PAZ Cantina: The Community’s Taco Bar
By: Blake M. Wilson
I’m the type of guy that likes to treat myself at lunch every day, because I deserve a reward for keeping my eyes open for 4 consecutive hours. A Downtown Phoenix type myself, I thrive in the culture-rich sections of the hippest part of the city, Roosevelt Row.
Hopping on over the eclectic center of town, my boss and I figured it was about time to test out one of the newest additions to area, PAZ Cantina. Neon colors fill the yard in front of the formerly defunct realty, inviting passerby’s who apparently can’t feel the sun.
I pace myself on the warm tortilla chips. I live for the thrill of the taco, and there’s only so many bedrooms in my stomach. My eyes dart across the extensive taco list, trying to make the toughest decision of any new Mexican food venture. Pork belly and calamari snag my glare, and my appetite. Guess what I ordered…
The food arrives, tacos about the size of my palm, for scale. The pork belly includes a thick slab of braised meat, topped with a garnish of pickled onions and jalapeños. The Taco Del Mar, aka the taco with calamari in it, included white cabbage and sour cream, with their own tomatoes on top.
It’s not pretty when I eat tacos. I’ve been told my iris’s glow red. Rabid Blake usually snarfs down the handheld meal in a few bites. I much prefer to eat alone. This taco test was no different, especially since each taco was crafted to perfection.
We loved the meal and the Chicano-vibe so much, a request was made to speak with the boss of “Peace” Cantina.* Michael Reyes, one of the original founders of the joint, generously joined us to answer our curiosities about such a unique location. The man opened nearly 50 restaurants in his time, finally dedicating his experience and talent to the PAZ kitchen. He excitedly suggested we try the tres leches french toast. Passion dripping from his every word, we couldn’t have said “Yes!” with more exclamation. *“PAZ” means “peace” in Spanish. Read a book, why don’t you!
The dessert plate arrived. Four tortas fried and breaded with frosted flakes, with a slight glaze and a charitable dollop of house-made whipped cream on each one. Strawberries bedded themselves into the top, as we covered the treat in syrup. Each bite melted in my mouth; the texture of the flakey crunch and the soft torta inside. Any other word I type about its greatness would be an injustice to the dish itself. Just go there and try it.
Beyond jading the flavor receptors of their customers, PAZ Cantina’s existence also lies in a mission. So many people have given to the restaurant, they desperately want to give back to that same community. Reyes explained to us that no one gets turned away, regardless of background. They do their part in supporting the arts, bringing in the best local jazz Phoenix has to offer on weekends, and selling local art on their walls weeklong. Every dime of any purchased piece goes the artist themselves.
Sadly, the clock gestures that my lunchtime is up. I begrudgingly slide off my stool, still fascinated in PAZ’s calling, yet knowing that I’ll be back to learn more in the near future. Make sure to check back in with AZ Food & Wine soon for an in-depth piece on PAZ Cantina’s communal pursuit to give back through compassion, the arts and cuisine.