Arizona Finds: Authentic Sonora Style Street Tacos and Oaxacan Cuisine
By: Linda Kissam
Recipe Included: Tomato & Oaxaca Salad
Photos Courtesy of Los Sombreros, Taqueria El Fundador , Allan Kissam
A great Mexican restaurant is a thing of beauty. When the owners take the time and care to curate an incredible menu marrying tradition and innovation, with tasty drinks to wash it all down…you have what I call a “culinary find.”
In taco obsessed circles, Phoenix, AZ, carries serious cachet.
Most everyone loves Mexican food. It’s a mix of indigenous, Spanish, African, and Caribbean cuisines. Some say Mexican food as one of the first true “fusion” foods in the world. Who knew? With its satiating mixture of textures and flavors and vibrant spices, it offers a taste sensation unlike any other cuisine. I am a devotee. Everyone has their favorite regional taste. Is yours Northern Mexico, North Pacific Coast, Bajio, Southern Mexico, Central Mexico or South Pacific Coast? In the end, it really doesn’t matter. All of them are fabulous in their own unique way and you should be trying every one of them.
When it comes to seeking out distinctive Mexican fare, what type of establishment are you drawn to? Are there certain elements that tell you you’ve chosen a winning restaurant? For me, it all starts with the chips, guacamole and salsa. When deciding whether I have a Mexican restaurant winner or loser I order the holy trio so I can gauge how much effort the kitchen is actually putting into its menu offerings.
You may see chips and salsa is as a throw-away, but for me, it sets the table for the culinary fete to come. Some restaurants will get lazy and serve stale chips and pre-bought salsa. On the other hand, a great restaurant will serve house made red and green salsas and fresh chips make that make me shout, “Hallelujah”. If a restaurant puts time and energy into the basics, then they’ll put that into everything else on the menu as well.
At Taqueria El Fundador and Los Sombreros, I believe they’ve cracked the code for offering a great Mexican restaurant experience. They couldn’t be more different in their approach, but the end product from both is, for lack of a better turn of phrase, exquisite.
Lucky you, Los Sombreros has generously provided a killer recipe below for you to try out. It will surprise and delight you and my guess is you won’t have this particular recipe in any of your recipe journals.
Taqueria El Fundador
3245 W. Van Buren St.
Phoenix, AZ / West Phoenix Area
The local Buzz has it that some of the best Al Pastor tacos can be found just east of downtown Phoenix at El Fundador Taqueria. If at first scan you think this is just another typical small family-owned restaurant in the West Phoenix trendy hole-in-the-wall corridor, you would be ohhhhhh soooo wrong.
The kitchen delivers distinctive Mexican recipes come from the Sonora / Sinaloa / Jalisco regions of Mexico for Phoenix foodies in the know. While it might be difficult to choose what the best item is to try off the menu, on your first visit I’d suggest the Al Pastor tacos (ask for pineapple on top). Think true merit and respect as you bite into the savory, spicy and fall-off-the-bone pork spit-grilled pork all wrapped up in a pillowy soft tortilla. The results are nothing less than heaven. Other menu items feature a solid pick of burritos, tacos, stews, quesadillas and other Mexican food staples, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad pick in the bunch.
The El Jefe Plate – $24.99 – 3 shrimp tacos, 3 quesabirria tacos, choice of agua fresca is a favorite of mine. Quesabirria is a compound word combining queso (cheese) and birria, the traditional Mexican stew. What it is, basically, is a beef birria taco with melted cheese — a kind of cross between a taco and a quesadilla. The tacos are come hot and crispy off the griddle, and come with rich birria consommé broth for dipping.
The dining options are severely limited and nondescript, but the food speaks volumes. You really won’t mind eating in your car, sitting out on the tiny patio or taking your food home.
Jose Luis Ochoa and his family have owned and operated Taqueria El Fundador for 35 years. This family-owned taqueria broke ground in the 1985 using traditional recipes passed down throughout generations. They, “…strive for every bite to taste just as great as the first.” I’ll toast to that; which reminds me definitely try one of their refusing agua fresca drinks. NO beer, wine or spirits.
1976 W Southern Ave
I think you’re going to like this sit-down restaurant. It not only has a friendly caring staff, but the food, spirits and wine are really quite notable. With locations in Scottsdale and Mesa the menu gives a hearty nod to an Oaxaca’s indigenous cooking style.
The menu has been carefully curated to include the staples of the Oaxacain region such as chicken and pork and an adaptation of mozzarella known now as Oaxaca cheese. Oaxacan cuisine is known for seven mole varieties including Negro (black), Amarillo (yellow), Coloradito (little red), Mancha Manteles (table cloth stainer), Chichilo (smoky stew), Rojo (red), and Verde (green). Regional chile peppers along with herbs such as hoja santa give the food its unique taste.
Adam Rivera is Los Sombreros’ co-owner. To understand the vision and foundation of this unique restaurant is to understand what makes the offerings so special. From a young age, Adam watched his father work extremely hard in the restaurant industry. Adam knew from a young age he wanted to be his own boss and own his own restaurant.
Adam was born and spent most of his childhood in Chihuahua, Mexico. Coming to the U.S. with his parents at the young age of 8, Adam’s father taught him not only the basics of culinary, but also the determination to do his absolute best. This is reflected in the taste and presentation of each dish.
When the opportunity to partner with good friends Kurt Riske and Geoff Schuman to buy into Los Sombreros, it was a no-brainer. He finally had the opportunity to own his own restaurant with two close friends who were also great restaurateurs. To own a business and share the authentic cuisine of Central Mexico was a dream.
Don’t expect pages of menu items. Each item has a purpose that leads to what success looks and tastes like. Each dish arrives from the kitchen in a beautiful presentation. The dishware and the arrangement of the food is festive and beautiful. You usually only find this kind of attention to detail in much higher end restaurants.
I really need to give a shout out to their guacamole staging. As I mentioned above, the holy trio sets the mood of what is to come. This “tower of flavor” is likely to set your mind and spirit ablaze with its dramatic presentation.
I can definitely suggest two signature items off their lunch menu. The SOLID ROCK SMOKED CHICKEN ENCHILADA at $12 combines salsa verde, chipotle cream, and queso fresco into a spirited and smooth palate pleaser. The TAMAL at $10 is a clever combination of green corn or red chile beef with a sauce you’ll be coming back for again and again.
Tomato & Oaxaca Salad
Courtesy of Los Sombreros
1 tomato (whole sliced)
2 oz Oaxaca cheese
1 oz diced onion
.5 oz sliced radish
1 oz sliced jalapeño
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
¼ tsp salt & pepper
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp chili oil
¼ tsp cilantro oil
- In bowl mix apple cider vinegar, olive oil, radish, onion, cilantro, salt and pepper, Oaxaca and jalapeño
- Slice tomato in 1/4” slices (discard top and bottom)
- Place tomatoes in bowl and toss gently
- Place slice of tomato and top with mix
- Continue to layer (approximately 4 layers) and finish with tomato slice
- Drizzle with chili and cilantro oil (in a ring outside of salad# # #Author’s Note: The decision to review thee restaurants and share this recipe is entirely my choice and any reviews given are obligation free.
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Author’s Note: The decision to review these restaurants and share this recipe is entirely my choice and any reviews given are obligation free.