If you’ve ever cohabitated with another human, you know how difficult it is to decide on dinner. You feel like sushi, your beloved feels like Chinese. You feel like fried chicken, your roommate feels like gyros. In my house, my fella and I agree on some cuisines – Thai and Vietnamese are weekly takeout treats for us, even before the pandemic – but he never feels like Indian, and I rarely feel like pizza. Our particular dinner dilemma is complicated by the fact that I will drive anywhere for good food, while he prefers to stick to a 10-mile radius from our North Phoenix home.
Imagine my surprise and delight, then, to find a place that satisfies our disparate daily cravings (Matt’s for barbecue, mine for tacos) and is fewer than six miles from our home: Lovecraft, an “ale house, bottle shop and smoke kitchen” at 32nd Street and Cactus Road opened a little more than a year ago by Rebecca Golden and Ryan Castillo. Golden’s name might be familiar if you’ve been following Valley food media over the past decade – she founded 32 Shea and led the charge in revitalizing that neighborhood (32nd Street and Shea area) before selling the restaurant a few years ago. Once I realized she was the visionary behind Lovecraft, I knew I was in good hands.
Golden sent us home with a takeout spread for this weekly happy hour blog – and Lovecraft is no doubt a great happy hour haunt, one I’ll hit on my way home from work when things are back to normal – but we ended up finding a fab new dinner option we will be frequenting in person when we can do so safely. There are smoked meats for my homesick Texan and tacos for this Arizona gal, lots of spice for him and some mellower options for me (soy de Arizona pero soy gringa tambien).
The Lovecraft brain trust has New Mexican roots, evidenced by the preponderance of chiles on the menu, especially the state’s signature Hatch green chiles. Just like in the Land of Enchantment, you’ll find these roasted cuties in every possible dish at Lovecraft – burrito ($12), chimichanga ($13), burger ($13), stew ($12), enchiladas ($12), mac and cheese ($9) and queso dip with chips ($7). They add such a beautiful, smoky, vegetal depth to whatever they’re combined with, and I adore their flavor, but occasionally the heat level makes me tap out (or push through the pain and drink a lot of water).
That was the case here – I took a bite of queso-smothered chimichanga and chased it with gulps of water and sips of the three cocktails Golden let us sample: the sweet and tart paloma; the cooling, blush pink frosé; and the brilliant magenta Love Prick, made entirely with local products: Blue Clover Distillery gin, Iconic Cocktail Co. Prickly Pear Sour and Sun Orchard lemon juice (cocktail menu just launched; inquire for pricing). Golden texted as I was writing this and said she added a mojito to the menu today, so I’ll have to go back for that soon.
Speaking of spice, I have never ordered carne adovada because it is always tongue-singeing hot. I wrote about Los Dos Molinos’ version years ago, and it was so spicy that just smelling it and putting a drop of the sauce on my tongue made me cry (I told you, I’m a wimp!). Forget about Richardson’s, where pretty much everything is too spicy for me. So I almost cried tears of joy when I tried Lovecraft’s carne adovada ($13) and was able to handle the heat and finally enjoy the deep, toasted red chile flavor of the complex sauce. It is spicy, but not prohibitively so. I happily piled it into pliant tortillas and onto crispy tortilla chips, which were also great dunked into green chile queso, house-made guacamole and two zippy salsas – a medium-ish red that I could handle and a fiery green Matt loved.
Smoked brisket and pork are legit versions of these barbecue classics, which you can order in street tacos (three for $12), on sliders (three for $12), in New Mexico’s signature stacked enchiladas ($12) and by the pound ($17-$22 per pound). We devoured pulled pork on the Carolina, Texas and Frito sliders, and brisket in the Lovecraft taco (topped with creamy coleslaw and guacamole) and the traditional taco (cilantro, onion). Smoky mushrooms make a tasty option for vegetarians, vegans and fungi fiends.
I can’t get over how yummy the beans were, and how grateful I was that they came on the side of multiple dishes. They’re a good mix of refried/smashed pintos with whole beans, perfectly seasoned, creamy and boasting a deep umami flavor. I usually think bean burritos are boring, but I would happily eat these beans in a burrito every day for breakfast, lunch or dinner. To me, they have the characteristic richness of beans cooked in lard, but the menu says they’re vegan.
“Hey! We both loved this!” I said to Matt as he finished his Texas slider and I took another slurp of Love Prick. Our relationship often feels like a sitcom about opposites attracting, so it’s nice to agree on something – especially something so tasty.