At these 11 spots, restaurateurs change up the traditional tacos and burritos, modernizing the Mexican menu with vibrancy through plated flavors and surrounding décor.
Barrio Cafe & Barrio Urbano
Vibrantly colored street art adorns two restaurants from the inside out in central Phoenix—Barrio Cafe and newly opened Barrio Urbano—and are run by tenacious chef Silvana Salcido Esparza. Flavor profiles of Silvana’s dishes are just as colorful: tortas topped with banana-leaf-wrapped and slow-roasted pulled pork in achiote and sour-orange marinade; roasted poblano peppers filled with chicken, apple, pear, dried apricot and pecans in a cream sauce topped with cilantro, queso fresco and pomegranate seeds are among the creatively plated fare.
SOL Mexican Cocina
The menu at SOL stems coastal-Baja inspiration in items like the hot-and-raw tropical ceviche served with sweet potato and red-beet chips; shrimp chiles rellenos; and three types of guacamole.
Salt & Lime
Share a choice of six types of salsa at Salt & Lime, then pair the kale and mango salad (red cabbage, jicama, avocado, queso fresco, pepitas and oregano-lime vinaigrette) with the tango mango cocktail (tequila, lime juice, mango, cilantro and jalapeño), or continue the sharing with mini chimis and enchiladas.
Upcycled patchwork, flannels and tweed upholstery adds to the décor at The Revival where diners contemplate between dishes like roasted butternut squash with black beans, Spanish rice, pomegranate, guacamole and pickled jalapeño with corn tortillas; and braised-duck taquitos with tomatillo sauce, poblano crema, radish, red onion, shaved lettuce and Cotija cheese.
Plantain-crusted mahi mahi with chipotle rémoulade, avocado and red cabbage, or glazed pork belly with frijoles charros (beans), grilled scallion and pineapple paired with a mezcal mule cocktail are framed by the often glitter-encrusted, glossed tables and magenta and lemon-yellow décor inside Distrito at The Saguaro Hotel.
Step up the Mexican-contemporary fare at The Mission with green-chile duck confit (cheesy-fried corn kernels, smoked mushrooms, sultanas, Serrano-peanut mole, apple and radish salad) or Malbec-braised short rib (with crispy queso-fresco potatoes, red-pepper chimichurri, olives, capers and Huancaína sauce) under dimly lit black chandeliers.
TQLA is a tequila-centered hotspot—four tequilas on tap and a tasting room on-site—that turns out modern Mexican-Southwestern specialties like the crawfish & pecan hushpuppies, barbeque-duck tamales and pumpkin-seed-crusted salmon with fried-green tomatoes, green-chile mashed potatoes and a sweet-pepper-tequila-lime butter sauce.
It goes without saying, a margarita (12 to choose from) should be a staple accompaniment to each dish ordered at Modern Margarita. Try the hot mango, with chile-infused blanco tequila, lime, triple sec and mango; or the Sonoran with blanco tequila, lime, triple sec, orange and prickly pear syrup, while lounging in the indoor-outdoor dining space overlooking High Street and sharing a flight of 15 thoughtfully topped tacos.
Order sangría by the carafe and choose from Mexican-American dishes such as the al pastor flatbread with pork, ancho chile, pineapple, orange, onion, Manchego cheese, avocado crema and charred-tomato sauce; or the butternut squash taco with poblanos, Anaheim chile, grilled and pickled onions, corn and sundried tomato aïoli at Milagro Grill.
Inside Otro Cafe, the no-fuss dining room’s wall space is decorated with local artists’ works. Traditional enchiladas, mole negro and tortilla soup is found on the menu and so are such originative items as the nacho torta—with grilled rib-eye, fried eggs, lettuce, ahi aïoli and guacamole—and Inca salad—quinoa, fresh corn, dried cranberries, pepitas, yulu seeds, tomato, arugula, mint, basil, cilantro, red onion, lime juice and avocado, drizzled with herb vinaigrette.