Not much new to report on for this trip to Phoenix. I made another visit to the Phoenix Ranch Market – still the best burrito with carnitas I’ve ever had, for just under $5, as well as phenomenal Mexican cookies (40Â¢ each) and aguas frescas, to Honey Bear’s BBQ, and to the Gelato Spot (try the coconut gelato), as well as the obligatory stop at In-n-Out. The new spots I hit weren’t much to rave about:
â€¢ Cien Agaves is a sort of upscale tacos-and-tequila place in Old Town Scottsdale that opened just over a week ago. I was there during Happy Hour, when all of their tacos are $3. The lobster taco is supposedly their best (ordinarily $7), but the lobster meat is chopped rather finely and is heavily spiced, so the delicate flavor of the lobster is obliterated. The fish taco was excellent, with the fish perfectly fried with a cornmeal breading and just a small amount of the lime-cilantro sauce. The shrimp taco carried some of the same spices as the lobster, but shrimp can better withstand that level of flavor and heat. But the main problem with Cien Agaves is their lack of quality control. I ordered a grilled corn side dish – one ear at $3 – and what came was a bland ear of corn, grilled inside the husk, then opened and doused in butter with a heavy dose of cayenne pepper. And the first corn that came out had a rotten spot on it. The server took it back, brought another one out five minutes later, and explained that he had to throw three others out that had similar rotting issues. Not exactly a confidence-booster – and the corn wasn’t taken off the check. They’ve been open for a week; they won’t be open for a year.
â€¢ Tacos al Caporal is a tiny Mexican place in a strip mall on Country Club Rd in Mesa. It looks like a family-run operation, and no one there speaks English, although all of the items on the menu will be familiar to anyone who’s eaten at an Americanized Mexican place. The tacos here are $1-$1.50 each and are very small; they’re served just as meat on corn tortillas, and you can fix the tacos yourself at a small “salsa bar” that has green and red salsas, chopped onions, and shredded lettuce, all sitting on a bed of ice. The taco al pastor was a particular hit, although the carne asada and carnitas tacos were also good. They offer two or three flavors of aguas frescas, including a not-too-sweet tamarind. The only worry here is that the place was empty on a Wednesday night around 6 pm.
â€¢ Bandarang, in Mesa on Country Club near Route 60, has received some positive writeups online, but the food was bland and their lunch special setup leaves a lot to be desired. The chicken in sweet basil sauce had a lot of red chili flakes in it, but no heat, and no real basil flavor other than the leaves served as garnish. The white jasmine rice that came with the dish had been cooked at least a half-hour previously and kept warm, and the side dishes that come with the lunch special (fried rice, fried wontons, and vegetarian pad thai) are all kept lukewarm on a side table to be served buffet-style. They seem to draw a good crowd, so there’s some turnover, but my rule of thumb is that if it’s not hot, it’s spoiled.
But seriously – go to Phoenix Ranch Market. It’s cheap, it’s authentic, and it is ridiculously good.