Vecina

Nikki BuchananJanuary 2020
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Fingerlings with chorizo; Photography by Debby Wolvos
Fingerlings with chorizo; Photography by Debby Wolvos

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.

pork belly tacos
pork belly tacos

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.

Palomita cocktail
Palomita cocktail

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.

Vecina

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)

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