Restaurant: Tacos Chiwas
Location: 1923 East McDowell Road
Open: Over a month
You don't have to be an expert to see Tacos Chiwas is something special. All you have to do is take one look at the tacos.
The restaurant, located on the south side of McDowell Road just west of State Route 51, serves seven different varieties. You'll find the standards — asada, pastor, pollo — along with some less ubiquitous options such as carnitas, lengua, and tripa. All are excellent and well worth a try (we know because we ordered one of each). But whatever you do, don't skip the namesake offering.
The Taco Chiwas is a near-perfect creation inspired by the tacos in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, the region from which the restaurant's owners hail. Each bite delivers juicy pieces of beef and ham along with melted queso asadero, a white cheese that melts and pulls as you work your way through your meal. Its mild flavor is only underscored next to the quietly fiery Hatch chiles and jalapeños hiding in the mixture of meat and cheese. And the combination of all three makes it all but impossible to put down your taco before you inevitably inhale the entire thing.
Although, really, you should probably start with the beans.
Backing up: Commence your meal at Tacos Chiwas at the counter, where you'll choose between seven types of tacos, seven types of burritos, four types of gorditas, and a quesadilla. Don't forget to order a side of beans — and even though you think you can share, you can't, so you should probably just order your own. Next, you'll want to hit the salsa bar to load up on the restaurant's cool, saucy guacamole or a cup or two of the hotter options. Only then are you ready to take your seat.
When the cup of frijoles charros arrives, it will be hot. But singeing the edges of your mouth in order to avoid having to wait to dig in is almost worth it. Tacos Chiwas mixes tiny pieces of hot dog into its bean soup, making it a filling start and a well-seasoned one, too.
By the time you've finished cooling off and then shoveling many, many spoonfuls of bean soup into your mouth, your tacos are likely to have arrived. And though it will be hard, you'll want to set aside the Styrofoam bowl to focus on the food at hand. We suggest not starting with the asada or pastor, both of which are above average but done even better elsewhere, and diving instead into the carnitas.
Tacos Chiwas smokes its pork carnitas (the restaurant's smoker is a remnant from when the building housed a short-lived barbecue spot), giving the meat deep smoky flavor and plenty of moisture. Also excellent and slightly unique are the chicken tacos, which are grilled to order, and therefore may take longer to come out. The small extra wait is rewarded, however, with beautifully charred pieces of meat that handles any of the restaurant's salsas exceptionally well.
And if you're open to offal, do yourself a favor an order at least one of the tripas tacos. One bite of the deep-fried intestines and you'll be addicted to the sticky, crunchy texture and the deep, funky flavor that's unlike anything else. Juicy yet dry enough to offer a satisfying crunch, this was the biggest, most unexpected hit of all.
On the recommendation of a fellow patron, we also tried a gordita stuffed with deshebrada rojo, or slow-cooked, marinated shredded beef. Though most people would tell you a gordita requires masa, Tacos Chiwas opts for a flour-based wrapper instead, which by no means takes away from the spicy, red beef lurking inside. Mixed with hunks of soft potato, the deshebrada rojo begs for an egg so that it could become the ultimate, rich, meat-filled breakfast dish. Without, it's still nothing short of delightful.
And if you're looking for a new stop for breakfast burritos, know that Tacos Chiwas does serve breakfast burritos everyday from 10 a.m. to noon. We'll certainly be back to see what the restaurant can do with chorizo and egg. If it's even half as good as what we've already tried, it'll be well worth the drive and the $5 price tag.