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Gwen Ashley Walters
October, 2010, Page 164
Photos by David Moore
Tacos al fresco with rice and beans and sides of guacamole, chips and salsa
Despite some inconsistencies, this Mexican food startup spices up Downtown.
The mini restaurant row along First Street between McKinley and Pierce streets Downtown just got a little spicier, thanks to the addition of Verde, an urban-chic Mexican restaurant with panache for all things chile.
The space is a mix of old (exposed brick) and new (corrugated aluminum), with a splash of fresh lime-colored paint. Boxy, recycled wooden tables and stools sit atop a concrete floor, and the walk-up order counter is peppered with food reviews from local media.
The small menu – seven entrées plus a daily special – has been a work in progress since co-chefs/managing partners Joseph Aguayo and Matt Avilla opened in May. It seems as though they’ve found their groove, although occasionally a dish doesn’t taste the same from week to week or, more accurately, from week to weekend.
Bustling during weekday lunches, Verde is a ghost town on the weekends – and that’s when the chile-braised dishes are a mere shadow of their weekday glory. It’s as if without the crowds, they reheat the week’s leftovers instead of making fresh batches of the normally scrumptious red chile beef ($7), punchy green chile pork ($7) and the usually juicy, crisp-skinned rotisserie Mexican oregano-lime chicken ($8).
When Verde is “on,” they’re on fire, with lip-smacking, tongue-tingling fare. The spicy green chile pork could be their signature dish, with tender, moist, braised hunks of pork butt simmered with roasted poblanos, onions, whole garlic cloves and just the right amount of cumin. The red chile beef gets its haunting complexity from toasted ancho, guajillo, chile de arbol and pasilla chiles, onions and pot roast-tender beef.
All entrées, except the Verde salad ($8), come with rice, beans and two plate-size tortillas, which you can watch go from dough to tortilla on the wood-burning griddle in the exhibition tortilla room at the front of the restaurant. The beans outshine the rice: Instead of pintos, Verde simmers smaller, creamier Santa Maria pinquitos with lots of cumin and chile powder and tops them with queso fresco.
I’m not as thrilled with the chilaquiles ($7), which come with pork, chicken or beef, and with red or green sauce. The eco-friendly paper plate is piled with crispy tortilla chips and then smothered in sauce, and sauce-covered chips aren’t really chilaquiles, which should be crafted from day-old tortillas, fried and simmered with sauce until almost soft.
Tacos al fresco ($7), with cilantro- and lime-dressed crunchy vegetables, are wrapped burrito-style in flour tortillas but won’t fill you up. So order the fabulous, chunky guacamole ($3 small/$5 large). Just don’t expect to get it before the rest of your meal; Verde makes it to order, which means it’s fresh and vibrant.
Drinks include sodas, a house-made cinnamon and vanilla horchata and a rotating flavor of agua fresca (toroja – grapefruit – is especially refreshing), all $2. Aguayo says future plans include adding a liquor license.
: 825 N. First St., Phoenix
: 602-254-4400 • Website: verdeaz.com
: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Breakfast served on weekends.
: guacamole ($3 or $5), Verde salad ($8), green chile pork ($7)
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