When you walk into Gallo Blanco, owner/chef Doug Robson welcomes you with a big smile and masticando el español. This guerito born in El DF has made Mexican dining in Phoenix a fun experience with a solid a simple menu on the side.

For a long time we only had three choices for tacos in Phoenix: the pseudo-Mexican places with fried tacos, microwaved beans and bland watery salsas; the always convenient taco-trucks with fluorescent lights and cabbage-packed tacuaches on the west-side; or the fast-food-drive-thru taco, from one of the many “bertos” in in the Valley.

In 2009, Doug Robson showed us that the Mexican street food staple has much more to offer with the opening of his first restaurant, Gallo Blanco. The idea had been brewing in his brain long before “high-end” street food became trendy: “I created the menu in 1997… years later my wife pulled it out and there it was, tacos, tortas, elotes. The ideas were still strong”.

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“En la carniceria they would bring the cow and sell the whole thing, and then it got distributed to the butcher and the taquero, it was very much a connection from the local farmer to the mercado.”

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Doug has been working on perfecting the taco using great quality products, from tortillas, seasonal vegetables, to locally grown meats. He learned about local sourcing from the mercados where he grew up in Tepotzotlán, Estado de México. “En la carniceria they would bring the cow and sell the whole thing, and then it got distributed to the butcher and the taquero, it was very much a connection from the local farmer to the mercado.”

Doug’s menu is based on food you can find in fondas and carritos in Mexico. You can start with the delicious guacamole, made with fresh avocados, seasonal fruits, chile serrano, cilantro and tomatoes, made always when ordered. Or try a creamy esquite, corn with sour cream, cheese, chile en polvo y limón as a second course.

Then do a tin-marín de don pingüé and choose some tacos accompanied by a tangy green salsa, or la roja de chile de arbol. Every taco you chose is better than the other, so think hard and pick from al pastor, carne asada, pescado, camaron or the seasonal veggies. And if you still have room, try their delicious house flan or their pastel de tres leches, which I always end up stealing from other people at my table.

This summer Doug opened his second restaurant, Otro Café. The menu is fairly similar to Gallo Blanco, but includes a few more platos fuertes. I recommend the jamón appetizer – muy a la crudo – and the Mexican paella – a delicious surprise of arroz rojo, fresh seasonal vegetables, spicy chicken and sausage.

Aside from the food, both Gallo Blanco and Otro Café are places to go out with friends. They have daily drink specials, and on Wednesdays you can catch a free and seductive flamenco show that has become a must-do in la phoeniquera. Flamenco isn’t really Mexican, but whatever – sangrías flow through the night, tacos are shared, and el taconeo from the dancers fills the beautiful artsy space.

Though recent years have seen a growth in what I call “Boutique Tacos” and Mexican fare has become trendier, Doug remains true to his vision for affordable, great quality food, and his simple menu. “I am not working to roll out 25 of these units. I am just trying to provide people good food, good value and a pretty decent service”.

If it’s late and you find yourself at a concert at the Crescent Ballroom, get the nachos with carnitas at Doug’s bar. Highly recommended.

¡Provecho!