For the past few weekends, Dave the Roommate and I have been scoping out Mexican restaurants in hopes of finding some of the best. This was all spurred by the raving prattle of the owner of the Pink Taco Restaurant in Las Vegas (housed in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino) who said he did his research and came to the conclusion that Theres no good Mexican (food) here.
Of course, hes wrong. So, Dave and I went out to find good Mexican food.
Several people at work had recommended that we stop by El Bravo on North 7th Street for some decent Mexican chow. That isnt my neck of the woods, but I would drive anywhere for decent Mexican food.
We arrived just at the end of the lunch hour and took a seat in the secondary dining room. The interior of El Bravo is small, but adequate. There are a few pieces of artwork on the walls and some festive decorations, but one of the walls is secured for the awards that El Bravo has one. Their centerpiece award is their claim to having the best green corn tamales. Being suspicious as I am, I had to try one. So did Dave.
We waited a few minutes and our server came with a basket of chips, a bottle of hot sauce and a small bowl of salsa. The chips were fragrant and slightly warm. The hot sauce in the bottle was thin, but packed a nice kick once it hit the back of your tongue. The salsa was chunky, fresh and had a small touch of sweetness to it. It wasnt overly spicy, but mixing the salsa and the hot sauce together made a nice mix.
Dave and I placed our orders and decided to start with a Cheese Crisp ($4.50). We both had to get something with the Green Corn Tamale, so I went with the #5 Chicken Tamale Combo ($9.50) and Dave selected the #6 Chicken Tamale Deluxe Combo ($9.50). We also got drinks, with an Iced Tea ($1.25) for me and a Diet Pepsi ($1.50) for Dave. Oddly, the restaurant started filling up again even though the lunch hour had officially passed.
We munched on the chips and enjoyed our drinks and really liked the buzz of the place. People were chatting away and you could hear the dulcet tones of a tinny AM radio being played in the kitchen. We were having a very relaxing and enjoyable time.
Our cheese crisp arrived with little fanfare, but it sure smelled wonderful. I could tell by the browned tortilla that this was going to be good. The cheese was thick and gooey on top. Dave and I each grabbed a slice, dressed with either sauce or salsa and took a bite. Excellent. The tortilla was slightly crunchy and the cheese was sharp and rich. You couldnt have asked for anything more. Very good all the way around.
After we finished the crisp, we waited only a few minutes for our entrees. As always, they came out on searing hot plates and were set in front of us. My #5 Combo was sending waves of heat over my face and I inhaled the scent from the food. The first thing that caught my attention was the Green Chicken Corn Tamale. The green sauce was bright and inviting. I poked the masa coating a bit to release some of the steam and was surprised by how thin it was. The tamale was loaded with chicken. Where other places put scant bits of filling in their tamales, it was the opposite at El Bravo.
I let my meal cool a bit before taking a bite of the tamale. Incredible. Simply scrumptious. The stewed chicken was lightly spiced, super moist and melt-in-your-mouth tender. The masa was a supporting cast member instead of dominating the dish and the green sauce was spicy. El Bravo deserved its awards for its tamales. The Sour Cream Enchilada that was served with my combo was exceptionally good. The tortilla was fresh and the cheese was hot and melted throughout. The sour cream had melted and infused itself with the enchilada sauce for a wonderful creamy texture and taste. The rice was spiced with garlic and chili powder and the beans were excellent, which was surprising since these are usually given little more than a passing thought in the kitchen.
All in all, my combo was exceptional. The Green Corn Chicken Tamale pushed my meal over the top. I dont think there was a single molecule of food left on my plate.
Daves #6 combo featured a Green Corn Chicken Tamale, a ground beef flour taco, a shredded beef flauta and rice and beans. Like me, Dave fell in love with the tamale. He said it was the best tamale he had ever had. He also gave plenty of raves to his taco, especially since the shell was a fried flour tortilla instead of the usual corn. He liked the meat in the flauta and also agreed with my assessment of the rice and beans.
When Dave had finished, he and I talked about the tamales and that these were fantastic and the highlight of the lunch. Perfectly executed, these deserved a solid 9.5 on a 10 scale. We had another round of drinks and requested our bill.
Our server returned with our bill and a nice surprise. On a small piece of parchment paper, two flour tortilla rounds had been fried and then dusted with sugar and cinnamon. They were light and fluffy and very good. A nice treat to finish our meal. The total bill was $28.35 which was a good value. The service was good, considering there was one waitress for the whole restaurant.
We left El Bravo, still talking about the tamales. They really were that good.
I cant wait to see the first competition between El Bravos tamales and Pink Tacos tamales. I dont think Pink Taco stands a prayer.
El Bravo Mexican Food
8338 North 7th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85020
Notes: Try one of their tamales.