Phoenix by Food: Taco Tour

Y’all, tacos might as well be my love language. If something is wrong in my world, tacos can make it right again. I could eat tacos probably every day for a year and never get bored; there are so many delicious, different kinds!! I seriously love tacos. This should help you understand my joy when a long-time friend of mine said he would take me on a taco tour when I was in Phoenix for a conference this month. Hallelujah and pass the salsa! I was curious to find out if and how tacos would be different in Phoenix than in south-central TX, given the influences of different parts of Mexico and New Mexico. Investigation in the name of food and bringing you all gems of the taco scene in Phoenix? Well, don’t mind if I do!

The first place we went was actually on a PBS show called “Check, Please!” so we were excited to explore a restaurant that had been on television.
Courtesy of Erin, one of my Phoenix friends, here is the clip from Arizona’s “Check Please!” so you can see a little more about the restaurant if you wish. Las Glorias is primarily a seafood restaurant, and does look a little bit like a hole in the wall. In case you aren’t hip to this piece of information, let me tell you that being a hole in the wall usually bodes very well in the Mexican-food world. Get in there and get you some! Las Glorias takes their seafood atmosphere quite seriously with blue walls and ocean decor everywhere. We got to sit in front of the faux waterfall, which was lovely.
There weren’t many tacos on the menu, honestly. However, it was an extensive menu of many tasty-looking seafood options. My girlfriend, Stacey, and I decided to split the fish taco plate that came with rice, beans, and three tacos, and I got an additional ceviche tostada.

The food came out pretty quickly, and it all looked so good. My mixed seafood ceviche tostada was a crisp corn tortilla with a huge mound of mixed seafood with sliced avocado on top.

Seafood goodness

It was sitting in a pool of tomato/seafood water which made me think my tostada would get soggy; however, it did not. Perhaps it didn’t have time because I ate it so quickly, or maybe it was just that crispy. Either way, it stayed crispy all the way to the end. The seafood was fresh and the mix was quite the variety. When I shared a chip-full with Stacey, I noticed some fish, shrimp, and octopus on there. Well done, Las Glorias. At the same time, the fish taco was unlike any fish taco I have ever eaten. I assume that most of you pictured a battered piece of fish with some coleslaw on top when I said we ordered fish tacos. Well, friends, please take a gander at the inside of our fish tacos.

Our three fish taco plate

The inside of our fish taco

Yep. Isn’t that something different? I was certainly surprised when they came out. The tacos were still good and had quite a pleasant fish flavor, but the vegetable flavor was also fairly strong for my taste, at least for a fish taco. There is something about having an expectation that just isn’t quite met, you know? I appreciate that my fish taco horizon has been expanded, but ultimately I think I still prefer the traditional battered fish with coleslaw. I might experiment with making my own tacos in their style sometime to see if it grows on me. I’ll keep y’all posted.

The second place we went to, that we ended up visiting a second time, was most amazing. Friends, Gallo Blanco Cafe & Bar has a happy hour that includes tacos. A taco happy hour!?!? I was meant to eat at this place! Gallo Blanco is a cute restaurant attached to the most delightful retro hotel just a touch off the beaten path. Along with drink specials, their tacos along with a few other appetizers have a discounted price from 3 – 6 every day. Yes, dear friends, EVERY DAY. Well, there is one exception. This fabulous deal takes place all day long on Tuesday. It’s probably best that I don’t live in Phoenix, or I might never eat anywhere else. When we went on Sunday, I got a cochinita (pork) taco and a carne asada (beef) taco.

My two tacos plus Stacey's

Their tacos are known as “street tacos” so they are smaller than you might typically see. Everyone else in my group got the shrimp tacos and could not stop ooohh-ing and aaahh-ing over their tacos. Mine were very tasty, but I must admit, I was a little curious what all the fuss was about. Stacey also ordered the elote callejero or grilled corn with cotija cheese. Thankfully, she was kind enough to share three or four bites with me. “Mmm-mmm, good” is all there is to say about that!

