Tag Archives: mexican food

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Patience pays off for Tortas Paquime

Restaurants often use the word organic to describe their fresh food, but at Tortas Paquime, organic can also refer to the restaurant’s rapid growth in the valley over the last 11 years.

Tortas Paquime is a locally owned Mexican restaurant with five locations based in the busy Phoenix and west valley markets that are loaded with places for quick Hispanic-based foods. Despite the difficult Phoenix area, the restaurant has found success in the area with patience in a down economy and a distinct menu that focuses on maintaining Mexican authenticity.

“It’s not a menu that you find anywhere else,” said Omar Alvarez, president of Tortas Paquime. Alvarez said that the food on the menu stands apart due in large part to its origins from Mexican culture in Chihuahua and Juarez. “A lot of the things that we have are things that we used to eat at our house with our mom,” he said, referring to his own history growing up in Casas Grandes, Chihuahua in northern Mexico.

Alvarez said that he had no experience working with food and restaurants after moving to Phoenix 12 years ago with his family, but he chose to open a small restaurant with just three common items he ate in Mexico: The Torta Paquime, Tostada Paquime and a ham wrap. “Then we adapted into more products that are very typical and are very products that I used to eat when I was a kid, things that I like,” said Alvarez.

Despite a growth in the food that was served, Alvarez said the company wanted to continue the Mexican authenticity rather than serving Americanized products using heavy condiments and sides that are not general parts of Mexican culture.

Zach Plumb is a first-time customer of Tortas Paquime and he said that he enjoyed the food despite having no experience with products from that region of Mexico. “I thought it was different, but still very good,” said Plumb, adding that the clean and casual feel was more inviting than other restaurants in the area.

“The tortas in Chihuahua are a lot different from the tortas in Sonora and they captured the differences and the authenticities in a true Chihuahuan torta,” said Danny Honea, a Tortas Paquime customer. Honea said he has a lot of experience with eating this kind of food in Mexico and that the restaurant did well to completely bring the culture to Phoenix.

Faithful Mexican tastes were important, but Tortas Paquime may not have survived without patience for development in the crowded Phoenix area.

“I like to grow organically,” said Alvarez, referring to the plan of patience with the business and to take opportunities for growth only when they were available. “Let’s not rush things, lets take things as they come.”

Alvarez said that this business model was sometimes difficult when being pressed to expand to different locations and markets rather than choosing to wait for natural chances to appear. “We had the ability to grow a lot faster, and we haven’t done it,” said Alvarez.

This patience was possibly most difficult in the recent economic recession that endangered numerous locally owned businesses. “By the time it was down we were fortunate and we were still growing,” said Alvarez. He added that the company then used the changing market to gain new customers, focusing advertising to second and third generation Hispanics and modifying the menu to include customer favorites like tacos and salads.

These new markets have led to plans for expansion in the future to join Tortas Paquime catering and a Paquime style of street food for fast eating. According to Alvarez, the company has eyes set on possible enfranchisement and opening restaurants outside of Arizona. Alvarez reiterated that these plans are only feasible if the company can continue to naturally grow, although they are currently heading in the right direction for a big move in the future.

black chile - AZ Business Magazine May/June 2012

Spicy And Sweet – Black Chile Mexican Grill

Black Chile Mexican Grill at Biltmore Fashion Park provides an upscale environment to wind down.

It’s 5:30 p.m. mid-week, and the Biltmore Fashion Park has proven to be more than merely a place to turn off Camelback Rd. to wait out the post-work, rush-hour traffic. Business-suit-donned professionals aplenty are heading straight to Black Chile Mexican Grill to relax al fresco on the restaurant’s patio while indulging in both the happy hour specials (with a Black Chile Margarita in hand) and owners Michael McDermott and Jason Merritt’s upscale, Mexican cuisine.

Black Chile began in McDermott’s kitchen over a four-month period, as creations now found on the menu were developed. McDermott’s most memorable dish?

“The skewers were one of those dishes we couldn’t stop picking at in the kitchen,” McDermott recalls. “I kept going back for more.”

Upon hearing this, my dinner party and I agreed we must try the carne asada skewers as one of our appetizers. We also followed suit with the rest of the dinner patrons that night who opted for either the high tops in the bar or the patio seating, which was already nearly full by 6 p.m. Not to mention it was a comfortable 75 to 80 degrees that night; with gorgeous, rare weather like that, how do you pass that up?

But back to the food. The appetizers that arrived to our table, all recommended by McDermott, included the aforementioned skewers as well as the Cotija grilled corn, the fresh guacamole and the avocado egg rolls.

Upon first bite of the skewers, we all agreed McDermott’s anecdote was far from exaggerated. The marinated carne asada was so juicy and tender, we only wished we had the same opportunity to have seconds, and thirds, and fourths … but maybe that was just me. Thankfully the corn took our minds off the longing for a moment as the sweetness of the corn was perfectly subdued by the aioli, cayenne pepper and hints of lime as well as the abundant, thick layer of Cotija cheese caked atop.

