I have to say, I’ve never been served food by an Iron Chef before, so my dinner a couple nights ago at Scottsdale’s Distrito was an absolute treat considering Iron Chef America talent Jose Garces prepared my delicious Mexican meal. I even got to meet Jose at the restaurant, which was super-special, especially because he’s such a nice guy. The charming spot just opened this past December and is located in also-new The Saguaro hotel.
Garces told me he was drawn to Scottsdale to open his newest restaurant (he owns seven in Philadelphia and one in Chicago) because it was a chance for him to partner with a hotel and take control of all their dining operations–The Saguaro also features Garces’ Old Town Whiskey, a gorgeous bar with a relaxing vibe and more than 100 types of whiskey, as well as Garces Trading Company Coffee To-Go. Garces splits his time among all his locations, coming to Scottsdale every couple months.
The mouthwatering menu aside, looking at the restaurant itself will put a smile on your face. The decor is sort of shabby chic, with hanging lights made of clothespins, colored trellises on the walls, brightly colored sparkly tables and a wall completely covered in tiny little pom-pom balls. It’s a very fun and festive atmosphere juxtaposed with romantic candlelight–the best of both worlds. At the bar, there is a huge food truck stand-like marquee, listing tasty drinks off the menu. The restaurant is bright and fun and has a unique style, which I love.
Like Garces’ Old Town Whiskey, Distrito has its share of impressive libations, including more than 100 types of tequila on the menu. My pal and I shared an 1800 tequila flight ($14), which came with Blanco, Reposado and Anejo shots. Take the Blanco is you’re a wimp like me–it’s the smoothest. Our flight came with a spicy aperitif of peanuts, and it was a great kick-off to the meal.
We also sampled two of the restaurant’s signature margaritas, the Distrito house margarita, which I added fresh pineapple to, ($12), and the Jefe margarita ($15), made with Don Julio Reposado. We both agreed getting a fresh fruit-infused margarita was the way to go, and we both also agreed my pineapple margarita was the best margarita we’ve ever had. Yum!
I also tried a Spanish Fly ($10), with fruit-infused tequila, lime and simple syrup. This was also one of the best-tasting cocktails I’ve had, since it was strong but so sweet, you couldn’t taste the alcohol.
Our meal was an absolute feast, since we sampled many of the menu items. The menu is modeled after Mexican street food, with small plate specialties in addition to a variety of barbacoa dishes.
To start, we had the Ejotes ($6), consisting of fresh green beans, confit cherry tomatoes and white cheese in a roasted garlic lemon vinaigrette. Depending on what else you’re getting, this filling salad is big enough to share and tasted so fresh and healthy. The flavors and colors were wonderful, and I loved every bite of it.
We also split the Ignacio nachos ($10), a massive serving of chips, black beans, tomatos, cheese, jalapenos and radishes, topped with a chile de arbol sauce my companion insisted made them the best nachos he’s ever had. The dish was huge–the appetizer could fill four people–and the mixture of toppings was great. I loved the thin lightness of the chips, and my only complaint would be that eating it gets messy quickly because of how high the skillet is stacked. Use a fork and knife with these nachos.
For my entree, I had the Mexican City Style Quesadilla ($9), with calabaza (squash), squash blossom, goat cheese and poblano espuma. Definitely pair this with an “acompanamiento,” one of the sides, since it’s a smaller portion. The quesadilla was not a traditional flat quesadilla–it was puffed up and probably the fanciest quesadilla I’ve had. I liked it as a fresh twist on what we’re used to.
My companion got the Queso Fundido ($12), with duck barbacoa, poblano chile rajas and mixed cheese. It came with homemade tortillas you can see being made in a tortilla station in the restaurant, which is a really cool and personalized touch to your meal. He said it was wonderful, and his leftovers were just as good as his original meal.
We paired our entrees with sides of refried beans ($3) and creamy poblano corn rice ($5). The beans were very creamy and tasted cheesy, and the corn rice was like a delightful version of Mexican mac n’ cheese. Both of these sides are a must-try.
We had to try a dessert, so we opted for the big-enough-for-two El Fuerte ($12), a flourless chocolate cake with spicy peanuts, espresso ice cream and doused in hot caramel by your server. The sweet and salty combination was amazing, and we gobbled up every bite despite being stuffed from the rest of our meal.
Eating at Distrito was such a fun experience, both because of the engaging ambiance and the tasty food. For being such high-quality offerings, I thought the prices were extremely reasonable, and the eatery seemed like a perfect fit in The Saguaro, which also has touches of Mexican culture in the interior design. I’d love to go back and try Garces’ two other spots, too, and I’d recommend Distrito to anyone in the Scottsdale area looking for high-class Mexican food.