A Los Dos Molinos heir banks on the family legacy at his own New Mexican-inspired eatery in Gilbert.
Family history can be a boon, and a bane.
Tell it to John Gabaldon, owner of the recently opened La Ristra New Mexican Kitchen in Gilbert. As a third-generation flag-bearer of the Los Dos Molinos restaurant clan – a line that traces back to his great aunt, Victoria Chavez, who founded the original Los Dos almost 40 years ago – Gabaldon inherits immediate street cred. At the same time, he faces grand expectations by launching the family's first off-brand venture.
Generally, he meets those expectations. At times wonderful, at times wandering, La Ristra offers a broader point of view than Los Dos, pursuing Spanish influences and offering lighter, less-scorching renditions of New Mexican specialties in more updated, suburban digs. However, Gabaldon is most successful when sticking with his culinary genetics.
Named after the picturesque strands of dried chile peppers seen on front porches throughout the Southwest, La Ristra is certainly not chile-averse. Harvested young and green, or mature and red, the fiery fruit – hailed as the bedrock of New Mexican cooking – shows up early and often on the menu. Fragrant carne adovada ribs ($16) are charmers – marinated, slow-cooked pork ribs polished in a racy red sauce, made from chiles sourced directly from the family farm in Hatch, New Mexico. Though not quite as biting as the carne adovada ribs lauded at Los Dos, this version is well-executed, and perhaps a more approachable example of the chile's fruit-forward flavor.
Equally inviting large plates include the doughy and delicious blue corn enchiladas, rolled or stacked ($13), and the smothered, flaky stuffed sopapilla ($13), both best with the carne adovada filling. Another New Mexican staple, green chile pork stew, gets a lighter, more brothy translation than usual, with tender shreds of lean meat, spicy green chile and fresh cilantro ($11). Good, but it left me yearning for that more stewed, savory depth. Posole ($11) is made more gratifying with the optional stir-in of a smoky, velvety red chile sauce.
An optional fried egg is recommended on the green chile cheeseburger ($11), adding a needed stitch of richness to the classic New Mexican staple.
Gabaldon saves his experimental impulses for the starters, which on the menu are referred to as "tapas." Universal appetizers like fresh guacamole ($6) – with cilantro, tomatoes and cotija cheese – generally satisfy. Less memorable small plates include a spiritless shrimp ceviche ($9), and the menu's most overt ode to Spain, patatas bravas ($6), diced fried potatoes drizzled in a mayo-chile crema.
The Valley isn't exactly flush with faithful, full-throttle New Mexican food, so La Ristra qualifies as a welcome San Tan-area outpost for locals looking to soothe red-and-green cravings. Despite the sometimes iffy cross-breeding of cuisines, those time-tested Los Dos recipes still shine like we want them to.
Cuisine: New Mexican
Address: 638 E. Warner Rd., Gilbert
Phone: 480-545-2880 • Website: laristraaz.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Highlights: Carne adovada ribs ($16); stacked blue corn enchiladas ($13); green chile cheeseburger, with fried egg ($11)
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