Taco Boy's brings killer carne asada tacos to downtown Phoenix – The Arizona Republic

Sometimes it seems like every nook, cranny and available storefront in Phoenix is crammed with no-frills neighborhood taquerias that offer pretty much the same thing. The trick is finding ones that are a little better than the others.
Well, this one’s a lot better.
Surrounded by trendy downtown Mexican restaurants, Taco Boy’s is as no-frills as they come. Walk through the open doorway, catch a smile from the person behind the counter and raise your voice over the blaring music to order a few tacos. When your styrofoam plate arrives, it bears nothing but tortillas and meat.
But oh, man, that meat.
Open since Nov. 1, Taco Boy’s is more south Phoenix than Roosevelt Row — a bunch of fellas searing up freshly cut and perfectly seasoned meat over a smoldering bed of mesquite charcoal.
“We know how to make tacos better than we know how to make anything,” says Juan Francisco Cornejo Jr., one of the shop’s owners.
He’s not kidding.
Formerly home to a Habanero’s Mexican Grill, the space has been stripped down and simplified, decorated only by a giant street art logo and bags of mesquite stacked like sandbags. Gone are the neon signage and the frozen margarita machine, replaced by a glowing charcoal grill, a rough-hewn chopping block for cutting meat and a party atmosphere driven by a crowd of cooks and regulars that seem like they’re always having a good time.
The food, however, is deadly serious.
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Cornejo and his father, Juan Francisco Cornejo Sr., previously ran El Matador Asadero y Cocina and a food truck called Tacos Cornejo. But the pair sold them both, joining with Suminder Singh and a crowd of friends and family to launch a true team effort — a downtown taqueria with the soul of south Phoenix.
“There’s not really many authentic Mexican places to eat at downtown,” Cornejo says. “You’re not going to find this kind of food unless you go to a food truck on the south side or the west side. Mexican people, they don’t think that this is possible for them. They feel like it’s too much, it’s overwhelming, can they do it, you know what I mean? We wanted to make it clear that anybody can do this.”
The menu includes familiar options: carne asada, pollo, tripa, cabeza, pastor and barbacoa, offered as tacos, vampiros, burros or quesadillas. Pick your protein, pick your preferred tortilla delivery system and have a seat.
The team cooks, tapping out a rhythm as Mexican dance tunes spill out the open door into the street. A few curls of mesquite smoke escape the hood and wander into the dining area. When you hear a cleaver rapping against the cutting board, you know the carne asada is imminent. The wait’s pretty quick though it seems a lot longer.
A plate of tacos at Taco Boy’s is stark, literally nothing more than your choice of tortillas, corn or flour, topped with generous piles of meat. The condiment bar is boilerplate — onion and cilantro, a pair of salsas, limes, some avocado and a selection of simple pickles — but it’s carefully tended and well-stocked. Dress your tacos, grab a radish, grab a chair and dig in.
Your first realization is that you didn’t order nearly enough. Not because the tacos aren’t hefty, but because you suddenly want to eat twice as many.
This is killer carne asada, freshly butchered every morning, perfectly seasoned, imbued with a smoky char and possessing that perfect balance of tenderness and chew you only get from a kitchen that knows how to handle live fire and wields a cleaver with skill. Tortillas are supple, toasty and just oily enough to sear your fingers. A touch of veg and a little splash of salsa — a searing, fresh red or a tart green heavy with oregano — are all they need.
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The cabeza, a milky puddle of succulent steamed head meat, might be even better. And crisp tripe that doesn’t spare the funk hits a nice sizzling crisp without turning into the chewy surgical tubing so many other joints serve.
Those less enamored with variety meats, however, will dig some charred chicken or a steamy carrot-studded beef barbacoa. And while the pastor lacks a trompo, it sure doesn’t lack flavor. It’s seared hard with an intense, smoky dry chile marinade.
Vampiros sport a crackling bite, while massive quesadillas, which look like they’re 92% cheese, bubble and ooze between toasty, griddled tortillas. Those same tortillas form the burros, and Taco Boy’s carne asada in particular benefits from an upcharge for “fajita style,” adding onions and peppers sizzled in oil just enough to release their sweetness while maintaining a crisp, fresh snap.
The meats are so good, it would be easy to overlook the beans. Don’t. A blend of pintos, both whole and pureed, are plied with chorizo and, I suspect, enough fat that you’re probably better off not knowing just how much. But the crew is coy about the details.
“We do it the hard way,” is all Cornejo reveals.
Where: 620 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix.
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 10 a.m.-1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Price: Tacos $2.49; burros $7.99; vampiros $2.49; quesadillas $7.99/$2.99 (L/S); plates $8.49.
Details: 602-675-3962, aztacoboys.com.
Tried something delicious lately? Reach the reporter at dominic.armato@arizonarepublic.com or at 602-444-8533. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @skilletdoux, and on Facebook at facebook.com/darmato.
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