Upon our arrival in Phoenix, Chuck’s cousin Raina loaned us copies of Phoenix Magazine and the New Times Best of 2013 guide, and these have proved to be great resources in scouting out local restaurants. So today we are at another of Phoenix Mag’s Best New Restaurants of 2013—Otro Café.
“It could be said Otro is a complement to Gallo Blanco in the way of very good, deftly prepared, and affordable traditional Mexican dishes made with local ingredients. In another sense, it's a more elevated companion that can hold its own — a kind of Tom Waits to Billy Joel: both piano-based singer-songwriters, but one with a few more eclectic touches” (Laura Hahnefeld at phoenixnewtimes.com).
We parked in the rear lot and that is where we saw this mural by El Moises who is described as Arizona’s Chicano Picasso.
In front of the restaurant is a small dining patio, but while the weather was perfect for al fresco dining, the front parking lot was busy, as was the street. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find auto exhaust to be an appetite stimulant, so instead we went inside.
“It's a welcoming space of wood and brick, with a…cheery entrance leading to an open kitchen.
While we studied the short menu, we snacked on an order of chips that came with two salsas.
The menu includes a selection of burritos: Carne Asada Burrito with grilled ribeye, avocado, fire salsa, beans, cheddar cheese, and sour cream; Al Pastor Pork Burrito with “Tender Belly” pork, tomatillo salsa, beans, cheddar cheese, and sour cream; Grilled Chicken with aji [a form of pepper] aoili, beans, cheddar cheese, and pico de gallo; and vegetable. Tacos and tortas can be ordered with Al Pastor, carne asada, shrimp, fish, and veggies.
The list of Platos Fuertes (main courses) listed pollo asado, mole negro, pescado del dia, and enchiladas verdes but Chuck was interested in the café’s rendition of paella that could be ordered as Paella Mexicana (chicken, pork, chorizo and seasonal veggies), vegetable (saffron rice with seasonal vegetables) or chicken. He chose the chicken.
First, the rice was perfect—every grain standing alone and separate from the others. And it didn’t hurt that it was also well-seasoned. The seasoned chicken had a “smoked” flavor and was tender and juicy. And mixed with the chicken and rice were mushrooms (I ate these.), tomatoes, corn, onion, and jicama. This latter—a crunchy Mexican root vegetable—gave a great textural counterbalance to the softer rice. Chuck certainly scored a winner here.
So does this make my choices losers? As was the case in yesterday’s blog, loser is probably too strong a term. But one of my two selections, the Mexican Shrimp Cocktail (Coctel de Camaron) was underwhelming. And that is unfortunate, since this is one of my Mexican restaurant favorites.
To accompany the shrimp cocktail, I ordered the Inca Salad that had received positive comments on line.
Did you know that “The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has officially declared that the year 2013 be recognized as ‘The International Year of the Quinoa.’ …(Q)uinoa has now been singled out by the FAO as a food with ‘high nutritive value,’ impressive biodiversity, and an important role to play in the achievement of food security worldwide” (whfoods.com). So I guess that I ate healthy, but the salad was not something I would crave.
If one could put together my Pork Chile Verde Pot Pie from yesterday with Chuck’s Chicken Paella from today, we’d have one 5.0 Addie meal. But you can’t, so Otro Café receives the same 3.5 Addie rating as did Phoenix Public Market Café.