Holiday Feasting

M.V. MoorheadNovember 21, 2019
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Ring in that most beautiful time of year at these new Valley restaurants. 

West Valley
Casa del Taco

Opened: August 2019
The space on Glendale Avenue formerly occupied by beloved westside institution Pedro’s now hosts this comparably mom-and-pop-ish taqueria. So far, at least, Casa del Taco sports none of the distinct, gringo-friendly panache – both in the food and presentation – that helped make Pedro’s so long-lived, but it’s probably more authentically Mexican, right down to the price point. Load up on the affordable street tacos, which pair garden-fresh cilantro and onions with the expected proteins, like asada, al pastor and a sassy, lime-spritzed barbacoa (all $1.99). For a buck more, you can dive into offal: slow-cooked lengua; cabeza, with crispy, crunchy bits of swine cheek; and the tripitas, with tender, earthy chunks of tripe. The tripe is also fatty and tempting in the menudo rojo ($6.99; weekends only), though I would have liked a thicker, more savory broth.
Must try: Go for the shrimp gordita ($6.99), a pastry shaped like a candy dish and loaded with shrimp and gooey cheese.
4938 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale, 623-939-6487 

North Valley
Little Cay

Opened: September 2019
This new project from former Wrigley Mansion honcho Ben Sinon gives Caribbean cuisine the fast-casual Chipotle treatment – it’s easy to imagine additional locations digging in like so many mangrove trees. The dishes reflect Puerto Rican, Cuban and Jamaican influences, and the highlight for me was La Isla Bonita ($11.95), a bountiful meeting of common barnyard critters comprising a half-plate of ropa vieja (shredded beef) and another half-plate of shredded, sweetish lechon pork, with rice and pink beans. Among the sandwiches, I liked the Cubano ($8.50), a messier and less compressed but succulent version of the classic, adorned with crisp, house-made pickles. Meanwhile, the jerk chicken ($8.95) was surprisingly mild and seemed a little skimpy on the bird. For dessert, the Cay goes Floridian with a fantastic key lime tartlet ($2.75) in a tiny pie crust.
Must try: As a starch option, the architecturally stacked sticks of yuca frita ($4.50) sitting in a pool of garlicky, citrusy sauce, are preferable to fries.
4912 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-534-4110,

Photography by Michael Hannon
Photography by Michael Hannon
East Valley
Tucked Away

Opened: August 2019
Finally, truth in advertising: This “craft kitchen and bar” is indeed squeezed into a quiet corner of a sprawling Safeway plaza. Inside, it’s a festive, colorful setting, and hardly dowdy in the food department – the plates have some international flair. From the “shareable bites” menu, try the Shrimp Gambas ($8), a plate of stout crustaceans in an Iberian-tinged garlic-paprika sauce with a slight, agreeable afterburn. The Tucked chips ($4) are (comparatively) light on the grease and superior to most house-made spud chips. From the sandwiches, the Korean fried chicken sandwich ($11) is a muscular, hunger-obliterating lunch, with juicy fowl in a crusty batter bathed in a smoldering gochujang sauce and spiked with kimchi for extra fierceness. Its nemesis on the menu, so to speak, is the soothing cold soba noodle salad ($8), laden with peanuts, red peppers, onions, zucchini and edamame.
Must try: Chef Gabe Madrid’s green chile mac and cheese ($5), modestly dressed with cheese and chiles, strikes a nice balance between comfort food and Southwestern pizazz.
3630 E. Southern Ave., Mesa, 480-550-5577,

Downtown Phoenix
Ziggy’s Magic Pizza Shop

Opened: August 2019
A big plastic spaceman stands near the counter; arguably he’s Major Tom. If so, he’s the only David Bowie reference I could find at this Grand Avenue-adjacent pizza joint, where the décor is otherwise dominated by those notorious pizza junkies, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles would likely approve of the critic-proof slices and whole pies scarfed up by habitúes of The Van Buren music venue next door. Only a few outdoor tables serve customers who want to sit and eat “in.” The pepperoni slice ($3.25) and the fluffy, bready deep-dish slice ($3.75) were edible if not particularly exciting, but the specialty Bambino slice ($3.75), a nice, crispy crust topped with rich, creamy ricotta and sausage, was a treat worthy of the adjective “magical.” Among the whole pies, vegans will appreciate the meat-and-cheese-free Mona Lisa ($23).
Must try: The loaded french fries ($7.50), which are, indeed, loaded with jalapeños, black olives, bacon and a house beer cheese, will clear your sinuses.
401 W. Van Buren St., 602-354-3004,