Mexican food certainly isn’t difficult to come by this close to the border. Heck, even outstanding, authentic Mexican food isn’t in shortage in Phoenix, everywhere from taco trucks to upscale dining. When you open a new Mexican joint in this town, you know damn well you have some competition. You better have the culinary skills to back up your ego.
Doug Robson, the chef-owner of Gallo Blanco and its new sister eatery, Otro Café, is an unlikely molé worshipper. Born to parents of French-Vietnamese and English heritage, they settled in Mexico where Robson was one of the few “Gallos Blancos,” which literally translates to “white guy” en Español.
His mixed heritage shows in his food. Not that what he makes isn’t authentic, but it’s authentic with an inspired fusion mix that might only come to someone with that rich of a background.
I decided to check out what all the buzz was about at the new place, Otro Café. They didn’t get very creative with the name (“Otro” translates to “other” in Spanish), but you can’t necessarily say the same about the food.
My dining partner and I arrived on a Friday night with a reservation and were seated at a tiny two-person table. Our waitress, who seemed a little stretched thin, might have been onto us right away.
Typically I like to review food without the knowledge of the staff. I generally dislike special treatment and I want to get an honest assessment of the food. But when we started ordering up large quantities of appetizers, entrees, drinks and desserts that packed our tiny table, she asked us if we were “foodies or shoppers.” I’m not sure what “shopper” means, but I think we played it off pretty cool.
“Oh, we were just super hungry and ordering with our stomachs,” I said. She half bought it.
And yes, there was a ton of food consumed that night. Otro Café’s super reasonable prices make it easy to order big.
We started with the El Español appetizer—a platter of thinly sliced Serrano ham, avocado, green olives, red onion, Serrano chilies with lime vinaigrette and served with thinly sliced bread. It was essentially Mexican bruschetta, but it packed a punch. The salty-sweet ham mixed with fatty avocado, tart olives and crisp red onion was a complex medley of flavors that I can honestly say that I enjoyed, but something felt like it was missing—likely sweetness. While I enjoyed the appetizer and I would order it again, I can’t say it was dynamite.
Then, being the “shoppers” we are, we ordered up one of each of the non-vegetarian tacos on the menu. It was our own customized plate of shrimp, fish, carne asada and pork offerings, each jammed to the brim with guacamole, cabbage or lettuce and pico de gallo. All were tasty but none mind blowing. The pork, with its sweet-and-savory flavor and slightly crunchy pieces, was the clear winner for me. Probably because the rest of the tacos tasted nearly identical.
We could have stopped there, but we went on to the entrée round. I ordered up the pollo asado, a half chicken, slow roasted and served with a vegetable hash, while my dining partner went for a more traditional trio of chicken enchiladas.
My pollo asado came juicy with a sweet, citrus-marinated skin, but perhaps it wasn’t the best selection on the menu. I came away slightly disappointed in how simple the dish was. It was exactly what I ordered, but I should have opted for something more adventurous like the restaurant’s wide array of paellas.
The traditional enchilada plate across the table was where the more robust flavors were at. A pretty typical green and red sauce was highlighted by a super smoky, vaguely sweet mole that the restaurant has earned a reputation for.
We finished off the meal with a subdued pecan sandie topped with coconut pudding and chocolate flakes. The salty crispness of the sandie paired with the subtle sweetness of the coconut pudding was a solid end to a meal I’m not sure lived up to the Otro Café hype.
That said, I’d definitely give this place another shot with a few smarter selections on my part.
6035 N. 7th Street, Phoenix