It takes guts to open a restaurant, period. But in the middle of a quarantine? Downright courageous. Pay a visit to these five COVID-concurrent Valley restaurants.
It takes a lot of chutzpah to open a restaurant during a pandemic that has caused thousands of restaurants around the country to close for good. Luckily for west siders, Jorge Cota and Meliza Miranda have mucho chutzpah. In April, the siblings opened Mochilero Kitchen, a fresh, modern eatery highlighting the best of regional Mexican cuisine. The broad focus means you can enjoy Yucatán-inspired pibil roasted chicken and guacamole with plantains; Michoacán’s crisp-edged carnitas tucked into tacos; Veracruz-style rice studded with olives, capers and tomatoes; and Pueblan chicken tinga enchiladas, among other delights. Don’t skip drinks – the prickly pear paloma is the perfect balance of sweet and tart, and the cucumber-melon cocktail gets a feisty boost from house-infused jalapeño tequila.
6791 W. Happy Valley Rd., Peoria
Xanthi Greek Food
This tiny, tidy mom-and-pop shop was a welcome addition to the Southwest Valley when it opened this winter, just before the pandemic hit. Its straightforward menu seems geared toward the budget-minded lunch crowd, with a large section dedicated to baked grinders ($4.99-$6.99). You’ll find delicious, if rather assertively seasoned, versions of Greek classics including gyros ($6.99 for a sandwich, $9.97 for a plate) and souvlaki ($6.99 for a sandwich with choice of one meat, $10.99 for a plate with beef, pork and chicken). But the draw for foodies is loukaniko, an ancient Greek sausage of coarsely ground pork or lamb, traditionally flavored with orange, fennel and leeks. Order the sausage plate ($9.99) to try hot, mild and sweet versions of the juicy pork links, all grilled to smoky perfection and perfectly cooled with creamy, garlicky tzatziki.
10575 W. Indian School Rd., Avondale
“The lease was signed, so it was like ‘Might as well do this,’” the owner-barman says while mixing a classic daiquiri ($11) on a sunny May afternoon in Downtown Phoenix. Set in the Roosevelt-area A-frame that formerly housed the short-lived Milk Bar, this comfortable indoor-outdoor burger café is the maiden effort of three undaunted Valley hospitality veterans who opened with to-go service just days after Governor Doug Ducey signed Arizona’s stay-at-home order in March. RoRo residents will be glad they did. Featuring a menu of lavishly constructed burgers and sandwiches, plus an aspirational cocktail list, it feels like a fancier sit-down version of Paradise Valley Burger Company. Juicy and skillfully grilled, the massive truffle burger ($15) is just as rich as it sounds, and you can actually taste the truffle – unlike so many truffle-billed dishes. The 20-odd-item menu also features a smattering of salads and pub-grubby pleasers like Buffalo cauliflower bites ($10).
801 N. Third St., Phoenix
Just Tacos and More
First off, as fans of artful contradiction, we love the name. Just tacos, friends… but so much more, including crema-drizzled masa quesadillas ($9.99), with citrusy carnitas wedged into a rugged hominy tortilla instead of the typical flour variety. Word to the wise: Make sure to eat the quesadillas hot. We initially tasted them at the office after ordering takeout, but found the leftovers vastly superior the next day straight out of the microwave, when the mealy, gooey medley of cheese and masa really let loose. True to its word, this East Phoenix fast-casual joint on the extreme outskirts of Arcadia Lite also boasts a highly animated taco menu – always good to see chicken tinga in the house ($2.99 à la carte) – and a dedicated submenu of seafood offerings, like the gaudy Sweet & Sour taco, with your choice of tilapia, salmon, shrimp, etc. ($3.49). Opened in March, Just Tacos is just a bit gringo-y, but good. We hope it sticks around for a year. And longer.
2910 N. 32nd St., Phoenix
When opening a restaurant in the middle of a frozen economy, it’s always wise to have a hook, an interesting pickup line. For Lutong Bahay owner Ramon Go, it’s his Sundays-only lechón pig roast, a Filipino family-gathering tradition in which a whole swine is stuffed with lemongrass, tamarind, garlic, onions and chives, and spit-roasted to caramelized perfection ($12/pound). It’s certainly the star of the menu at this West Phoenix fast-casual spot, and probably the most accessible dish for American tongues untested in the ways of hardcore Filipino cooking. Fans of menudo will swoon over callos, a hybridized Asian-Spanish dish with sausage and ox tripe swimming in a spicy tomato broth ($6/pound), and Go pulls no punches with pinakbet ($6), a Filipino vegetable stew made with an unapologetically pungent shrimp paste. This place is the real deal, and if you want that Sunday lechón, better show up before noon, when it typically runs out.
9250 N. 43rd. Ave., Phoenix