Hey, readers, get ready. We're putting new meaning into the term "street food." For Chow Bella's latest mission -- "Eating 16th Street" -- we've employed a young woman who's literally eaten her way around the world. Alex Rodriguez has eaten borscht in Moscow, steak in Buenos Aires and a "life-changing panna cotta" in Bra, a small town in the Piemonte region of Italy. Now we've set her palate loose on Central Phoenix's 16th Street. Rodriguez will try it all, from Jefferson Street north to Thomas Road -- and report back, place by place.
The Place: Tortas El Güero The Food: Mexican sandwiches The Backstory: Husband-and-wife owned shop. The Price: $10.35 for a torta and agua fresca.
Before I begin, I'd just like to take a minute to appreciate my newcomer-naïveté. Of course, I did not arrive here from Miami with a list of the best place for this and the best place for that. (Well, actually, I did, but not for Mexican food.) I hadn't a plan of attack when it came to this city's best tacos, and tortas, and enchiladas - figured I could sniff those out on my own.
And then Eating 16th Street happened, thus leading me to Tortas El Güero, and changing my life forever.
I've had some good tortas in my day, but none compared to the torta de carne al pastor I had at El Güero.
I dropped in one afternoon during the week, hoping to just pick up a torta and an agua fresca to-go, and get back to work. I wasn't expecting to be milling through the menu for so long... there are easily over 15 options of combinations. Among them, a Cuban and Hawaiian torta. Indecisive as ever, I asked the kind woman behind the counter which she recommended. First she recommended the al pastor, then the Cuban.
Coming from Miami, I was nostalgic for the Cuban-style pork, plantains, and rice and beans (and don't get me started on the guava and cheese pastries). But I knew that if I ordered a Cuban, everyone following this series would throw pitchforks in my direction for straying from the theme of Mexican Restaurant Row.
So I went with the al pastor.
Back to my newcomer-naïveté: I had no idea El Güero was known for having some of the best tortas in town -- so I wasn't expecting much over mediocre.
I was wrong. (In cases like these, I love being wrong.)
I'm not entirely sure what it was that made that sandwich taste so damn delicious (my excruciating hunger likely hadn't a thing to do with it, by the way) but there's some kind of harmony going on between those toasty buns.
A symphony of flavors from cool, fresh lettuce, warm carne al pastor, and mayo between a buttery, toasted bun. Jesus Christ.
I washed it all down with a freshly made agua de melon. You know how a glass of beer has a "head"? The frothy part that sits on top of the liquid? Well, only the best aguas frescas have a good head (and that's when you know it's made right). In this case, the whole plastic cup came out with icy froth. I'd initially thought they'd mistaken the agua for a licuado, because no part of it was clear. Once it started melting, though, it was obvious it was just an agua fresca, well made. Need we even mention flavor? I ordered cantaloupe - but who cares, because it was delicious. Chances are the other flavors (papaya, strawberry) will be just as good.
I took my sandwich and frosty frothy drink back to the office, where two nearby-sitting coworkers smelled the goods and went to Güero's to get their own.
It's a great thing when people up and leave to visit a restaurant right away. A great thing, indeed.
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There's a quote painted on top of the kitchen that reads, "Mexican people are known for their kindness and hospitality. Descendants of the Aztecs and Mayas, they show great artistic skills as well as pride for their heritage."
I may be biased, but amen to that. Only, they should add a side note to the quote: "They also hide the best tortas in metro Phoenix in this very space."
Eating 16th Street So Far: Eating 16th Street: Let's Begin at Pollo Sabroso La Frontera Taco Truck: A Hit and a Run Asadero Norte de Sonora: Family Friendly and Fit for a King Mariscos Playa Hermosa: From the Shores of Mexico to a Colorful Central Phoenix Restaurant Salsitas: Blame it on the Alcohol Pro's Ranch Market: Contents of a Fiesta Under One Roof Filiberto's: My Burrito of Sorrow La Cocina Economica: Bringing Familia from the Kitchen to the Table Hacienda El Bar-Ril: Central Phoenix Home to Diamond Tacos de Cabeza Dulceria Mayra's Y Mas: Small Place Packs a Huge Party La Condesa: Great Eats, but that Wait is Rough Mariscos Ensenada: Hold On to Your Margarita to Escape the Hyper Tension