Busy day today. I’ll be chatting at 1 pm EST, on the Scott Van Pelt Show on ESPN Radio at 2:05 pm EST, and on Outside the Lines on ESPN shortly after 3 pm.
My latest post at mental_floss covers the histories of eight classic board games, with another post on the history of Settlers of Catan coming later today. And my last two posts over on ESPN.com broke down the Joaquin Benoit signing and the Uggla trade and John Buck signing.
I’ve mentioned Hillside Spot before, but let me recommend it again: If you live anywhere near the Ahwatukee region of Phoenix, or pass through it on I-10, you need to try this place, because the food is outstanding.
I’ve been for breakfast and lunch and can vouch for both meals. The “El Gallo” torta with eggs, chorizo, and avocado was tremendous, with the eggs cooked to order (they’re not that quick – that would be my only warning, but I will wait for food like this); bright, fresh avocado; just the right amount of mayo; and a fresh, soft, square roll from La Sonorense Tortilla Factory in downtown Phoenix. It’s a steal at $6. Their pancakes have earned some acclaim around here, for good reason – they’re eggy and buttery, like a thick, soft crepe, with one order more than my wife could finish even with some serious help from me. It looks like they rotate their coffees but try to offer something from a local roaster, such as one from Tempe’s Cartel Coffee Labs the day I was there.
I went back for lunch because I’d seen a pulled pork sandwich on their menu, with the pork first braised then finished over mesquite on their rotisserie grill. The pork was perfect, falling apart but with good browning on the outside, with a good background smoke flavor. It comes with a spicy cole slaw and, oddly enough, sliced fresh pear, which was a new combination for me but worked well, giving the sandwich a little bite and providing a small amount of natural sweetness to balance the acidity in the slaw. It comes on the same bread as the torta (telera bread), and the French fries, one of four side options, were hand-cut and just-fried.
Hillside Spot uses a lot of local vendors (including all of their eggs) and has that great funky cafe vibe I love to find in a local restaurant – like the Mission in San Diego or Blue Moon Cafe in Baltimore. Other than the Angel Sweet gelateria, I haven’t found anything as exciting as this place since we moved. It’s located on Warner and 48th, behind the McDonald’s, in the same strip mall where the Sunday farmer’s market is held.
We found Hillside Spot because it was mentioned in Phoenix magazine as one of the best new restaurants of 2010. We also tried another one, Barrio Cantina, in Scottsdale on Cactus right by the Tatum mall. The food was good, but on the heavy side, not just in fat content (that doesn’t usually bother me) but in the chef’s hand, adding sauces and flavors that end up detracting from the dish. But the core ingredients were all very strong, particularly their meats.
They offer a strong selection of taco plates, all available with corn or flour tortillas or as a torta. I went with the torta – that’s a new dish for me since we moved out here, so I’m indulging – made with machaca short ribs, braised to the point of collapse, with a full, satisfying, beefy flavor. It comes with shredded, slightly wilted cabbage and a crema that was probably unnecessary with the fattiness of the short rib. The dish came with a scoop of a strange, earthy rice and corn mixture that was slightly overcooked but tasted good, a solid neutral note to give me a break from the strong flavors of the machaca.
My wife went with a carnitas enchilada that came in a small cast-iron skillet and was served with the tortillas open, so the sauce and cheese (browned slightly under a salamander) were directly on the meat. She enjoyed it, although the presentation within the skillet was a mess.
We tried one appetizer, the “mini chimis” – small chimichangas where the ratio from dough to meat is way too high. I peeled a few of them open and ate the carnitas and machaca inside, to reduce the doughiness and get away from the tangy crema sticking to the outside like wallpaper paste. Someone there really knows how to slow-cook meat; they just need to work on how they serve it.