Photography by Adam Kindred
Don’t let the kitschy décor fool you – this brash Mexican restaurant on Grand Avenue is seriously good.
Lawrence Smith and Aseret Arroyo, the couple who recently opened an adorable brick-and-mortar version of their Chilte food truck in the rehabbed Egyptian Motor Hotel on Grand Avenue, describe Smith’s cooking as “culinary street food” representing a “new wave” in Mexican cuisine – accurate descriptors for traditional yet elevated dishes just a skip offbeat.
Clearly, the high-end chefs Smith trained under post-culinary school (Beau MacMillan at elements, Alex Stratta at Match) left an impression, as did his stint at Tempe Public Market with Rene Andrade of Bacanora fame. And yet, Smith is his own man, culinarily speaking – daringly creative and a touch wild, devising frequently changing menus that pull inspiration from the heart of Mexico. He incorporates delicacies such as roasted grasshoppers, Oaxacan ants and mushroom-like corn smut into seriously spicy yet balanced dishes that curl your toes.
Consider the quesadilla, a thick, hand-pressed masa cake mottled with squid ink and sprinkled with goat cheese, fiery red chiltepins and a dusting of ants, brightened with pepita-chicharrón mole. Oily drizzles of salsa macha add depth and spice to a mild filling of broccoli-like huauzontle and oozy Oaxacan cheese, crusty at the edges.
The chorizo-stuffed empanada – placed atop a luxurious swirl of smoky, spicy peanut sauce – is equally rustic, unconventional and altogether delicious.
Smith’s legendary tacos take many forms. For birria de lengua, he tucks the meltingly tender tongue meat inside crunchy, squid ink-blackened corn tortillas, sided with stinging chile de árbol salsa and a consommé fragrant with baking spices. Just as dreamy: birria de cabeza (beef cheek) encased inside a speckled flour tortilla folded quesadilla-style, with Oaxacan cheese and cabbage, pickled onions and lime to cut the fat. The brunch-only mashed potato tacos, crispy and creamy at once, are bombshells of flavor, thanks to umami-packed black garlic hot sauce.
Meanwhile, chorizo Bolognese on pineapple-flavored pappardelle is another playhouse of contrasting textures and flavors, combining creamy burrata with pineapple jam and lemon-sparked gremolata. For dessert, pan de elote cheesecake for two, ladled with mezcal-spiked berry compote and great drifts of hand-whipped cream, is just as mind-blowing as the savory stuff. Rich, dense and not too sweet, it’s garnished with grated cincho cheese and salsa macha. Increíble!
Phoenix’s Mexican food scene gets ever more exciting, and Chilte is one new and notable reason why.
Cuisine: Modern Mexican
Contact: 765 Grand Ave., Phoenix, 602-807-5226, chiltephx.com
Hours: M-F 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Sa-Su 11 a.m.-3 p.m., W-Sa 5-10 p.m.
Highlights: Quesadilla ($15); chorizo empanada ($20); birria tacos ($17); chorizo Bolognese ($22); cheesecake ($14)