Living in Phoenix for the past two years has definitely been a culinary adventure. I grew up in Tucson, home to some truly unique and amazing restaurants, and have eaten some of the best Mexican cuisine, both from street carts and master chefs all throughout my childhood. In Phoenix, you have to know a thing or two to really find the good spots for carne asada tacos, sonoran hot dogs, and killer tortillas. Maryal did not grow up with a lot of options where good, solid Mexican food is concerned, and usually needs a little help navigating the menu, which I’m always happy to provide! On this particular date night, in search of another great Mexican spot in the city to frequent, we decided to hit the town. So we headed downtown, parked, ate tacos, strolled down 5th street and explored Phoenix like a couple young kids under the old streetlights.
Right in the heart of Phoenix, just around the corner from some of downtown’s most trending, yet top-secret bars and eateries, you’ll find some of the most mouthwatering, smoky and spicy chicken tinga that you can find in Phoenix. What is chicken tinga? Well Paz Cantina, our Mexican joint of choice that night, tells that story better than I ever could, and they tell it with the tongue of a true Phoenix local.
From the street, you can smell the richly seasoned and smoked pollo asado, filling the air and immediately giving you that at-home barbecue feeling. As you walk up, you can’t miss the brightly-colored bicycles parked throughout the urban garden landscape. We had to capture the moment right when we pulled up, after just making it downtown to catch the last golden moments of the sunset. We some some really cool graffiti around the corner from the patio paired with a mellow orange glow, and had to stop and snap a few pics on the way in.
We found a table in the bar area – Maryal picked a hightop table with a cool perspective to take the whole place in. The kitchen was open and action packed – we spotted lots of bandana wearing chefs doing awesome things to tortillas. We also loved how open and bright the rest of the space is. The dining room is made up of really cool, retro furniture and high-beamed ceilings that open up to the patio that lies on the other side of the monstrous windows.
To start, we ordered the table-side, scratch-made guacamole. Dios Mio! Que Rico! It was seasoned, acidic and oh-so-perfectly creamy, and we smashed the whole bowl before our entrees came! And just for fun, we also ordered the nachos, which were stacked with veggies, queso, and spice.
Then, it was taco time. She goes big and orders chicken tinga, and what a cool dish. The tacos are stuffed with freshly roasted chicken, perfectly dressed with a smoky tomato and spicy chipotle marinade. Tinga is such a perfect dish for backyard barbecues. It’s just so juicy and flavorful! I daze off and image a huge steaming pot on the table out back, with a spread of taco shells and toppings to stack your own creation. I’m so glad that Paz helped us discover tinga in such an awesome way!
The Love + The Culture + The Ice Cream
After dinner we checked out the locally crafted pieces of art that almost entirely cover the walls of this remodeled and retrofitted restaurant space that doubles as an art gallery. We watched the local artists tirelessly compete in ping pong battles outside on the patio. I think Mar thought she could take me, but we passed, and decided to take it to the streets.
After snooping at some funky installation art through a round window in an old brick wall, we literally walked into an old bungalow that was converted into an ice cream takeout stop. They call this heavenly destination Melt. There aren’t many words that can keep up with this concept – they offer about 20 funky and chef-inspired flavors to choose from. Mar’s pick was filled with fruity pebbles – heck yeah. Being a coffee junky, I selected some radical java creation that infused flavors from Melt’s coffee-purveying neighbor, Jobot. We grabbed our miniature Chinese take out boxes, overflowing with sweet, creamy joy, and watched the moon set over the deep city skyline. Date night with Mar has become my favorite thing to do and my favorite way to experience food and culture, ever since the day I met her.
To those couples interested in exploring downtown, or looking for a truly unique date night, be inspired by the incredibly fun, funky, food-venture of a time we had down there, and check out all the action for yourself!