Post-appetizers, we were treated with six dishes, including the fish tacos with sweet cabbage slaw and chipotle mayonnaise, which seemed a bit too overwhelming for me, although everyone else enjoyed it; the shrimp diablo, a rightfully named, hot-and-spicy combination of chipotle cheese sauce, chiles, onions and garlic; and the baked salmon filet rubbed with chipotle sauce. (Notice a common ingredient yet?)

The final two entrees, however, were the favorites of the table.

First up, the meatloaf — a unique combination of ground beef, chorizo, sausage and sauteed onions, topped off with Oaxaca cream sauce.

The finale of our entrees were the enchiladas with shredded chicken, roasted poblano cream sauce and two types of cheeses — Asadero and Manchego. McDermott mentioned during the night that this was Black Chile’s No. 1 seller; and we definitely believed it. The entree was mild, flavorful, and as one of my dinner mates put it, “If you don’t like spice, you’ll love this dish” — but in a positive way, considering the rest of the entrees we tried that night were more on the spicy side.

Combine the meals with Black Chile’s attentive service, clean representation and comfortable environment, and you’ve got yourself a winner. We weren’t the only patrons who felt this way, though; Black Chile was voted best patio dining, best upscale Mexican restaurant and best margarita (the Black Chile Margarita) by the 2011 Best of Phoenix.

Don’t believe us? Try it for yourself, and end the night as we did with the churros, which were so light and soft, and the rich chocolate and whipped cream sauces we dipped them in could almost rival the sweetness of the corn found in the sticky rice side.

Never before Black Chile Mexican Grill has Mexican food ever tasted so spicy-sweet.

For more information on Black Chile Mexican Grill, visit Black Chile Mexican Grill’s website at blackchile.com.

Arizona Business Magazine May/June 2012

SOL Cocina

Mimosas & Mexican Food: Brunch At SOL Cocina

On June 23rd, SOL Cocina began serving brunch with a south-of-the-border, Baja twist.

When I think brunch, I picture myself, mimosa in hand, mingling and schmoozing with socialites donned in their Sunday best — nay, more like their Kentucky Derby attire (floppy hats, sun dresses, the whole shebang).

But, in reality, brunch is nothing like that. Well, the mimosa is still in the picture, of course; those are always involved.

For this particular Sunday morning/afternoon, we decided on SOL Cocina, which had a newly added brunch menu. Now, I had only ever ventured to Olive & Ivy for brunch, and its menu consisted of dishes with typical items, including potatoes, eggs, toast, bacon, etc. So when I asked myself if Mexican food at 11 a.m. was a good idea, I had no idea what to expect. My stomach wasn’t used to digesting south-of-the-border food before the dinner (or fourth meal) hour.

After roaming the Scottsdale Quarter, we finally found SOL Cocina, and I’m still not sure how we missed it with its bright, bold-red awning. Here’s one thing to note: There is, in fact, a parking garage located right next to the restaurant.

While waiting for our other two guests, we were greeted by our spunky waitress, who informed us that the limes, hot sauce and salt on the table were considered in Mexico the “salt and pepper of the table.” Thank goodness because I was starting to worry I wasn’t wild enough for this place, thinking margaritas were in store.

If you’re a wimp like me and can’t handle spicy or hot food, go easy on the “mild” salsa when tostada dipping. Considered an eight (out of 10) by the restaurant, the waitress swore it was more of a two. No, that salsa had a spicy kick when I least expected it. Looks like I have at least one thing in common with the one who gave the salsa that eight rating — we’re salsa soul mates.

So as I washed down the salsa with my mimosa — which, by the way ladies and the only 20-something male in the restaurant that day daintily sipping on one, SOL offers $1 refills, after paying the initial $7; what a deal! — I skimmed the menu, looking over the brunch options, and this caught every one of our eyes: “Enough to feed the whole family — ”. We scoffed. Papas ‘Papi’, challenge accepted. We also ordered the Machaca Wrap Ahogado, the Breakfast Torta and the Souffle Carlotta.

Rounds of coffee, orange juice and water later, our food — or shall I say, “feast” — arrived.

Two things: One, they weren’t kidding about the Papas ‘Papi’ feeding the entire family; and two, just how big of a family are they referring to anyway?

The Papas ‘Papi’ was a heart-stopping heap of food, with potatoes, onions, melted cheese, pork chorizo, bacon, serrano chiles, green onions and pice de gallo — all smothered with crema. It made the rest of our dishes look like amuse-bouches. Surprisingly, the Papas ‘Papi’ was my favorite of the four dishes.

The Souffle Carlotta came in second, with its soft and sweet Mexican kick. Considered SOL’s version of the French toast, the Souffle Carlotta had a hint of Patron Citronage and lemon zest in the bread pudding, which, for a slight moment, brought back memories of my grandmother’s flan. (The language isn’t the only thing the Mexican and Filipino cultures have in common, even if just slightly.) Topped and drizzled with organic agave syrup, mango, berries, vanilla whipped cream, almonds and powdered sugar, this dish quickly became a favorite.

