23. The Rez
Taquería: The Rez, 1502 Grand Avenue
Open Since: 2012
Style: Navajo Tacos
Signature Taco: Spiced meat and bean chili "Navajo taco"
Every Tuesday night, on Grand Avenue you'll find one of the most dive-y of tiki-themed dive bars, Bikini Lounge, hosting its weekly party, 602’sDays. And just outside the bar's front door, from around 11:30 p.m. until after the bar closes at 2 a.m., you'll find Chef Renetto-Mario Etsitty working The Rez, a mobile-catering version of his brick-and-mortar restaurant that previously called Roosevelt Row home.
For a few hours, Etsitty makes Navajo-style fry bread in both sweet and savory options. Etsitty caramelizes sugar atop the sweet fried dough rounds, then serves them with the choice of honey, agave, powdered sugar, or other sugary toppings. But he's best known for his two savory stew-topped Navajo tacos.
“It’s gotten to the point where if I miss a night, then it’s kind of a big deal,” Etsitty says.
The chef begins by hand-stretching a simple flour dough made with Bluebird flour from Cortez Milling on the edges of the Ute Mountain Indian reservation in Colorado. The resulting dough, worked and stretched until paper-thin, could be used for either wheat tortillas or fry bread.
He pokes a hole in the middle of an oblong round and lays it gently into a sloped pan filled with smoking oil, releasing a flurry of bubbles as the dough fries in a matter of seconds.
Etsitty has been making fry bread all his life. He makes a regional Navajo style that is light and airy, and about a foot in diameter. It's pliable enough to fold easily, and strong enough to support a dense stew.
He tops the puffed, fried dough with a spiced meat and bean chili, and another with a vegan “three sisters” version, made using the traditional Native American trinity of beans, squash, and corn. Both are topped with fresh, organic tomatoes, spinach, onions, and cheese, if desired.
After 1 a.m., business really begins to pick up as the party crowd from inside begins to trickle out into the still air of the 90-degree night. They fan themselves with their own shirts in between bites of the Navajo tacos that have perfumed the air along Grand.
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