Nothing surprising about two new Mexican restaurants in metro Phoenix, though both bring their own distinctive touches to the Valley's dining scene. But have eaten Bukharian food? Let me see those hands up. Not sure. We have three words for that: Try the dumplings. Here are some of the latest additions to our growing list of local restaurants.
El Charro Hipster Bar & Café
1325 West Grand Avenue
A lot of our esteemed coffee shops are similar. They tend to follow something of a formula: the beans, the rhetoric, the baked goods, the lattes. But what if a coffee shop made a latte with rosewater? Hey, that would be a little different! And what if one spiked a rosewater latte with marigold liqueur from Guadalajara? Well, then you would be at El Charro Hipster Bar & Café. All but invisible from Grand Avenue, this Mexican coffee shop with global influences has been smashing the formula for a Phoenix coffee shop since it opened two months ago. El Charro Hipster Café also pours neat spirits: mezcal (including some made from Espadin and Tobala agave), tequila (including Terralta), sotol, and an aguardiente made with mango. Husband-and-wife team Francisco and Azul Peralta are hoping to cultivate a space of art, live music, and good coffee, drinks, and camaraderie. They are hoping to spark a scene.
3004 East McDowell Road
There are many shops in Phoenix that cook tacos and a select few other specialties. Some are worth your time and money, and some aren’t. Tacos Culichi, a casual Mexican eatery recently opened by a used-car lot on 30th Street and McDowell Road, falls into the first group. At Tacos Culichi, options go beyond steak and tacos. You choose from tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, burritos, mulas (a tortilla sandwich of meat and melted cheese), vampiros (strongly associated with Sinaloa), Sinaloan dogs, and birria. Meats you can add to the first five items in this list include carne asada, al pastor, birria, and cabeza. Dean Le, owner of Tacos Culichi, is 25. His childhood friend Adan Pulido was born in Culiacán, Mexico, in the state of Sinaloa. When Le settled on a restaurant concept — simple Mexican food in a polished setting — he called on Pulido to handle the cooking. With a nod to Culiacán and with family recipes from its namesake coastal Mexican city, Tacos Culichi is plating solid food on McDowell.
1601 East Bell Road, Suite A-11
The definition of “dumpling” is as elastic as the dough that forms one. Manti, a kind of dumpling that has its own matrix of sub-types, are cooked from Turkey to central Asia. At Cafe Chenar, a Bukharian restaurant in north Phoenix, manti resemble Shanghainese soup dumplings in aspect and dough texture. They even arrive in bamboo baskets. Cafe Chenar extols the mighty range of “dumpling.” They come in Asian, European, Russian, and Jewish forms. They come pan fried, deep fried, steamed, and in soups. They are manti, pelmeni, and hanum. All together, they are a tiny dumpling apotheosis. Cafe Chenar offers a few savory hand pies. A meat pie shaped like a seashell (samsa) and baked in a brick oven crackles as you bite in, yielding a hearty blend of onions and ground beef. The piroshki, fried dough stuffed with potato, has a shell like a savory doughnut. It’s pillowy with a hint of grease and more gentle hypnotism than you think can fit in fried puff pastry.