How great is it when you can buy delicious food conveniently, reasonably priced, while helping a cause? Brushfire Tacos y Tapas, a little taco stand that opened in June in Peoria, has only a drive-through and a walk-up window. But its influence could be mighty.
Brushfire was founded by Clint Berkey, a veteran of the financial-services industry who also ran a non-profit organization in Honduras for war refugees. He named his eatery after that organization. Dividing his time between Phoenix, where one of his sons lives, and his home in Oregon, Berkey says he will donate 51 percent of his restaurant’s profits to charity. That makes his already-loaded tacos particularly well-endowed.
Scene: Brushfire sits in the middle of a parking lot outside Lowe’s and a Sprouts grocery store. You can drive through or come to the window, but don’t look for seating inside. A handful of seats under an overhang will be more appealing in the fall. For now, plan on takeout. This is a problem only because the tacos are so juicy they melt quickly into their tortillas, and the churros dry out, so make sure your eating destination is close by. Or chow down in the car. One tip for Brushfire food-packers: Pack the napkins on top so that dashboard diners can grab them first before all that juiciness dribbles.
Tacos: Basically, you have five choices in entrees, done three ways. Tacos come with steak, chicken, veggie, pork and shrimp ($3.49 each or $2.99 for veggie and pork). You can also get “flights,” which adds chips and salsa and a drink to your order ($7.49 or $7.99). The term is a little confusing because a “flight” of wines or other drinks usually means you get one of each. Not the case here. (“Take flight” is the company’s theme, reflecting the owner’s wish to make a difference in the world. The flame above the logo can also be seen as a dove.)
In addition to tacos, all those ingredients can be served as a bowl with romaine lettuce, poblano peppers, rice and beans, in a shower of cilantro-lime dressing ($6.95 each or $10.95 for a flight). For the same price as a bowl, you can have your ingredients rolled inside a burrito.
We went for the tacos and tried each one. This is an all-star cast.
Tacos are made with flour tortillas stuffed like a suitcase for a six-month vacation. Meat and veggies fall from each end. These are certainly not the tasty-but-tiny street tacos popular across the Valley. These are full size.
The carne asada-style steak taco is filled with chunks of grilled meat (and you can taste the smokiness), pico de gallo, cheese and a blob of guacamole. The al pastor pork is likewise redolent of the grill and accompanied by pico de gallo, cheese and chunks of juicy, tangy pineapple that not only sweeten the pork but create a luau in your mouth. The chicken taco is made with chicken marinated in cilantro-lime juice, guac, pico and cheese.
Veggie lovers get their due with a plump taco filled with grilled poblano peppers, mushrooms, pico, red potatoes, onions and cheese. Again, the flavor of the grill comes through in style.
The adobado-style shrimp is equally outstanding, packed into that tortilla with coarse shredded slaw and pico de gallo, moistened with a cilantro-lime dressing.
Each taco comes with a wedge of lime for an extra squirt of flavor.
Tapas: Give equal time to the “tapas” half of the restaurant’s name. Order some of each and have your own tapas party. Of course, you’ll have to supply the sangria.
Croquetas (six for $2.49) are little balls of breaded and fried ham and cheese served with a spicy mayo. I didn’t find an explosion of flavor, but they’re good enough and not greasy despite taking a dip in the fryer. Ditto for Shrimp en Fuego (eight for $3.99). The name means “fire,” but they’re not so fiery until dipped in the spicy mayo, which adds a little slap. Pop these babies in your mouth like popcorn. They’re delightfully crunchy.
Empanadas ($2.49 each) are made with a soft chicken filling wrapped in flaky pastry that could have used a few more minutes of cooking time for a more golden brown color.
The Papas Bravas ($1.99) are a don’t-miss item, perfectly roasted chunks of spud with a hint of cumin, also to be dipped in the spicy mayo or enjoyed on their own. You really don’t need sauce.
Pot beans (99 cents) are a cup of tender pinto beans sprinkled with queso. A little more seasoning would be helpful. They’re a nice break from refried beans and more nutritionally sound.
But the bland cilantro-lime rice (99 cents) was disappointing. It could use a lot more lime or something that would spank a little life into it.
Desserts: You might not expect decent sweets at such a diminutive diner. But the churros (two for $2.99) are respectable stalks of crispy fried dough dusted generously with cinnamon sugar and served with a cup of chocolate sauce for dipping. These don’t compare to some of the best at the Valley’s sit-down restaurants, but they’ll satisfy the sweet tooth without being too sweet. I could have used a larger cup of chocolate sauce. That’s a bit skimpy.
Flan lovers can anticipate a lovely experience with the espresso flan ($2.99), a proper custard in a deep coffee color and resting in a pond of caramel sauce. The last time I had fast-food flan, it was merely adequate. This is creamy and soft, though if I tweaked it, I would make it a bit more solid. As it is, the mouth feel is simply velvet.
Drinks: Brushfire offers an array of Coke products, but grab an horchata ($1.49, $1.79), a rice-water beverage. I’ve had them thicker and with more aggressive flavor elsewhere, but on a hot day these are actually more refreshing.
Lowdown: Peoria can thank its lucky stars for having this alternative to ordinary drive-through food in its backyard. Maybe you hesitate to assign quality to food procured as you shift into “park.” But picture this fare presented not in plastic-foam containers and paper bags but on beautiful Mexican dishware. You’re sitting not in the driver’s seat but in a big wicker chair. You’re not eating off the lap of your jeans but from a table set with white linen. Now, do you believe it?
If Berkey really wanted to help the war-torn people of Honduras, he would ship them a few truckloads of his tacos. Make tacos, not war.
By Barbara Yost
Special for The Republic | azcentral.com
Sun Sep 1, 2013 4:25 PM