March 5, 2015

Cruising Scottsdale for the tequila-and-tacos experience

The Arizona city of Scottsdale is hoppin’ during the winter months, with sunshine seekers enjoying top-tier resorts, golfing, horseback riding, hiking and art festivals. High-end restaurants are in abundance, but that doesn’t mean casual dining and ethnic eateries aren’t worth exploring. After all, it’s often the fiery and festive dishes of Mexico that tourists and locals most crave.

Instead of attempting to settle on just one restaurant, here’s an approach to sampling some of the best Mexican food in the desert Southwest, while enjoying a mini-driving tour of Scottsdale at the same time.

Start your progressive dinner with tequilas at one of the city’s popular cantinas (after choosing a designated driver, of course), and then head down the road for appetizers at one restaurant, entrees at another and dessert at yet another. There are endless ways to fill your Mexican-dining dance card — the main thoroughfare, Scottsdale Road, has an especially inviting selection — but here’s a suggestion that keeps the tour confined to a 5-mile radius.

Cocktails: You can’t go wrong with the tequila offerings at Blanco Tacos and Tequila (6166 N. Scottsdale Rd.). In addition to traditional blanco-style tequila, you can also find varieties of reposado, añejo and evenmezcal for the adventurous. Servers are happy to educate you on how tequila can vary by sweetness, fruitiness and age. Non-tequila drinkers, can choose from seven flavors of virgin margaritas.

Appetizers: If you’ve got guacamole in mind, you’ll enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of Carlsbad Tavern(3313 N. Hayden Rd.) The bat-themed interior might seem playful — it’s a nod to the creatures that occupy Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico — but this restaurant takes its chiles seriously, offering chunky, freshly made guacamole with just the right amount of heat. Also tempting are the nachos, spicy crab cakes and New Mexican potstickers, but save room for your next destination.

Main course: Los Sombreros (2534 N. Scottsdale Rd.) is a cut above the tacos-and-enchiladas fare of most Mexican-food establishments on this side of the border. Expect creative ingredients, like raisins and ground beef for the picadillo tacos and shredded duck and chocolate in an enchilada. Other inventive specialties include: chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and huitlacoche (corn smut, a delicacy); crepes with shrimp and crab; and tender lamb bathed in a sweet and spicy adobo chile sauce. Take half of your entrée home in a Chihuahua bag if you have to, because dessert awaits.

Dessert: Fried ice cream, decadent though it may be, is a sure palate soother after an authentic Mexican meal. Macayo’s (11107 N. Scottsdale Rd.) is an Arizona-based chain that is known for comfort food. Macayo’s take on fried ice cream consists of a drizzle of honey atop a crusty scoop of vanilla. Other postresinclude: flan, which is a caramel-topped egg custard; sopapillas, pillow-like pastries; and mini chocolate chimis.

So ends your dinnertime cruise around Scottsdale, your appetite for Mexican food sated. Happily, nothing prevents you from rearranging this itinerary, or making discoveries on your own. Share your tequila-and-tacos experiences in the comments section.

(Photo courtesy of Los Sombreros)