(Note: Photos are available at my website - www.feastinginphoenix.com ).
Harry Morton is 25-years-old. Harry Morton is the CEO and owner of the new Pink Taco in Scottsdale. Harry Morton is also the son of a casino mogul and probably thinks he knows it all. That is the only reason he could have made the following statement about Phoenix’s Mexican food scene: “There’s no good Mexican here.”
Barrio Café, Los Sombreros, and a host of others aren’t even in the running for decent Mexican food, according to Morton.
Since Morton made such a bold statement about my hometown, I thought it only fair to put him to the test: the Feasting in Phoenix test. Now, I will be honest and admit that the brand spanking new Pink Taco restaurant in Scottsdale has a big hurdle to clear because the owner opened his restaurant here (the original is in Las Vegas) to – supposedly – bring real Mexican food to the Valley of the Sun (since we apparently don’t have any).
Additionally, I have been to the original Pink Taco in Las Vegas and the only thing I remember about it was the excellent margarita I had.
So I drove over to the Pink Taco hoping to be wowed by the food. I arrived at the Camelback eatery and pulled into the parking garage. Taking the elevator up, the doors opened onto Camelback road and the entrance to Pink Taco was just to my right.
I entered and was greeting by a hostess who took me to my seat. The interior of the restaurant was hip and trendy, decorated with touches of Mexico and the Southwest, all lit by a vibrant red glow. The tables, chairs and booths were all constructed of dark, hard wood and my four-top was comfortable. In order to make the place even more hip, the PA system was pumping in grunge rock over the speakers, with a few classic rock hits thrown in for good measure.
My server arrived and took my drink order. Since the heat is on full-furnace now in Phoenix, I couldn’t pass up a margarita and decided to go with their “signature” drink, which was a Sandia (Watermelon) Margarita ($7.50) on the rocks with salt. I also ordered water and a Diet Coke ($2.00).
Moments after my server departed to get my drinks, another server arrived sporting a tray and setting a big metal basket of chips on my table along with three ramekins filled with different sauces. The chips were warm and salty and not greasy. The chips were also rather thick. They were fresh and tasty, but the thickness made them much chewier than I expected. After a handful, my jaws were showing signs of distress from the chewiness.
The sauces were decent. The first was fairly mild, bordering on bland. It was a simple tomato puree with some seasoning. The second was similar to the first, but had a good component of chipotle in the mix. The third was a very spice tomatillo sauce that, again, had a chipotle side to it. Out of the three, the best was the tomatillo sauce and the worst was the mild. Nothing was truly stellar, but okay.
My server brought my drinks and my Sandia Margarita was set in front of me and I looked forward to tasting it. My first sip was quite satisfying and the margarita taste was exceptional. The watermelon taste was perfect for a hot day and the addition of the salt on the rim really made the sweetness of the watermelon shine. I thought this was an excellent drink and was hoping it would set the tone for the meal.
My server this took my order. I wanted to get a variety of tastes and so I decided to order a cup of the Tortilla Soup ($3.95), requesting that the diced avocado be left off due to a food allergy. I also thought I would see what their version of the Quesadilla ($6.95) would be like and requested that the guacamole be kept back in the kitchen. For my entrée, I opted for the Carne Asada Tacos ($9.95), which would be served with rice and beans.
I sipped my delicious margarita and only a few moments passed before my soup arrived. It was a small bowl filled with a reddish broth and pieces of tortilla floating in the soup and a drizzle of sour cream and a sprinkling of cheese. I took a bite of the soup and was underwhelmed. The soup was lukewarm and the tortilla pieces were disintegrating. It was my estimation that the tortilla pieces were cooked in the broth. The taste of the broth was uninspired because the only thing I really could taste was chipotle. I couldn’t tell anyone if the broth was made of chicken, beef, pork, fish, veal or vegetables. It simply tasted like watered down chipotle.
I decided to give another go at the soup and was completely caught off-guard by the fact that my second soup-spoon full contained a chunk of avocado. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this until I bit down on it. I went into a mild panic because I know what this food allergy does to me and it isn’t pretty or fun. Sadly, it was hidden, so my server didn’t catch it at the outset. I pushed the soup aside.
My Quesadilla arrived and I was disappointed that part of one slice was a waste because, against my wishes, it had a scoop of guacamole resting on part of it. The quesadilla itself was terrible. Jack cheese had been put into a flour tortilla and then folded over and either baked or saw the microwave. Too bad they couldn’t have actually heated it through because the cheese was slightly melted and the tortilla was barely warm to the touch. The quesadilla was served with the guacamole, sour cream and a scoop of a chunky, sweet chipotle mix. The sour cream and chipotle mix were good, but by this time, I was hoping to taste some other chile spice than chipotle. I wish I knew where in Hermosillo I could get one of these authentic treats.
My entrée arrived and I was hoping this would save the meal. Three open-face soft tacos were composed of small corn tortillas laden with a serving of carne asada meat and sprinkled with chopped fresh onion. A bit of salsa fresca separated the three tacos from the rice and beans.
The tacos were decent. I am normally a hard-shell taco fan, but these were passable. They were not groundbreaking in either their taste or preparation, but they held their own. I guess I would say they were equivalent to the Tacos el Carbon at Del Taco (which I like as guilty pleasure), but at a much higher price.
The rice was really good. It was steaming hot, fluffy and had a hint of saffron. I thought this was a true stand out. Very, very good. The beans were odd. I kept trying them because I was trying to place the taste. I could taste jalapeno, but the beans had a commercial aspect to them. In the back of my mind, I knew I had encountered this taste before. Overhearing a comment from the next table, I was able to place the taste. It was similar to this:
I finished the tacos and the rice and then asked for my bill. The total was $32.77 including the tax. With the exception of the rice and margarita, my meal wasn’t as pleasing as I had hoped. While I certainly wasn’t going to hold my server accountable for the avocado in the soup, she should have caught the guacamole on the quesadilla. Reviewing the bill, I noted that my order was clearly input as holding the avocado products.
My server returned with my change and asked me if everything was okay. I mentioned the avocado issue and she was very apologetic and said she would get a supervisor. A man (I am assuming a manager because he never introduced himself) said he heard there was a problem and I told him that the avocado in the soup was potentially a problem for me. His only response was, “Oh. I hope we improve on your next visit” and then he departed.
So did I.
I retuned to my car and realized that Pink Taco will be a hit. It is trendy and hip and fabulous and all the beautiful people in North Scottsdale will trickle down to it to have margaritas and bask in the shadow of Scottsdale Fashion Square. However, Barrio Café, Los Sombreros, Pepe’s Taco Villa, and other Mexican places have nothing to worry about. Their current clientele will still be loyal.
Then, I thought about Mr. Morton’s claim that there is no good Mexican food in the Phoenix metro area.
Using Pink Taco as the benchmark, there apparently still isn’t.
7135 East Camelback Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Notes: Valet Parking is available. Outdoor/Patio seating is available.
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