People always ask me where to get Mexican food, and now I have a new place to recommend.
Finding one that doesn’t use lard, or mix cheese and meat together in every dish, is hard for lovers of Mexican food. Though CRUjiente serves very traditional food, there is nothing traditional about it, including the way it spells its name.
CRUjiente means “crunchy” in Spanish, and they specialize in street tacos. But why are the first three letters capitalized? I posed this question to a food photographer friend of mine on Facebook, only to have the chef of CRUjiente, Richard Hinosoa, chime in live with the answer.
So it is with great surprise and confidence I can tell you why. CRU is emphasized in the name because it is a designation in France for a vineyard, or a group of vineyards that produce high quality wine. In short, the chef is a wine guy, and the food is served on small plates, like tapas. You drink, you eat, you talk, you eat, and so it goes. Delightful!
The décor is modern, stylish, and a bit loud from people having fun and talking. The beautiful interior serves as a lovely backdrop for fine food and service. There are craft cocktails and a selection of fine wines available. They have a nice happy hour with reduced prices on both food and drink.
The Arcadia neighborhood gets to claim another fabulous restaurant in its midst. CRUjiente is located in that little strip mall on the southwest corner of 40th Street and Camelback Road, home of one of my favorite Italian restaurants ages ago: Chianti. Over the course of a couple of visits, here are some highlights.
Premier CRU Margarita $5 (happy hour price)
(Exotico Blanco tequila, house agave syrup, lime, expressed orange peel)
Although I love a good glass of wine, I am more of a cocktail guy. In an era gone by, my grandparents observed the cocktail hour religiously. I guess it is genetic. Our server convinced me to order a margarita from the whole list of signature cocktails, and I obliged. I loved in on the first sip and here is why. They do not use margarita mix. Whoever invented margarita mix should be banished from the kingdom. Instead, they make it my favorite way – with fresh lime juice and agave syrup, which makes a margarita taste like it was plucked off a tree. Great price, too.
Chips and Guacamole $ 7 (happy hour price)
(fresh tortilla chips, house guacamole)
If a Mexican restaurant is going to be good, you are going to find that out in this dish – because the proof is in the guacamole. The chips appear made to order and are served in a paper bag to absorb the oil. They are crunchy (crujiente), with a dash of salt, warm and fresh. The guacamole is also freshly made and a bit spicy. It’s the good kind of spice – the kind that keeps you shoveling it in. The squeamish will find it too hot. Highly recommended.
36-Hour Beef Short Rib Taco $4 (happy hour price)
(house hot sauce, onions, cilantro)
This is a soft taco, a warm, nicely-made tortilla that serves as the vehicle to your mouth. It is usually served with a Mexican Cotija cheese, which I asked to be held. This delicious treat melts in your mouth. The meat was tender and savory and again there was a bit of heat to this taco. All of the ingredients blended nicely and it was devoured in short order.
Korean Fried Chicken Taco $3 (happy hour price)
(gochujang, mojo de cebollin, compressed cabbage)
This is an award-winning dish of CRUjientes. When you add the fact it was happy hour priced, that was enough motivation for me to try it. It’s a soft taco containing a nice portion of fried chicken made with a combination of Korean spices (gochuang) and onion sauce (mojo de cebollin) with a dollop of compressed cabbage. I have no idea what compressed cabbage is, but give me some more, please! This tasty taco is certainly award winning and one of my favorites. Again, there’s heat in this one but the good kind. Highly recommended.
(mole, sesame, peanut, verde salsa)
I love duck, and when I saw it in a soft taco, I had to have it. The duck is served rare (yum) and artistically laid upon a delicate mole sauce, and garnished with sesame and peanuts (and jalapeño, though not mentioned in the description). Again, the heat has snuck into this taco as well. The duck was tender and tasty – and gone in three bites.
(pickled red onion, radish, cabbage, “birria” sauce)
This crunchy taco was one of my favorites. It is served with Cojito cheese which I asked to be held, and to tell you the truth, there is so much flavor going on in this taco that I don’t think it really mattered. Birria is a spicy lamb stew so I am guessing that the menu description in quotes, “birria,” is some sort of use of the sauce generated from cooking the lamb. Like most of their tacos, there is heat to this dish I’ll bet you’ve never tasted a taco as good as this one. Highly recommended.
Fresh Fish $5
(citrus slaw, ancho tartar)
I didn’t catch the name of the whitefish they used, but it was fresh and fried to a golden brown. The citrus slaw gave it a zesty tang and the ancho tartar brought a little heat to the table. Served as a soft taco because the fish adds crunch, this taco really pleases the palate.
Tempura Avocado $4
(black bean muñeta, Cotija, queso fresco, red onion, jalapeño)
I wanted to try a vegetarian offering and found this tempting soft taco. I can’t remember ever having fried avocado before and this was very good. Muñeta is a Cuban preparation, if I’m not mistaken, that uses cumin, oregano, bay leaves and sesame to flavor these slow-cooked beans. The cheeses added flavor and texture. This taco was not spicy at all, so order these for your friends who are avoiding the heat.
CRUjiente is a little gem on a hard-to-park corner. It fills with people as the night goes on. It’s a place to meet, talk and dine on crunchy delicacies. It’s like a tapas bar – only cooler. It’s run by an executive chef whose main experience is luxury hotel dining, and he has combined that elegance into street food. If you are looking for street tacos with a gourmet flair, you’ve found it here. Crunch on, mis amigos!
3961 E. Camelback Road Phoenix
Contact A. Noshman at firstname.lastname@example.org