First Dish: Testal Mexican Kitchen

Nikki BuchananFebruary 25, 2022
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Photo by Nikki Buchanan

People had told me — if I’m remembering right, Rene Andrade was one of them — that I should check out Testal Mexican Kitchen a small Chihuahua-style restaurant on Grand Avenue, not far from Andrade’s own. And they were right. It’s been open a little over a year, and I’m sorry I didn’t find it sooner.

It’s housed in a cool, angular building with huge windows (surely, there’s some architectural history here), and near the front door stands the prep area for the flour tortillas that are made fresh throughout the day. A woman was packaging some of them when my friend and I walked in the door, and for the life of me, I don’t know why I didn’t buy some on the spot. Testal, by the way, is the Mexican word for the doughball from which tortillas are made.

The menu is pretty much confined to burritos (including breakfast and vegan burritos), bowls with frijoles in them, tacos and three aguas frescas, nary an horchata, tamarindo or jamaica among them. We begin with burritos, the restaurant’s early claim to fame.


Photo by Nikki Buchanan

The first thing we notice about them is that they’re slightly smaller than the bulky behemoths we’re used to here in the States. The second thing we notice — how fresh and supple the tortillas are, thin with light golden flecks from the comal. Then, as we begin to eat the burritos, we notice what a mess we’re making on our plates as the filling oozes out from the ends.

In true Chihuahua-style, these burritos are not tucked at top and bottom, the filling completely enclosed, but simply rolled up around two layers of filling: refried beans and guisado (any slow-cooked, stew-like meat). There is surely a technique for eating them politely, but sadly, we don’t know what it is.

We’ve chosen Chihuahua’s two most traditional burrito fillings: chicharron en salsa verde (pork rind in green chile sauce) and deshebrada (shredded beef and potatoes in green chile sauce).

The chicharrones used here are not the puffy, crunchy pork rinds you buy in a bag in a weak moment at Circle K but rather fried pork rind (literally, skin), also called “cracklings” or “cracklins” in Cajun country and other parts of the South.


Photo by Nikki Buchanan

When they’re added to the tomatillo sauce, they become soft, rich and unctuous, bearing just a trace of the crispiness they had before. If you’re fat-phobic, you may not like them, but I think they’re wonderful, and I wish I had a chicharron burrito to spill on my plate right this minute. By the way, it packs a mighty punch on the Scoville scale so be ready for that

Beefy deshebrada is every bit as good — less spicy but satisfying in a homey meat-and-potatoes sort of way. We give it a few splashes of salsa negra, an incandescent mixture of oil and crushed chile de arbol that cranks up the heat another couple of notches.

Then we crush three moist, meaty birria tacos, generously topped with the usual chopped onions and cilantro, while I drink Iskiate, an agua fresca made of chia seeds, lime and agave nectar. It’s said to have been invented by the Tarahumara, an indigenous tribe in Northern Mexico who believed it gave them energy. I can’t vouch for that, but it’s certainly refreshing.

Testal is fantastic, and our quick stop has in no way done it justice. I’m eager to try the picadillo, the relleno and the red chile pork burritos and explore more of Grand Avenue, which is quickly becoming a destination for keeping-it-real cooking.

1325 Grand Ave., Suite 1, Phoenix, 602-384-9993, testalphx.com

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