Paco’s Taco’s trio | Photo by Nikki Buchanan
I’m always on the lookout for quick, inexpensive Mexican restaurants turning out great food. In a perfect world, they’re located within five minutes of my house, but hey, I’ll take what I can get. I’ve found a great one that checks most of the boxes, but alas, it takes me nearly 20 minutes to get there. Still, it’s going in the mental Rolodex for a couple of reasons, the first of which would be the tacos, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
You should probably know that it’s owned by the same couple, Javier Perez and his wife Ana Bautista, who opened Bread + Honey House — a casual, Mexican-inflected breakfast and lunch spot — at this location in 2019. After moving Bread + Honey House to Indian School in Arcadia in 2021, they transformed the original location into Paco’s Tacos this fall.
If you’re imagining a vaguely industrial, no-man’s-land location, think again. Sky Harbor Airport is just down the road, as is the Phoenix Zoo and Gateway Community College. At lunch hour, the little house fills with customers, many of whom pay for their takeout bags and go. After ordering and paying at the counter, a few of them stick around for a leisurely lunch inside (there are maybe five tiny tables) or out on the covered patio.
Chilaquiles | Photo by Nikki Buchanan
The menu offers a few breakfast plates, quesadillas, tacos, burritos and extras such as carne asada fries, the latter a jumble of crispy spud sticks, smoky cubes of carne asada, guacamole, crema and onions ($9.99).
They’re good, but they’re not as good as the chilaquiles plate. The softened but still crisp-at-the-edges chips have been sauteed with a salsa roja made with guajillo and pasilla chiles, then topped with rich glob of crema and sprinkled with cotija cheese and cilantro. The brick-colored salsa is wonderful — earthy, smoky and slightly sweet, with notes of dried fruit. Using the chips as scoops (should I be eating this with a fork?), I randomly dip into chopped white onion, scrambled egg and creamy refrieds that taste like an abuelita made them. For $10.99, it’s a supremely satisfying little plate.
But my buddy and I are probably most enamored of the tacos, their shells crunchy and blackened from the griddle. Both the carnitas and the carne asado models come topped with a flurry of cilantro and chopped white onion.
Cantarito | Photo by Nikki Buchanan
The carne asada is good, but the rich, crunchy-around-the-edges carnitas are just off the charts. I love the quesabirria taco too, which is perhaps less drippy and gooey with cheese than other models (Random AF Taqueria’s ridiculous quesabirria tacos come to mind), but if you’re more interested in the spicy, deep flavor of beef, these are exemplary.
Yes, it’s lunchtime, but I splurge on a refreshing Cantarito, a chamoy- and tajin-rimmed glass filled with tequila and Modelo Especial as well as grapefruit, orange and lime juices. The nap comes later.
Paco’s makes a great neighborhood standby for no-frills Mexican food. I only wish it were closer.
4700 E. Van Buren St., Phoenix, 602-275-6996