Intense flavors and copious chile heat rule the ring at this wrestling-themed taqueria.
Equipped with a Chipotle-style service line and flashy Mexican wrestling décor, Santos Lucha Libre Taco Shop has all the trappings of a trendy fast-casual grazing spot, but make no mistake: This is a serious, spicy taqueria. Untested palates are likely to tap out.
Since opening last spring, the restaurant – from sibling team Jaime Zagarra (owner of Sombreros Mexican Grill in Tempe) and Martina Guzman – has quietly established itself as the taco shop in Sunnyslope, where taquerias are abundant and generally good. Guzman’s Mexico City-style fare may even be worth a drive for non-Slope folk.
Save for the peppery nubbins of chopped carne asada, the meats here are more stewed than you might expect, long-cooked shredded tangles of chicken, beef and pork that Guzman lets sit in their own juices to retain their moisture throughout the day. Most underscore a level of spiciness not for the timid. There is the startling smack of beef barbacoa flavored with serrano peppers, tomatoes and tart tomatillos; and the sweet heat of al pastor put together with pineapple and guajillo chiles. The chicken tinga, sautéed with onions and chipotle sauce, delivers a one-two punch of smoke and fire. By the time you’re on the second bite of the cochinita pibil, pork slow-cooked in banana leaves with a slow-building heat, you’re pulling napkins from the dispenser to mop your brow before you fully realize what’s taking place.
For the uninitiated, Guzman is happy to give samples to taste. From there, behind the restaurant’s “assembly line,” tacos, burritos, tostadas, quesadillas, and enchiladas are customized with your choice of ingredients, including black or pinto beans, rice infused with roasted garlic and lemon, pickled or diced onions, roasted corn, salsa and squirts of jalapeño sour cream.
At some point, perhaps after being met by the mannequin decked out in lucha libre gear at the entrance or in the dining area – a hot pink, electric blue and gold shrine to Mexican wrestling with dozens of photographs of wrestlers, vibrant masks and glittering murals – you may find yourself wanting to take on something other than tacos.
The competition is formidable.
There are one-pound burritos, monstrous beasts the size of a deflated Tom Brady football, packed until they threaten to burst. Homey enchiladas are smothered in a deliciously garlicky red sauce that makes everything it touches delicious. And if there is such a thing as a nacho coma, you’ll experience it upon attempting to plow through the Super Nachos, an enormous creation loaded with just about every topping behind the counter and requiring two strong arms to deliver to the table.
By the time you’ve drained your fresh horchata, you’re pounding the mat with satisfaction.
Santos Lucha Libre Taco Shop
Contact: 9822 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-943-1156
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tu-Su
Highlights: Three tacos ($6.99); burrito ($6.99); enchiladas ($6.99); Super Nachos ($8.49); meat quesadilla ($6.99); meat tostada ($3.25)
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