Fronted by a pair of dining vets, this new Arcadia eatery is part Mexican, part New American and all awesome.
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood/a beautiful day for a neighbor
I’m reminded of this lovely lyric while dining at Vecina in Arcadia – and not just because the name happens to mean “neighbor” in Spanish. A Latin-inspired Modern American newcomer that feels as simpatico as Mr. Rogers slipping on his cardigan and lacing up his sneakers, it fulfills every neighborhood hangout requirement and then some: slender patio, gorgeous mural, views of Camelback, a cozy bar that anchors the room and an impressive cocktail program, courtesy of talented lead barkeep Miguel Mora, who is batting a thousand according to my cocktail count. Add an infectious Latin pop soundtrack and a fun, affordable menu that allows for eating here often without fear of boredom or bankruptcy, and you’ve got a winner, easily one of the Valley’s best new restaurants heading into 2020.
Chef-partners James Fox (Bootleggers, The Mission, Southern Rail) and Eric Stone (The Phoenician) strike just the right balance between sophistication and crowd-pleasing straightforwardness, turning out small plates that sound – and sometimes even look – unabashedly Mexican, but often veer, ever so subtly, into classic territory, with experimental grace notes. Case in point: You could be perfectly happy with lemony, cotija-dusted guacamole or a crisp, Caesar-y salad of whole romaine leaves, drizzled with Sriracha-buttermilk dressing, sprinkled with Parm and strewn with crunchy Noble breadcrumbs.
The orthodox part of your Mexican palate will thank you. But why not give a few of the fusion dishes a spin, like crisp-roasted fingerling potatoes, strewn with crumbly roasted green chile-infused chorizo and dabs of glossy jalapeño crema? Or crisp-edged short rib nubs set on a swath of creamy white bean purée (think hummus, only better)? Or a brilliant, slow-roasted barbacoa tostada, smeared with lush blue-cheese-infused pommes purée and topped with pickled red onion?
There’s so much to love, from tart, slaw-like shaved Brussels sprouts, studded with sweet dates and salty bacon lardons; to caramelized pork belly tacos with roasted peanuts and tomato jam, a gloriously wack PB&J hybrid. An exemplary version of PEI mussels with Spanish chorizo and shaved garlic, afloat in a jalapeño-orange broth, is so ambrosial you’ll want to drink it – or simply mop it up with mesquite-grilled Noble Bread.
But the two best dishes on Vecina’s menu, the dishes that make weekly visits seem as necessary as breathing, are the splendid Peruvian-inspired ceviche, made with Chula Seafood amberjack, grilled pineapple and a velvety green, citrusy leche de tigre, and the prime carne asada rib-eye, mesquite-grilled and ultra-juicy, served over creamy pommes purée with a slick of chimichurri. It’s hands-down the best $42 steak in town – better than many steakhouse steaks at twice the price.
Lucky, lucky Arcadians, for getting a restaurant this good. Every vecina should have one.
Cuisine: Latin-inspired Modern American
Contact: 3433 N. 56th St., Phoenix, 602-675-2000, vecinaphx.com
Hours: Tu-Sa 4-10 p.m.
Highlights: Chula hiramasa ceviche ($15); carne asada rib-eye ($42); beef barbacoa tostadas ($14); pork belly tacos ($14); short rib with white bean purée ($14); PEI mussels with chorizo ($22)