As for the Machaca Wrap Ahogado, who doesn’t love machaca? Growing up in Yuma, Ariz., I had yet to find a Mexican food restaurant in the Valley that ever came close to the authentic food found in the town bordered by both Mexico and California; but with this machaca dish, SOL Cocina is now the closest thing.

Cooked with ancho chile, onion, cumin and oregano, the shredded beef concoction folded in a flour tortilla with eggs, cheese, refried beans, all topped with red salsa and pico de gallo, had “great flavor composition,” according to one of my brunch companions. The layers of ingredients complemented one another and wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it would be.

The Breakfast Torta, on the other hand, was a more traditional brunch entree, compared to the flavor combinations of the other three dishes. The telera roll stuffed with eggs, cheese, bacon, avocado and pickled jalapenos, however, was still a delicious treat. Compared to other greasy, messy tortas I’ve had in the past, this one tasted fresh and didn’t weigh me down. (And this is probably due to the fact that SOL Cocina works with fresh, seasonal ingredients.)

With its old world charm, SOL Cocina not only offers a comfortable, cozy environment to gather with friends and family on an early Sunday afternoon, it also offers authentic Mexican, Baja California inspired cuisine and authentic flavors.

In hindsight, I’m glad we parked on the other side of the Quarter; I definitely needed to walk off all of that food — and window shop, of course.

For more information about SOL Cocina, visit solcocina.com.

SOL Mexican Cocina
15323 N. Scottsdale Rd.
(480) 245-6708

taco dish

Find Delicious Mexican Food In The Old Pueblo

Having spent four years in Tucson attending the University of Arizona, I assimilated to the culture.  By that I mean Mexican food became one of my major food groups.  There’s no shortage of Mexican food from South Tucson to the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, so if you love Mexican food, you’re in luck.  Here are seven diverse Mexican restaurants that will be sure to get your taste buds buzzing in the Old Pueblo.

Café Poca Cosa
110 E. Pennington Street
Tucson, Ariz. 85701
(520) 622-6400

You never know just what you’re going to get at Café Poca Cosa.  But with a menu that changes twice daily, you can expect fresh and innovative food.  Located in downtown Tucson, Café Poca Cosa is sleeker and more modern than other Mexican restaurants.

El Charro Café
311 N. Court Ave.
Tucson, Ariz. 85701
(520) 622-1922

El Charro Café was established in 1922, but today there are three around Tucson, one in Oro Valley and one in Sahuarita.  According to Bloomberg’s Businessweek Magazine, it’s the oldest Mexican restaurant in the United States. The best part of the downtown, Court Avenue location is the outdoor patio, perfect for dining on spicy food on a cool evening.

Guadalajara Grill
1220 E. Prince Road
Tucson, Ariz. 85719
(520) 333-1022

Guadalajara Grill is always packed on Friday and Saturday nights.  Most people may be waiting for the food, but those in the know are there for the La Bandera margarita. This margarita is 18 ounces of fun, with different flavors stacked three high to look like the Mexican flag. Learn how La Bandera is made.

La Fuente Restaurant
1749 N. Oracle Road
Tucson, Ariz. 85705
(520) 623-8659

During the day La Fuente can’t be missed – it’s bright pink.  But at night La Fuente shouldn’t be missed because of the lively and loud atmosphere.  At La Fuente, mariachis are the main attraction Thursday through Sunday.  They even have their own stage in the middle of the restaurant.

Mi Nidito
1812 S. Fourth Ave.
Tucson, Ariz. 85713
(520) 622-5081

Located in South Tucson, Mi Nidito is Mexican food with a presidential past.  When President Bill Clinton visited in February 1999, Mi Nidito commemorated the event by naming a dish “The Presidential Plate.”  Other notable guests include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, actor William Shatner and of course hometown favorite and former Wildcat basketball star Steve Kerr.

Sir Veza’s Taco Garage
4699 E. Speedway Blvd.
Tucson, Ariz. 85712
(520) 323-TACO (8226)

If you’re looking for Mexican food with a different spin, try Sir Veza’s Taco Garage. Chips and salsa are served in a hubcap and shammies serve as napkins at this unconventional restaurant.  It’s not the most authentic Mexican food in town, but Sir Veza’s delivers with an extensive cerveza and cocktail menu and themed meal names.

The Taco Shop Co.
1350 E. Broadway Blvd.
Tucson, Ariz. 85719
(520) 622-1899

The Taco Shop Co. is great for cheap, fast and semi-greasy Mexican food. Don’t expect linen tablecloths and silverware, The Taco Shop Co. is open 24 hours and has a salsa buffet. But the combo platters, complete with a drink, rice and beans, rarely cost more than $8, and they’re filling.