Serial restaurateur Aaron Chamberlin – former owner of St. Francis, Ghost Ranch and Tempe Public Market Café, and current owner of both Phoenix Public Market Café and Taco Chelo – never planned on opening a down-home taqueria for one obvious reason: He’s a gringo. But a trip to Southern California to help out his artist friend, Gennaro Garcia, who was participating in a “taco takeover” event in La Jolla, changed all that. Chamberlin brought along his Monterrey-born right-hand man Suny Santana to help, and the three cooked together for the event. Then they took a taco tour around the San Diego area, and before long Chamberlin was hammering the other two about opening a taqueria together. Exactly one year and three days later, they did. Santana creates the menus, cooks and run the operation, while Garcia maintains the vibrant space as a constantly evolving art installation. “It’s about Suny and Gennaro,” Chamberlin says. “I just pay for it.”
Every six months or so, Garcia changes up the mural to the left of the bar, painting the wall white before creating a new art piece, typically during service so diners can watch him at work.
The rustic green backbar was custom-made in San Miguel de Allende by Casa Armida, which also manufactures pieces for Restoration Hardware.
3 skull tile
Garcia designed the skull tiles that wrap around the front of the bar, and found a tile-maker in Puebla, Mexico, to produce them.
Thirty suspended Casa Armida light fixtures hang from the original raftered ceiling (from the circa-1950 Flowers Building), which Garcia painted yellow in homage to Diego Rivera.
Garcia hangs his own for-sale artwork, as well as that of other Mexican artists, turning the space into an art gallery.
6 Aguas frescas
A daily-changing selection of aguas frescas, poured in jars and cooled in ice, sits to one side of the bar alongside a bust of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.
501 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix