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October, 2010, Page 162
Photos by David Moore
Pecan wood-smoked chicken quesadilla
If chefs keep the spice levels cranked up, this New Mexican shrine should become an Ahwatukee Foothills fixture.
The secret is out in Ahwatukee Foothills about Secreto, which opened in June in the space formerly occupied by a Havana Café.
Zesty, smoky New Mexican flavors permeate every dish here, from staples such as enchiladas to pasta and even eggs. The spice level can be frustratingly inconsistent, but when the kitchen cranks out that traditional heat, the food is impossible to resist. The cuisine, combined with huge portions, friendly service, a hopping bar scene and an ambience that mixes a church, pueblo and speakeasy, has attracted crowds in short order.
It’s no surprise when you find out that co-owner Barbara Brown used to be married to Richardson Browne and helped him run Dick’s Hideaway, the Rokerij and the former Richardson’s. There, she helped serve some of the best red and green chili this side of Albuquerque. (Brown reverted to her maiden name after the divorce, which coincidentally was the same, sans the “e.”)
Depending on your perspective, the atmosphere is either claustrophobic and cave-like or cozy and sexy. It’s dim enough to make anyone over a certain age squint and reach for the candle when the menus arrive, but on the other hand, it lends a sultry, grownups-night-out ambience that’s tough to find in this part of town.
Smothered red beef burrito
The carne adovada ($12) is one of my favorite dishes in town when I get it at Dick’s Hideaway. Here, the pork roast is tender but overly smoky to where it tastes like eating out of a campfire. The red chili is cooked to the point of dryness. Yet, it’s a best seller. Pecan wood-smoked chicken, on the other hand, transforms quesadillas ($12) from the most boring bar food into a lively, addictive appetizer. It’s also terrific in the exquisite enchiladas ($12 for three plus rice and beans).
There was little disagreement on the rest of the menu. A roasted garlic plate ($10) garnished with chiles and peppers was a crowd-pleaser; Southwestern crab cakes ($12) with chipotle aioli were full of oomph; and the New Mexican standards – with tortillas made in-house daily – were decent at worst, lip-smacking at best. A combo plate ($15) with a relleno, tamale and enchilada (the fillings change day to day) is a good, familiar place to go when you’re undecided, and you can’t go wrong with green chili stew ($13). A “smothered” burrito stuffed with meat and cheese, topped with velvety red chili sauce and served with rice and beans ($11), and the sesame-crusted ahi tuna salad with avocado, jicama and citrus vinaigrette ($12) are winners.
Photos - from left: pork chop • roasted garlic plate
Pricey yet tasty items include Madre’s Pasta Favorito ($24), rack of lamb ($29), pork chop ($24) and filet mignon ($26). The meats were cooked perfectly; no complaints. If you’re there for brunch, try the amazing eggs Benedict with jalapeño Hollandaise ($12). If you’re drinking, stick to the tidy and tempting wine list (watch for discounts).
If Secreto solves its schizophrenic spice levels and tones down the smoke levels, its secret will spread quickly.
: New Mexican
: 4232 E. Chandler Blvd., Phoenix
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; bar open until midnight Thursday through Saturday
: Eggs Benedict ($12), roasted garlic plate ($10), Southwestern crab cakes ($12), chicken quesadilla ($9), ahi tuna salad ($12), pork chop ($24), chicken enchiladas ($12), Madre’s Pasta Favorito ($24), smothered red beef burrito ($12)
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