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.
Taquería: Adrian's, 1011 West Main Street, Mesa
Open Since: 1996
Style: Comida casera, or homestyle Mexican cooking
Signature Taco(s): Carnitas and barbacoa tacos
The hardest thing about eating at Adrian's is finding a table. The venerable Mexican restaurant, located at the entrance to the Citrus Grove RV park near downtown Mesa, only has five small tables. Navigating the tiny space often involves squeezing past other diners or flattening your body against a wall to let someone pass through.
Most of the restaurant's regulars, though — and Adrian's has a lot of regulars — will tell you that the tight quarters are a small inconvenience to suffer for the privilege of eating at this well-worn, but beloved, neighborhood restaurant.
"We have a huge menu for such a tiny place," says owner Luis Mosqueda in Spanish, laughing.
Indeed, the menu spans more than 50 dishes, and that's not even counting the breakfast offerings.
Mosqueda is particularly proud of his restaurant's mole Poblano and chile verde. Over the years, the latter has earned a reputation as one of the finest chile verdes on the east side.
"The chile verde is very popular," says Mosqueda. "And our mole, we make it from scratch every morning. None of that Doña María stuff," he laughs again, referring to the popular prepackaged mole paste sold at Mexican grocery stores everywhere.
The restaurant has five taco meats available on most days, including carnitas, barbacoa, carne asada, lengua, and chicken. You'll definitely want to try the carnitas and barbacoa tacos, both of which are breathtakingly good. The carnitas, especially, are wonderful. The slippery hunks of pork are extra-savory, brimming with juicy, ultra-rich flavor.
What's the secret to the killer carnitas at Adrian's?
"Love," says Mosqueda. "And we squeeze a little bit of orange juice into the spice mix," he explains with a sly smile.
He says the recipes comes from his mother, who used to operate the restaurant with Mosqueda's uncle Adrian (which explains the restaurant's name). His mom is mostly retired now, he says, but she's left her mark on nearly every dish.
A lot of things have changed on Mesa's Main Street over the past 20 years, but the menu and decor and Adrian's have remained largely untouched. The bright yellow house near the intersection of Main Street and Alma School Road has become something of a landmark, and the from-scratch home cooking is a touchstone for neighborhood locals.
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"This place always stays the same, and you won't find better Mexican food anywhere in the neighborhood," a regular says emphatically as we stand in line to pay at the cashier station. "That's why I love coming here. It feels like my second home."
It's hard to argue with that level of devotion and love. If you want to find out for yourself why so many locals love Adrian's, swing by for a couple carnitas tacos and taste the love for yourself.