The Phoenix Ranch Market at 16th Street and Roosevelt is one of my favorite grocery stores in the Phoenix area. They have great meats and produce at dirt-cheap prices, the atmosphere is festive and cheerful, and they have a terrific food court area with great casual Mexican food at even better prices. However, the last few times I've been to Phoenix Ranch Market, I have had no inclination at all to eat in their food court. The reason is simple; they opened a full-service restaurant next door, and it is absolutely terrific. I have been there three times now, and have been quite impressed most of the time. They put a lot of effort into making the place look great; when you walk in there is a large courtyard with an enormous fountain, and vendors along one side of the courtyard like you would find in a plaza in Mexico. A taco vendor is selling meats fresh off the grill, and the aroma wafts delectably all around. Once inside, the restaurant is very spacious, with a soaring ceiling, tons of silk roses separating the booths, and a line of tables down the middle of the restaurant that look like they could easily handle a group of 40 people should one walk in. Due to the very high ceiling there was a problem with noise echoing all over the place, but recently installed sound baffles have dramatically reduced this problem.
Definitely start off with a margarita; their standard Tradiciones Margarita is solid, with a good lime flavor. Fresh fruit margaritas are real winners; I've tried strawberry and watermelon, and both were obviously made with fresh fruit. If you enjoy the flavor of cilantro, try their Cilantro Margarita (I believe it's $5.95); it's a unique taste, and one I look forward to having again in the near future. There's always one of the margaritas on special; the prices on drinks are already quite reasonable, but the special just makes it even better. They were even thoughtful with the ice water, bringing out a generous glass with a slice of lime.
They start out the meal with a generous bowl of chips, and red and green salsas. The chips are the same as the ones you can buy in the Market next door, but these are glistening with hot oil, fresh from the fryer. They're perfectly salted, and the salsas are quite tasty. I like the green one more than the red; the red one is decent, but the green has a much brighter, zippier flavor that I just can't get enough of. Most of the times I've been here we just went straight for the entrees, but one time we tried their guacamole. Holy moly, now THIS is guacamole! It's silky with just the right chunkiness, bursting with well-seasoned avocado flavor. It seriously competes with Barrio Cafe for being some of the best guacamole in town. And Seth Chadwick, I would have sampled a cheese crisp for you by now, but they don't have them on the menu. Maybe next time I'll ask if they can do one just for you ;-)
For entrees, your best bet is to order things that have most of the menu desciption in Spanish, on the center panel of the menu. It's not that their combination plates are bad per se, but the kitchen staff really shines with traditional Mexican food over Tex-Mex. I'm always drawn to their carne asada platter for two ($19.95; the platter for four is $37.95), a gargantuan meal of three meats (your choice of chicken, pork, steak, shrimp, chorizo, and beef ribs), grilled tomatoes, grilled Mexican onion, nopales (prickly pear cactus pads), charro beans, rice, and tortillas. Everything on the platter is outstanding. The meats pick up a wonderful smokiness from the grill, the nopales have just the right tart edge to offset the grill smoke, and the tortillas are simply divine. The charro beans are most definitely not vegetarian, they are bursting with smoky pork flavor. Each time that a member of my group has ordered it, we have gone home with enough food for lunch the next day. Another time I went, I tried their pollo en mole and truly enjoyed it. I'm somewhat spoiled on my moles; the first one I had was from Cafe Poca Cosa when owner Suzana Davila was having a particularly good day, and the mole she put out was darn near a religious experience. I've lost a significant other because I couldn't swoon for them the way I swooned for that mole. Anyway, I should be telling you about Tradiciones here and not Poca Cosa. The mole at Tradiciones is very nice, almost black with serious smokiness (I wouldn't be surprised if it's because they roast their own chiles). I think they put a wee bit too much chocolate in the mole, but I wouldn't fault them much for that. The chicken was juicy and practically falling off the bone. The one time I have been less than dazzled at Tradiciones was the one time I strayed from their specialties and went with one of "Los Tipicos", the boring gringo Combination Plate. I went with a shredded beef taco, cheese enchilada with red sauce, and their tamale of the day, chicken and vegetable. The tamale was delicious, but the enchilada and taco left something to be desired. The beef didn't have much seasoning to it, and the red sauce on the enchilada just fell flat against its backdrop of melted white cheese. At least the refried beans were great, with a creamy texture and a slight crispness to them.
If you somehow have room after the entrees, dessert is very worthwhile. The flan is absolutely perfect, thick and rich with caramel flavor, and just the right lightly spongy texture, and the tres leches cake is sinfully moist and just plain perfect.
Each time I've gone the price for dinner has been around 20 dollars per person including food drinks and tax; entrees hover around the 10 dollar mark. It's one of the best deals on Mexican food I've had in town.
NE corner of 16th Street and Roosevelt
Value: 5 (very good)
Kid Friendly: 4 (bring the whole family, they won't mind)
Open For: Lunch, Dinner, Sunday Brunch
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