Ridiculously good corn

It wasn’t even two hours after my Phoenix friends dropped us off at our hotel that I got a text that said, “Do you have dinner plans tomorrow night? We want to go back to Gallo Blanco.” Hilarious! I had just made dinner plans, however, so we made plans to go Wednesday night after our official business was over. Upon our return to Gallo Blanco, I surely did order some shrimp tacos and my own elote, stat!

We ordered so many tacos that night.

Oh my word, that corn came out so warm from the grill that the cotija cheese was melty-soft on the corn, with a touch of paprika and a little smoky flavor. Thank goodness, we all had our own ears this time around because nobody was in the mood for sharing. It was crazy good. And those shrimp tacos?? My tacos on Sunday were good, y’all, but these shrimp tacos were out of this world. They tasted like a summer afternoon out by the pool with the grill fired up on the porch. Smoky, fresh, flavorful, just a little spicy with a touch of guacamole to cool it all down.

Shrimp taco from the inside

Speaking of their guacamole, we also tried some because it was on happy-hour special. If you have been following my blog for a while, you may remember my adventures with goldamole in Philadelphia last year. This one was priced as guacamole should be, friends. 🙂 It was not quite your run of the mill average guacamole, either. It was a citrus guacamole with pieces of what I believe were either tangerines or clementines (based on size) mixed in, and covered in cotija cheese. Gallo Blanco sure does love the cotija cheese!
I quite enjoyed the guacamole. To wash everything down, I enjoyed one of their happy hour beverages, the El Julio. You can check out the menu to see what is in an El Julio, but let me tell you it tastes sort of like a Lime Julius might taste. Do you all remember the drink Orange Julius? Well, this is what I think the lime version would taste like. It was frothy and a little creamy tasting without any cream in it, and limey without being sour. Muy delicioso!

While my Phoenix Taco Tour ended up only being two places, I deem it a success! We ate at a place that has been on television and found a taco happy hour good enough to visit twice in four days. If I’m ever back in Phoenix, and I hope to be some day, I’m totally going back to Gallo Blanco. Please trust me on this one. If you find yourself in Phoenix between 3 and 6 on any given day, you should make haste to 401 W. Clarendon. I promise you won’t be sorry. Order a shrimp taco, elote callejero, and an El Julio and be a happy camper. After that, feel free to order whatever else you like because you just can’t go wrong. Up next are all the other tasty eats I had during the rest of my trip. Stay tuned and happy eating!

Happy Taco Eaters!

Baked Pesto Shrimp

This dish is pure baked deliciousness. It’s easy (4 ingredients if you don’t count the ingredient you use to grease the pan) and is done in the time it takes you to say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Well nearly, anyway. The point is that this dish rocks my world, and I think it will do the same for you. It’s also pretty versatile. If you aren’t a shrimp eater, scallops would work as would cubes of any kind of firm white fish. I’ve served the dish for special occasions like Valentine’s Day and made it when I’m the only one eating it. It’s that fancy and that simple, all at the same time. Give it a try; you’ll be glad you did.

Soooo tasty!

Baked Pesto Shrimp (adapted from Going Solo in the Kitchen)

Ingredients
3 tablespoons Panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons pesto
1/2 teaspoon Parmesan cheese
5 ounces peeled and deveined shrimp
wee bit o’ butter or non-stick spray

Steps
1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and grease your baking dish. Typically, I use a smidgen of butter and smear it around the dish with a paper towel.

Smidgen of Butter

2. In a roomy bowl, mix together your pesto and 2 tablespoons of your breadcrumbs. It will be sort of crumbly, and that’s okay.
3. Add in your shrimp, and mix together. You want the pesto-breadcrumb mixture to coat around all the shrimp.


