Fish, al pastor and carne asada tacos; photos by David B. Moore

Gallo Blanco

Written by Nikki Buchanan Category: Food Reviews Issue: January 2018
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Chef Doug Robson resurrects his beloved Downtown cantina, answers the prayers of taco lovers everywhere.

When chef Doug Robson closed Gallo Blanco at The Clarendon Hotel over a lease dispute in 2015, there was much wailing among devotees who couldn’t imagine life without the upscale cantina’s tacos and guacamole, not to mention its transcendent roasted chicken. Never mind that many of these very dishes could be found at sister restaurant Otro just 4 miles away – without the Gallo Blanco seal of satisfaction, it just wasn’t the same.

Hallelujah, then: Blanco is back, this time housed in a 1920s building at 10th and Pierce streets in Downtown’s historic Garfield neighborhood. Robson – a “white guy,” as his eponymous restaurant’s name suggests, who grew up in Mexico and mastered its culinary traditions – gutted the building to create a sleek, light-filled space that’s more modern than its predecessor. He also reconfigured the original menu, adding new dishes but keeping old favorites to create a wholly likeable iteration that feels like déjà vu. But better.

half-chicken
half-chicken
The preliminary beer-and-chips ritual is elevated here, thanks to barman TJ Taber, whose inventive cocktails are so good you may never order a Corona again. Two winners: the tropical Picosso (reposado tequila, pineapple, lime and Fresno chiles) and the refreshing Jamaica (hibiscus flower-infused blanco tequila, Aperol, lime, vanilla). House-made chips and Robson’s signature squirt-bottle salsas (tangy tomatillo and zippy chile de arbol) represent a similar step up in quality. Want more snacks? Order La Charola, a tray of three different salsas (pico de gallo, smoky fire-roasted salsa and a pick of the day) plus Gallo’s signature chunky guac, brightened with juicy bits of sweet orange.

The chicharrón de queso is a GB original but new to me, and I adore this buttery, utterly addictive tuile of griddled Manchego cheese, rolled into a volcano-like cone and served with chile-spiked aioli. Ditto for the new Guadalajara-style envuelto, an app that enfolds crisp-edged pork al pastor and sweet pineapple with gooey cheese, meant to be tucked into warm, house-made corn tortillas.

Huaraches Campechana, another newbie, is akin to flatbread, piled with pintos, pork al pastor, carne asada and longaniza (link chorizo), drizzled with crema and sprinkled with salty cotija cheese. It’s peasant food, hearty and uncomplicated, a 180 from Robson’s light but equally simple ceviche de pescado – lime-marinated slices of halibut with fresh cucumber, avocado, tomato, jalapeño and cilantro.

I could graze exclusively on appetizers, but that would mean passing over specialties such as perfect fish or carnitas tacos. The highlight, of course, is Robson’s citrus- and herb-marinated chicken, basted with guajillo-spiked quince paste until its charred exterior is crackly-crunchy – the stuff of legend for good reason.

I seldom get my hopes up about dessert at a Mexican restaurant, so Gallo’s fantastic churros and dreamy banana cream pie are a sweet surprise. Heavily dusted with sugar, the sturdy, fritter-like churros come with three dipping sauces: vanilla-scented condensed milk, chocolate fudge and caramel-y cajeta. The pie, made with a graham cracker crust, includes fresh bananas, vanilla pastry cream, caramel and sugared peanuts.

It’s all so good. Robson could have settled for a phoned-in re-hash of the original Gallo Blanco, and probably no one would have minded. Instead, he gives us a slew of reasons to fall in love all over again.

Gallo Blanco fansGallo Blanco
Cuisine: Mexican
Contact: 928 E. Pierce St., 602-327-0880, galloblancocafe.com
Hours: Tu-Th 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; F 11 a.m.-midnight; Sa 8 a.m.-midnight; Su 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
Highlights: La Charola salsas and guac ($9); chicharrón de queso ($7); ceviche de pescado ($14); La Bomba torta ($10); fish taco ($4.25); half-chicken ($19)

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