photo by Craig Outhier

First Bite: Cocina Madrigal

Written by Craig Outhier Category: Amuse Bouches Issue: September 2018
Group Free

Chef Leo Madrigal started his own upscale Mexican restaurant in South Phoenix after a 20-year tenure at Z’Tejas.

Chef Leo Madrigal toiled in Z’Tejas kitchens for 20 years, honing the art of gringo-pleasing Mex-fusion cuisine. When the chain started floundering in red ink, the chef cut loose and recently started his own upscale Mexican restaurant in South Phoenix. We paid a visit.

Opened: Mid-June

The Scene: Set in a nondescript, stand-alone building in an industrial stretch of south-central Phoenix, Madrigal certainly doesn’t look upscale at first blush, but the interior is tasteful, spacious and dark-toned – like an ’80s-era Vidal Sassoon hair salon – and the front-of-the-house staff is friendly and on point.

The Food: Scanning the menu, we see universal Mexican standards (al pastor tacos), regional people-pleasers (Hatch green chile pork), off-the-reservation “featured” dinners (chipotle cream chicken pasta) and a ton of achiote, that mild Caribbean pepper-paste with the deceptive deep-red tint. It’s basically a mashup of Oaxacan, Yucatán and New Mexican, sprinkled with extra-Mexican outliers like Jamaican chicken salad. We start with a queso fundido/guacamole/salsa trio starter ($12.95), and it’s great – particularly the guac, satisfyingly chunky and revved up with roasted serrano (possibly the hottest thing on a capsaicin-averse menu). The full-ear elote starter ($3.95) is also good, a little on the chewy side but otherwise Gallo Blanco-caliber. Our entrées – achiote-braised chicken enchiladas with Hatch green chile ($11.95), and wild mushroom enchiladas with ancho mole cream ($12.95) – elicit no complaints.

The Early Assessment: It’s maybe a little facile to call Madrigal an indie version of Z’Tejas, but it’s no insult. For a restaurant with all of eight weeks under its belt, the service and execution hums, and the polished middle-brow fare is a welcome addition to a generally unpolished part of the city. More capsaicin would be nice.

4044 S. 16th St., Phoenix, 602-243-9000, cocinamadrigal.com