Taco Summer

Taco Summer: Tuesday Night Dance Parties and Late-Night Navajo Tacos on Grand Avenue

Chef Renetto-Mario Etsitty loads two meat and bean chili Navajo tacos up with cheese, which he'll then melt with a torch.
Chef Renetto-Mario Etsitty loads two meat and bean chili Navajo tacos up with cheese, which he'll then melt with a torch. Shelby Moore
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.

click to enlarge Navajo tacos from The Rez are available once per week, every Tuesday from 11:30 p.m. until 2 a.m. or so. - SHELBY MOORE
Navajo tacos from The Rez are available once per week, every Tuesday from 11:30 p.m. until 2 a.m. or so.
Shelby Moore
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.

click to enlarge Chef Etsitty stretches the dough by hand until it's so thin that it's nearly see-through. - SHELBY MOORE
Chef Etsitty stretches the dough by hand until it's so thin that it's nearly see-through.
Shelby Moore
click to enlarge Chef Etsitty describes the regional Navajo style of fry bread he makes as fluffy and airy. - SHELBY MOORE
Chef Etsitty describes the regional Navajo style of fry bread he makes as fluffy and airy.
Shelby Moore
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.

click to enlarge Both savory Navajo taco options are topped with fresh veggies. - SHELBY MOORE
Both savory Navajo taco options are topped with fresh veggies.
Shelby Moore
Our Taco Summer picks so far:

50. Taqueria Don Beto
49. Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa
48. Tacos Tijuana
47. El Burrito Grande
46. El Horseshoe Restaurant
45. Tacos Sahuaro
44. El Pollo Correteado
43. Adrian's
42. La Fiesta
41. Taqueria Lucy
40. Tortas Ahogadas George
39. Taqueria El Chino
38. Joe's Tacos
37. Taqueria El Gallo de Lagos
36. Tacos Huicho
35. Puffy Taco Shack
34. Ni De Aqui Ne De Alla
33. Mr. Mesquite
32. Senor Ozzy's
31. Tacos Jalisco
30. Ta'Carbon
29. Taqueria Los Yaquis
28: Helio Basin Brewing
27: Sonora Taco Shop
26: Mercado Y Carniceria Cuernavaca
25. Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca
24. Paquime Street Food
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Shelby Moore