Ancestral recipes. Matriarch-designed menu. Tasty guac. What else could a fan of homey Mexico City-style cuisine ask for?
Walk into a big-chain Mexican restaurant and you’ll find sombreros, maracas, maybe even a strolling mariachi band.
Fledgling restaurateur Guadalupe Escobar isn’t interested in such cultural trickery. After relocating her family from Mexico City in 1996, she spent two decades refining ancestral recipes before opening Escobar Mexican Kitchen in mid-July.
Her Piestewa Peak-area eatery is bare-bones but cheerful; the ice cream parlor tables and red-and-white palette are holdovers from the building’s former life as Villa Italia. Escobar keeps su familia close – and that includes loyal customers, who are treated like old friends. Son Alejandro cooks, while one of her daughters services the front-of-house with a friendly smile and can-do attitude.
Escobar’s heavenly grub is reminiscent of the fresh dishes found along Mexico’s southwest coast: seafood, chocolate, chiles and corn tortillas. Everything here is authentic and tasty without relying heavily on spices or hot sauce. Escobar’s shrimp ceviche ($9), for example, is a zingy mix of diced tomato, onion and seafood chunks lazing in an elixir of natural juices. Cilantro adds aroma, and creamy avocado slices ground the dish’s beachy taste. Guacamole ($5) is chunky with a hint of peppery burn, while the smoky paprika and pork flavor of “choriqueso” dip ($6) proves addictive despite the sausage’s unavoidably greasy texture.
Escobar’s rustic mole poblano ($14) comes cloaked in a tangy black sauce that captivates the chicken’s moist texture, topped with nutty sesame seeds to calm the bold chile notes. Chile relleno ($12) is equally comforting, the charred pepper stuffed with creamy cheese and smothered in piquant tomato and onion sauce that tastes like it’s been simmering for hours.
Chilaquiles ($6) are topped with a bright and zesty salsa verde, but are undermined by soggy tortillas. Opt instead for a crisp, golden-fried squash blossom quesadilla ($4) with creamy onion filling. Or load up on house tacos ($2) served street-style. I especially enjoyed these tasty noshes topped with savory shredded pork and pickled onions, or lightly seasoned chicharrón (pig skin) with a melt-in-your-mouth texture.
There’s nary a bad tamale in this casa. Escobar’s masa is nicely balanced with a touch of sweetness, perfect for moist shredded chicken or pork with bright, zesty green chile sauce. Jalapeño-cheese and mushroom versions are light and earthy, while tropical pineapple is a sweet standout ($2.50 each).
Speaking of dessert, Escobar’s flan ($4) is outstanding. The custard is intensely silky, with strong crème caramel notes, and free of the unfortunate eggy flavor that sinks some homemade versions.
With around 30 percent of Phoenicians claiming Mexican heritage, south-of-the-border food isn’t exactly endangered in the Valley. But an authentic mom-and-pop that goes beyond the usual Sonoran fare is always welcome. Take the chilaquiles. Leave the sombrero.
Escobar Mexican Kitchen
Contact: 1219 E. Glendale Ave., Phoenix, 602-296-4432
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Tu-Th and Su, 10 a.m.-midnight F-Sa
Highlights: Shrimp ceviche ($9); “choriqueso” dip ($6); mole poblano ($14); chile relleno ($12); squash blossom quesadilla ($4); pork street taco, chicharrón street taco ($2 each); mushroom tamale ($2.50); flan Napolitano ($4)
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