achiote powder, also end up on the taco menu.
The taco menu is a good way to get a sampling of the home-cooking that occurs in Presidio’s kitchen, starting with the fact that they make their own tortillas.
Today, most tortilla makers begin with a commercial mix made from commodity corn, but the Nava family makes theirs using a traditional method of preparation called nixtamalization, soaking corn kernels in a limewater bath that par-cooks them and prepares them for tortilla making. They currently use a mix of purple and yellow corn, which come together to form bronze, speckled masa dough. When they run out of their purple corn, they have a batch of blue corn coming to replace it.
To get a sense of the hand-crafted foods on offer, a great first order is the “Three Little Piggies” trio of tacos, which has become their most popular option at dinnertime.
On one plate, you'll get a cochinita pibil taco, an al pastor taco topped with guacamole, pineapple, and tomatillo salsa, and housemade chorizo, for which paprika-laced ground pork is caramelized on the grill.
This taco might be the perfect expression of the hand-crafted, modern-traditional fare at this Phoenix gem, with every fresh tortilla-wrapped bite yielding both tender, crumbly pork and plenty of crispy, crunchy edges, too.
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