4. Put into the baking dish, in a single layer as much as possible. A little overlap is okay, but overall, you want one layer. Top with the remaining tablespoon of Panko and your Parmesan cheese.
5. Slide it into the oven for about 5 – 6 minutes.  When you take it out, give it a minute to cool, or it will scald the top layer of your tongue off, which will prevent good eats in the coming week. Just don’t leave it on top of the warm oven to cool. 🙂

Headed Into the Oven

A note about cooking shrimp: The bottom line is two-fold. Shrimp cook crazy fast, and overcooked shrimp taste crazy bad. You are looking at two indicators when discerning if the  shrimp is cooked or not. The first is color. As shrimp cooks, you’ll see it turn opaque and either a white or pink. You aren’t looking for a super dark or super bright color though. If it’s too bright or dark, chances are that you’ve overcooked it. The second is shape. Most raw shrimp are a loose sort of question mark or barely curved line shape. As they cook, they curl or tighten up. You want to watch for a C shape. The key to a C is that the ends are still kind of far apart. If the ends of the shrimp curl into each other so it’s closer to an O, that’s not a good sign. I’ve read and heard that overcooked shrimp tastes like a pencil eraser. I can promise you that I’ve never taste-tested a pencil eraser, so I cannot confirm that. However, overcooked shrimp are rubbery, chewy, and sort of challenging to eat. You’ll probably know it when you bite into it. Typically when I’m pan- cooking shrimp, I’ll leave them on their first side the longest, and then the flip side never gets more than 2 minutes. They are usually 2/3 – 3/4 of the way done when I flip. I’m hesitant to give you specific times as there are so many factors that can influence time. However, you are probably looking at 4 – 8 minutes, on average, for cooking time. It may take some practice, but don’t be intimidated. You can do it!

I used pesto that I made with this recipe, and I had tablespoon cubes in the freezer so it was super simple to pull out two cubes to defrost while I was at work. I usually keep a bag of frozen shrimp in my freezer also. The shrimp always defrosts while I’m at work, and if I forget, it is a protein that will defrost quickly while I’m prepping other parts of dinner. It just takes a little bit of cold water in a bowl, and presto-changeo – it’s defrosted! This recipe comes together so quickly that it’s a great go-to even if you’ve forgotten to plan ahead or if you’ve had a tough day and want a special meal. Even if you don’t have the recipe in front of you – remember: equal parts Panko and pesto for the mixture plus one tablespoon Panko for the topping and a sprinkle of cheese. It’s that easy.

Who Needs A Plate??

Let’s talk about Panko, people. Panko breadcrumbs are a Japanese-style breadcrumb that is rougher and has more texture than your traditional, run-of-the-mill breadcrumb. It’s not as fine as traditional breadcrumbs so you get more crunch bang for your breadcrumb buck. Because they are a more substantial breadcrumb, items that are coated with Panko hold up better under sauces before going mushy and goopy on you. They won’t keep their full crunch under a heavy sauce or under a large amount of sauce, but they will do quite nicely with a light sauce, a pan fry, an oven bake, or any other preparation where you would use breadcrumbs. Substitute Panko, and you won’t be disappointed. I’ve found Panko on the lower shelf in the breadcrumb aisle at my grocery store as well as near the sushi station. You may also want to check the Asian or international food aisle of your store. Since I’ve made the switch to Panko, I can’t think of a time in the last three years when I’ve used the regular breadcrumbs. They are just that good.

If you want to make Baked Pesto Shrimp for two people, I don’t think you necessarily need to double the whole thing – just add a couple more ounces of shrimp and one more part Panko and pesto plus serve some side dishes. Just my two cents on that. I have made it with scallops as well as a mix of shrimp and scallops. I’ve never made it with the cubes of fish although I believe it will work just as well. You may need to adjust the cooking time a little. Test the fish with a fork to see if it flakes to tell if it is done before you take it out to serve. If you try it with the fish, let me know how it goes for you. And to everyone, happy eating!

Nutritional Information – the whole thing (if you eat it for one, like I do!)
Calories: 393
Fat: 20 g
Carbs: 14. 6 g
Protein: 35. 8 g
Calcium: 23.5%
Iron: 19%