Urban Taco in Phoenix: Salsas Take Centerstage

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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: Urban Taco Location: 6522 N. 16th Street Open: About a week Eats: Mexican Price: $10-30 per person

Urban Taco has been taunting me for months.

See also: Méjico in Central Phoenix: Homestyle Mexican Food That Hits the Spot

The newest taco joint in town, formerly Europa Pastry Cafe located in a strip mall on 16th Street just north of Maryland, has had an impending liquor license sign on the window forever. The Urban Taco sign has been up for months. On Cinco de Mayo, I drove by and saw a Grand Opening sign and balloons.


The tiny restaurant is small (only 8 tables, though one is a 10-top, and there is seating for 10 at the bar), pleasantly decorated with rustic tables, shabby chic decor, chalkboard menus and a sprawling well-stocked bar.

My dining companions and I arrived during happy hour (Monday - Saturday from 4 - 7 p.m.) and were immediately told that the entrees are not yet available and they were out of octopus, which was a big bummer because I'd heard that the octopus tacos are good. Armed with that knowledge, I perused what was left on the menu: An array of salsas (9 flavors to be exact), gourmet tacos, street tacos, burritos, salads and sides.

We started the meal with one of the salsa flights, which includes chips and your choice of either three ($3.50) or five ($4.50) salsas. We went for the five and sampled a classic Pico de Gallo, Cucumber, Roasted Corn and Garlic Crema, Green Chile and Cilantro Aioli and Chimichurri. All were fresh and delicious. Some had a little spice, but none overwhelming. The cilantro-based Chimichurri was my favorite, perhaps because it had the most kick of my choices. If you like it hot, Habanero and Chipotle are both very flavorful and pack more heat, but neither are oppressively spicy. We also ordered a half-size of the guacamole ($2.75) ) which was good, but your typical guac.

With such an emphasis on salsa, you'd think they'd set the foundation with a stellar chip. Not so. Our bowl was filled with tiny chip remnants.

I remembered it was Happy Hour and ordered a $5 House Margarita made with a homemade sweet and sour, which was solid (and strong).

As an entree, I ordered the Street Taco Plate ($9.25) which comes with rice, beans and one salsa. I sampled one of each of the three tacos available (now that octopus wasn't an option). When my tacos arrived, they were all very similar, 2 small corn tortillas heaped with a meat (chicken, pork or short rib), poblano chiles, onions and queso. Each was good, but clearly they are a back drop for the salsa. The accompanying rice and bean plate consisted of creamy refried black beans and some really flavorful rice.

The Gourmet Taco Plate ($10.75) has 2 large tacos plus the rice, beans and a salsa and a few more choices. In addition to the chicken, short ribs and pork, there is also a pork belly, vegetarian and shrimp option. The pork kind of got lost on the Pork Belly and Potato taco. The Vegetable Taco contains spinach, onions, tomato, mushrooms, corn and cheese, but the spinach overwhelmed all other veggies in this mix.

There are a few burrito options including a Pork Verde and Baja Shrimp. We ordered a Queso y Frijoles Negro burrito (aka bean & cheese). It isn't fancy, but the tortillas are deliciously chewy and good.

The service was attentive in a good way. All the employees were eager and clearly excited to finally be open.

I'm pretty excited too -- especially about the salsa.

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