Taco Summer

Taco Summer: The Tiny, West Side Taqueria Bringing a Taste of Zacatecas to Phoenix

A succulent birria taco (right) and a carnitas taco (left), a popular lunch combo at this west side taqueria.
A succulent birria taco (right) and a carnitas taco (left), a popular lunch combo at this west side taqueria. Patricia Escarcega
In the hunt for the latest trendy restaurants, our spotlight often misses neighborhoods that are home to some of the Valley's best kitchens — including those making metro Phoenix's best tacos. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be guiding you toward the Valley’s tastiest tacos, and the taquerías that serve them. Welcome to Taco Summer.

47: El Burrito Grande

Taquería: El Burrito Grande, 3416 West Buckeye Road
Open Since: 2002
Style: Tacos with Zacatecas roots
Signature Taco(s): Birria and carnitas tacos

If you close your eyes and imagine a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant on the west side, maybe you'll picture a place like El Burrito Grande.

This small, cash-only restaurant is situated near the intersection of Buckeye Road and 35th Avenue, squeezed ungracefully in between a small used car lot and a repair shop. Its obscure and unglamorous address, plus its sleepy-looking storefront, doesn't appear entirely promising at first glance.

Behind the restaurant, though, there are signs of life and color in a tiny parking lot: a sun-faded yet colorful mural depicting a bucolic small town in the north-central Mexican state of Zacatecas, painted on an aluminum fence festooned with barbed wire.

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El Burrito Grande might look worn around the edges on the outside, but you won't want to judge this book by its cover.
Patricia Escarcega
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You know you're in the right spot when you come upon this retablo-like mural in the parking lot.
Patricia Escarcega
Inside, the scene is even more pleasant. The dining room is sunny and tidy, filled with tables covered in plastic tablecloths. The air-conditioning whirs loudly, and the radio always seem to be blaring old Maná hits. On the weekends, a small TV in the corner is usually tuned to a Mexican game show.

The shy yet friendly couple working behind the counter are Beto and Esperanza Figueroa, the restaurant's owners and co-chefs. They have been at this spot for 15 years, serving everything from homestyle specialties like caldo de pollo (chicken soup) to marisco (seafood) plates.

The couple has been married for more than 40 years, and they often finish each other's sentences. They are natives of the small town of Atolinga, Zacatecas, and before moving to Phoenix many years ago, they lived and owned a restaurant in southern California.

If you ask, they will tell you that the most popular dish at their restaurant is probably the birria, a braised goat stew that is a traditional dish of Zacatecas and its neighboring state of Jalisco.

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Beto and Esperanza Figueroa are the owners and chefs at El Burrito Grande, a tiny Mexican restaurant near Buckeye Road and 35th Avenue.
Patricia Escarcega
"A young man was just in here and he told me that our birria was the best he's had in town. He says it made the hairs on his arm stand up," Beto Figueroa says with a laugh.

They make birria daily, he says, not just on the weekends.

What is the secret to the Figueroa's delightful birria? Patience, says Beto Figueroa. The dish is simple to make, but requires care and attention.

"We make our birria so that the broth is clear," he says, explaining that a crystal clear consomé is often considered a hallmark of well-made birria.

Esperanza Figueroa says that the house birria is based on the recipe her dad used to make back in the couple's native Zacatecas.

It's a popular lunchtime taco, she says.

Indeed, the birria tacos at El Burrito Grande are exceptionally juicy and flavorful. The hunks of birria glisten on the plate, the meaty bundles smooth, rich and dripping with jus. You could easily demolish a whole plate of these without much effort.

So, yes, definitely try the birria tacos.

If you're a fan of carnitas, though, leave room for a carnitas taco too, as they come brimming with salty, rich pork. The lengua (tongue) tacos are quite good here, too, featuring meat that's smoother and richer than most traditional lengua tacos. Or better yet, bring a friend and order one of every taco on the menu, which is what I did for lunch recently. More than likely, you will not regret it.

El Burrito Grande is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Please note that the restaurant is cash-only, which is a small inconvenience to bear in exchange for a taste of the Figueroa's birria.
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There are usually at least five different types of tacos available daily at El Burrito Grande in Phoenix.
Patricia Escarcega
Our Taco Summer picks so far:
50. Taqueria Don Beto
49. Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa
48. Tacos Tijuana
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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.

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