Wow. I haven't had Mexican food this mediocre since the last time I went to Taco Bell. A friend suggested it, and since I hadn't been, I figure we might as well try it at least once. My first impression on walking in was "Damn, this place is GORGEOUS!" It really does look nice in there. Someone obviously put an awful lot of work into making the room look nice. A nice looking room is good to a point. This one was so well appointed that it sent up a red flag that someone was paying more attention to the decor than the food. They lead me to our table (my dining companion hadn't arrived yet), a deuce right in the middle of the room. From three sides of the table, the sun comes straight in through the massive picture windows and leaves me blind. Other people who were already seated were holding up menus and such to shield their eyes. Would it really be that difficult to install some shades?
I've been in the mood for a good margarita lately, so I decided to order one while waiting for my friend. These guys have more margarita options than Starbucks has things to do with coffee. Well over 100 tequilas, more than 40 different fruit combinations, and if you want you can get a positively monstrous 44 ounce margarita. Two more bad signs- hideously large number of combinations in an attempt to please all of the people all of the time, and advertising an obscenely large portion. I skip the nonsense and order a regular one on the rocks. When it comes, I found out that they think sweet and sour mix is the proper mixer for a margarita. No, no, no, a THOUSAND times no! Tequila, fresh lime juice (adding orange juice if you like it sweet), triple sec. What's so hard about this? It's not like limes are ridiculously expensive (5 cents each at Safeway last I checked), and it's so much better. At least throw in a little Rose's Lime if you are going to use the sour mix. On my sliding margarita scale (where a Chili's Margarita Presidente scores a neutral 0- it's a decent, solid 'rita) from +5 to -5, the Garduño's house margarita scores about a -1. Truly nothing impressive. While waiting for my friend, a person dedicated to bringing chips and salsa to those who have none drops some at our table. The salsa looked and tasted like it came from a jar. It could have been worse, but it certainly could have been much, much better.
Eventually, my friend arrives, the sun drops out of view, and my retinas go back to their normal state. The menu looked generally overpriced and I didn't feel like spending an awful lot, so I just went with a combo plate of a shredded beef taco, chicken enchilada, and a chile relleno. Less than 10 minutes later, our food arrived. This was a busy Friday night. The food should have not come out NEARLY that fast. This could mean only one thing, and my suspicion was confirmed on first bite- the food had already been cooked, and was waiting for me to order it. The enchilada's tortilla was nearly dissolved by the red sauce, the taco was flavorless with a stale crunch to the shell, and the relleno was flat, limp, and lifeless. Thankfully, the manager didn't charge for the meal that I didn't eat more than 4 bites of. It was rather amusing when I was talking to the manager- he mentioned the New Times Best of Phoenix Reader's Choice awards (if I had known about those I wouldn't have set foot in the place to begin with!), and that they do cook the food there. Said nothing about it being cooked to order, and even appeared to dance around that topic quite carefully.
Total bill (my friend's combo plate and two margaritas) came to just shy of 25 dollars, way too much for the shoddy quality. Recommended alternative is the Chipotle across the fountain- the food is better there, the margaritas have a little more bite, and dinner for two won't set you back more than 20 bucks. If you want to do the sit-down thing, drive up to Los Dos Molinos on Alma School just north of Broadway.
Restaurant Rules Of Thumb I Learned The Hard Way Tonight:
1) Nice decor can signal good food. Extravagant decor cuts into the menu budget.
2) If you find yourself not liking the first parts of the meal, you won't like the rest either.
3) A readers' choice "Best Of" means positively jack. If anything, it is useful to point out the pedestrian restaurants that we try to avoid.
4) The larger the amount of options given, the more quantity wins out over quality.