A Valley taco legend delivers little pieces of paradise in uptown Phoenix.
Can there ever be enough tacos in Phoenix? Probably not. Because tacos, when done right, are stuffed pieces of paradise. And in Phoenix, there are as many kinds of taco tastes as places to get them – from the juicy lengua at La Frontera food truck at 16th Street and Van Buren to the meltingly soft Yucatán-style cochinita pibil from chef Silvana Salcido Esparza’s legendary Barrio Café.
Somewhere between the two is Mucho Macho Taco, the latest restaurant from Chilean-born chef Dan Maldonado. The place isn’t taco nirvana yet, but there are enough good things going on to take the first steps to the Promised Land.
You might remember Maldonado from Tacos Atoyac, the excellent taquería he ran with partner Pablo Lopez for four years until the two parted ways last March. Lopez kept the location, renaming it Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca, while Maldonado hooked up with a new partner – chef and restaurant consultant Aaron Miller – and opened Mucho Macho in September. Unlike Tacos Atoyac, the vibe at Mucho Macho is all flash: There’s the catchy name, the logo T-shirts, the Warhol revolver print on the wall. So when you place your order at the counter – after considering nearly a dozen varieties of tacos – you don’t so much squeeze into the nearest fluorescent-lit table as settle into a small but comfortable room with faint oldies playing through the speakers overhead.
Sometime after a trip to the soda fountain and condiment bar, where you can stock up on marinated carrots, three kinds of salsas, and perhaps a frothy Orange Bang! drink, the tacos appear. Heaped into fresh tortillas is luscious braised brisket with green chile and caramelized onions topped with plump wedges of orange; and perfectly charred morsels of chopped skirt steak asada (better solo than with overpowering chorizo in the 50/50 combination taco) sprinkled with crumbly queso fresco and salsa fresca.
On the seafood side, shrimp tacos with diced cucumbers are especially good, as are the delicate mahi-mahi tacos with lime crema and queso fresco. But the best taco at Mucho Macho is the crispy Baja fish. Featuring lightly battered cod layered with pico de gallo and chipotle crema, the crunchy fish is accompanied by a silky, smoky kick.
Some creations suffer from misplaced boldness. The al pastor, with chunks of pineapple and sticks of green papaya, crosses the too-sweet line. The bacon taco is impossibly salty. And although there’s nothing wrong with the pollo asado – bits of grilled chicken sprinkled with queso and pico – it’s not going to make you forget about your last visit to Asadero Norte de Sonora. For heftier appetites, there are bulked-out burritos, pillowy tortas and Super Tots. Piled with two kinds of cheese, pico and – if you like – generous amounts of skirt steak, brisket or chorizo, the tots seem out of place on the menu, but they’re devoured at the table all the same.
After plowing through dinner, you’re probably not considering dessert, but the fried and puffy sopaipillas strewn with pecans and doused in near-black Mexican chocolate are worth making room for.
Mucho Macho Taco may still be a taco paradise in the making, but for now, you are full – and happy.
Mucho Macho Taco
Contact: 5341 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-277-8226, facebook.com/muchomachotacophoenix
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
Highlights: Crispy Baja fish taco ($2.95); shrimp taco ($2.95); braised brisket taco ($2.95); carne asada torta ($5.95); Super Tots ($3.25); sopaipillas ($3.45)
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