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: Tacos Tequila Whiskey
Location: 3950 East Indian School Road
Open: Less than a week
Eats: Modern tacos, classic dips, and inspired tequila-based cocktails
Tacos Tequila and Whiskey opened this weekend in Arcadia, and we couldn't wait to check it out. The restaurant began its life as a Denver-based food truck before being transformed into two award-winning brick-and-mortar shops.
But it wasn't the restaurant's credentials, or even my Denverite brother's endorsement, that intrigued me most. It was the breakfast tacos. One in particular caught my eye: the Chicken & The Egg, a stack of agave-dipped fried chicken, sweet potato, and roasted poblano hash, topped with Mexican chimichurri and a sunny-side-up egg. Oh my God, yes. Or how about the Pinche Hash taco stuffed with carnitas, smashed potato and caramelized onion hash, scrambled eggs, and roasted green chile hollandaise? What sealed the deal was the fact that their entire lineup of tacos is available during brunch. So on Sunday morning, my husband and I headed to Arcadia to check out the TTW brunch.
The restaurant sits at the corner of 40th Street and Indian School Road. It was a little tricky to see as we approached, as the restaurant actually faces the interior parking lot, which is actually a superior view over the check-cashing shop across the street.
Sharing a roof with a sandwich shop and a massive hot yoga studio, the new restaurant embodies the kind of gentrified, hip young family vibe that Arcadia is moving toward. And, unsurprisingly, that is exactly the crowd we encountered there.
Young parents chatted over cocktails as their kids busied themselves with the colorful dips and chips laid out on almost every table. The misters were on full blast, keeping the industrial-looking, indoor-outdoor space comfortable despite the 100-degree temperature. The more interior side of the dining room opened onto the covered, mister-guarded patio, which meant nice, muted acoustics that ensured that the noise level never rose over a pleasant hum.
On the table, a laminated menu card and a whiteboard pen awaited us. I began checking off my selections and our server appeared, offering helpful suggestions before departing with our drink orders. The service throughout the afternoon was friendly and competent, with various waitstaff passing by to check on us.
Our beverages arrived: the Cafe Hacienda, a combination of Patron Café, 1921 Tequila Cream, and cold-press coffee, with a Mexican cocoa & spiced vanilla rim ($9), and the Mexico '70, featuring Sauza Cucumber Chili tequila, agave, lime, and sparkling wine ($9).
The alcohol in the Cafe Hacienda comes through as more of a suggestion than a flavor, and the overall drink reads as a richer version of iced coffee with a slight spicy finish courtesy of the tequila. It was fine, but I think I'd have been just as happy with a regular iced coffee. On the other hand, the Mexico '70 was outstanding, the cucumber-chili infused tequila and lime mingling in a beautifully balanced, refreshing ideal summer tipple. I would personally order it on the rocks next time, though it would be a shame to water down those flavors in any way.
We ordered the two aforementioned breakfast tacos, along with carne asada, pork belly, and a vegan option. In each taco, a generous mound topped corn tortillas, with more than enough to make two hearty tacos from each order.
The simple-sounding asada, a citrus-marinated skirt steak with avocado, diced onion, cilantro, and cotija cheese ($3.95), turned out to be the best of the bunch, with tender, well-seasoned steak pieces that had a delightfully assertive hit of lime. The vegan 1944 ($4.50), a combination of sautéed spinach, roasted chile poblano, corn, salsa abuela, avocado, and pico de gallo, had a nice spicy kick and plenty of filling, yet still felt a bit like a vegan afterthought, rather than a star taco that happened to be meat and animal product free (as many chefs are now doing). The sweet-and-sour pork belly “agridulce” featured an appealing combination of candied garlic and a cabbage and cilantro slaw, but ended up sounding far better than it tasted.
It was the brunch tacos ($3.75 each) that originally lured me in, but they were my least favorite of the offerings. The agave fried chicken and very sweet hash that made up The Chicken & The Egg were unbalanced to the point of being unpleasant, while the Pinche Hash was merely lackluster.
The freshly made chips and guacamole ($7) were average, and I wouldn't bother with it again. Instead, I'd try one of the elaborate queso dips. Likewise, while our half-order of the churros ($3) — which came out hot and crisp with a tender interior — were fine, I've had better versions from street carts and would probably skip them next time.
Speaking of next time, this is the kind of place that I would not seek out as a destination, but if I lived in Arcadia or was meeting someone there, I would certainly go back, especially during happy hour to try the cilantro-lime pinche soda and an order of the barbacoa nachos.
Tacos Tequila Whiskey could turn out to be a solid neighborhood option.
Tacos Tequila Whiskey Arcadia is open for lunch and dinner, Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Happy hour is daily from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and brunch is on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visit tacostequilawhiskey.com for more information.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.