Paz Cantina y Taqueria

Written by Marilyn Hawkes Category: Food Reviews Issue: March 2015
Group Mid-Level
Character count 2500

New Downtown taqueria offers subtle variations on the tried and true upscale taco theme.

When The Local on trendy Roosevelt Row closed in October after a short six-month run, the word on the street was the restaurant’s contemporary menu and steep prices just weren’t a good fit for the neighborhood.

But the space wasn’t empty for long. In November, two Valley restaurant pros, Michael Reyes and Brian Webb – who cooked together at Compound Grill and Pure Sushi – opened Paz Cantina y Taqueria, a chef-driven Mexican restaurant that offers a simple menu of appetizers, tacos, tortas, salads and a couple of desserts. Webb also founded Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food truck.

I know what you’re thinking: Another taco-focused eatery in central Phoenix? We have a glut, but each taqueria has its own flair: Urban Taco hangs its hat on an array of salsas and exotic condiments; Taco Guild serves new-school tacos in a spectacular old church; and Joyride Taco House goes organic in a slick mid-century space. Paz Cantina’s appeal resides in its sturdy virtues. Everything is made from scratch, and the chefs use local produce when available. While hardly fancy, the digs – painted concrete floors, a splash of local art and minimalist tables and chairs – match the art-district aesthetic nicely.

It’s hard to resist the fresh tortilla chips and peppery salsa delivered gratis to the table, but don’t bypass the house-made guacamole ($7). Add an agave bramble margarita ($8) fashioned from silver tequila, blackberry-ginger syrup and fresh citrus juice, and you’ll be well on your way to a good time.

Tinga and Taco del Mar tacos

A la carte tacos are served on corn tortillas and you’ll need about three to be satisfied. Try the pork belly ($4), a sinful helping of swine braised for 15 hours and then deep-fried, accompanied by pickled serrano and green papaya; or the fish taco ($4.75), a heap of fried mahi mahi, crisp shredded cabbage and a creamy jalapeño tartar sauce. Another good bet: the nopales taco ($5), a succulent mix of marinated and grilled Arizona cactus sprinkled with queso fresco and salsa. Other solid options include Taco del Mar ($3.75) featuring fried calamari; and carne asada ($3.50) with grilled skirt steak.

Cafe Flan

If you’re in the market for a sandwich, Paz offers several tortas. Sink your teeth into the tinga ($8), layers of tender slow-cooked chipotle chicken, buttery avocado slices and shredded cabbage wrapped in a soft bun made by local La Sonorense Bakery. On the dessert side, the café flan ($4) is a light custard made with locally roasted Nom de Plume coffee. It’s creamy and smoky, but the portion was skimpy.

Reyes and Webb have a handle on what their Roosevelt ‘hood needs: fresh fare at reasonable prices in a relaxed atmosphere – in essence, a more southerly Gallo Blanco. Hopefully, they’ll stick around for a while.

Paz Cantina y Taqueria
Cuisine: Mexican
Contact: 1011 N. Third St., Phoenix, 602-368-2487, pazcantina.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight M-F; 9 a.m.-2 a.m. Sa; 9 a.m.-midnight Su
Highlights: Pork belly taco ($4); fish taco ($4.75); nopales taco ($5); tinga torta ($8); street corn ($3); café flan ($4); agave bramble margarita ($8)

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