Cafe Review: Two New Phoenix Gems That Center Mexico’s Regional Flavors

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The tortilla flour roll burritos from Testal Mexican Kitchen.

Jacob Tyler Dunn

If you think Mexican food is supposed to be cheap, I have some bad news for you: Pulque Fine Mexican Cuisine serves a $ 35 rib eye with yellow mole. Chef Danny Medina is frying piles of blue corn breaded calamari for $ 14. His waiters shake a $ 16 Codigo Blanco margarita kissed in lavender, the glass paved with black lava salt.

And every dish is worth every penny.

Medina has cooked at some of the valley’s most expensive and fancy restaurants, places like Dominick’s Steakhouse and The Capital Grille. In the early days of 2021, he opened a 48-seat room in Scottsdale with white tablecloths, a modest bar filled with agave liquor, a painting of Frida Kahlo on a wall, and a few plants.

There was no influencer manna on Instagram. There was no press. Quietly, however, there was quality feeding.

But the food of Medina deserves some attention. It adds something to the Mexican dining scene north of Via Linda: an upscale restaurant that leads with substance rather than lavish style.

For starters, even the crisps are piping hot and have a telltale sheen of oil. They are clearly cool. Everyone brings a giant crunch, a welcome opening.

This $ 35 steak says a lot about the restaurant. No thicker than an inch, the buttery sirloin steak has grill markings so quaint they could be taken from a TV commercial. Although mine was cooked slightly beyond rare, the meat was rich and tender, a really solid steak. The steak sat in a fiery yellow taupe with smoke and a vegetal intensity of guajillo and arbol chili, but soft, chewy and restrained enough to let in complex, dark spices.

Medina also cooks many of its fine Mexican dishes with charming creativity. For example, its fried calamari has a light and airy breading, almost tempura in its finesse. You dip purplish rings drizzled with parsley and chili sliced ​​in a tangy mixture of apricot and chamoy. It has to be one of the most unique squid dishes in town.

Pulque’s menu is extensive. If you stop for lunch, you can have tacos and tortas. The dinner menu completely abandons them and switches to dishes on the plate. These include soups, salads, ceviches, and a handful of starters, most of which are grilled and alive with a yellow, red, or green mole. Medina, originally from Chihuahua and living in Arizona for 35 years, focuses on foods from Puebla and Oaxaca. Taupe stars.

It studs a bow of jiggly grilled scallops in a stain of green mole. Composed primarily of Serrano, Jalapeño, and Poblano peppers, this mole has crisp, crisp warmth and the freshness of many untraceable herbs, but also richness. Scallops are a bit sweet on bites not dominated by the mole and cooked without too much searing, but nicely.

I also enjoyed the flautas – hot, crunchy rolled tacos made from the same hot, oily substance as the crisps. These cigarillos are filled with juicy chicken, zapped with cream, and spiced with the same yellow mole as the steak.

The drinks at Pulque are worth a try although in my experience they are the work of your waiter and not a dedicated drink specialist. No problem. (The margaritas were good enough to justify the real estate in my recent tequila cocktail article.)

Pulque’s version of a Cadillac margarita (a sub-style of the cocktail that uses stronger alcohol) uses Codigo Blanco, Cointreau, and lavender-infused agave syrup. Lavender is rare but seems to bring total balance to tequila, lime, and rich agave in an elusive way. It’s a satisfying drink in a city where the margarita bar is high.

Click to enlarge Testal Mexican Kitchen, 1325 Grand Avenue, Suite 1. - JACOB TYLER DUNN

Mexican Cuisine Testal, 1325 Grand Avenue, Suite 1.

Jacob Tyler Dunn

I found myself thinking of equally positive cocktails while drinking across town at Mexican Cuisine Testal on Grand Avenue in Phoenix. The burrito shop offers many cocktails made with sotol. The one I was sipping was snorting lightly on the Paloma. Sour and fruity, almost completely devoid of sweetness, fresh like a wave of grapefruit and carbonation, the cocktail plays with sweet saline and herbaceous notes in a gentle way unlike the original.

The many bottles of sotol and the many cocktails at sotol are just one reason to love this burrito joint, open at the end of 2020 on the same boulevard as the Bacanora El Charro Hipster Bar and Cafe. Together, this stretch has grown into one of the biggest and most character-driven Phoenix blocks for Mexican food and drink.

Directed by Fernando Hernández, Testal highlights the traditional preparations of Chihuahua distributed in the form of burrito. Jars of picadillo, deshrebada verde and Colorado chili are prepared house-style in a small space. Hernández strives to be loyal to the region, right down to the selection of sotol, art and merchandise for sale.

These burritos use flour tortillas – extremely fresh and fragrant. They are soft and pliable, lack chewing at all, and squeeze their fillings tightly. These babies are newborns, still beautifully warm after being grilled. The word “testal” refers to a ball of dough pressed into tortillas; the name of this restaurant reflects its broad priorities.

The chicharron burrito is made with soft pieces of pork skin. Even through the heat, these have a humble porcine intensity that gets even nicer once you add in the beans and cheese (an extra $ 0.30 each). La deshebrada is another keeper. Melting, flavorful beef soups with a green sauce that ripples with heat.

Speaking of heat, Testal just added a new salsa negra to their list. This salsa consists of sunset orange oil floating over dark chunks of pulverized chili. It’s glorious – super stitched on chicharonnes.

Testal has a trio of thoughtful aquatic frescoes for you to explore. Pinole, mixed with roasted corn, is the best. It begins with sweet and milky notes, then ends with a subtle but wild bloom of roasted and deeply earthy corn.

Pinole is an indigenous drink with a rich history on both sides of the border. In Sacaton, Ramona Farms, Gila River Indian Reservation, you can be told the story of consuming sweetened pinole drinks for energy if you buy pinole from the farms in dry form – roasted cracked corn. That such a nice version is available in take-out bottles from Testal is a blessing.

I would go through Testal for a quick burrito. It ranks in the # 1 burrito roll in town. I would come for a cocktail, or to sit and work after breakfast, or to taste pure sotol, or to feel good about the new generation of Mexican cuisine. The new guard shows promise – both on the high end and in places where you can eat like royalty for a few bucks.

Pulque Fine Mexican Cuisine
9619 N. Hayden Road # 108, Scottsdale

Calamari $ 14
Golden flautas $ 8
Taupe Bistec Amarillo $ 35
Codigo Margarita $ 16

Mexican Cuisine Testal
1325 NW Grand Ave. Suite # 1

Pinole $ 3.50
Deshebrada burrito $ 5.00
Chicharron burrito $ 4.50
Guacamaya stool $ 12

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