In its first week open, Chantico is already earning rave reviews. We would expect nothing less from the team behind Valley staples like Ocotillo and Starlite BBQ, led by Walter Sterling. Sterling set about to create an atmosphere of old and new, with a menu featuring a mixture of traditional and more forward, bolder dishes along with modern almost industrial architecture interspersed with lots of light and landscaping, plants from the Sonoran Desert in fact. It’s representative of Mexico City, a true melting pot.
“Mexico City is a very sophisticated almost European-like city with people from all over Mexico that have moved there, and there's a lot of incredible architecture and wonderful food in Mexico City,” Sterling says.
Sterling explains how many people aren’t entirely aware about just how diverse Mexico is as a country. For example, there’s the Baja Peninsula and the Sea of Cortez with its seafood, the Gulf of Mexico with its tropical influences and fruit and Sonora with its cattle ranching history. Chantico is importing as much as possible from Mexico, even tortilla warmers.
“They’re handwoven from these ladies in a Mayan community, and that directly supports them. It makes you feel really good buying them,” says Sterling. “They’re beautiful, and you can't believe that people actually weave stuff like that, so perfect over and over again.”
Warmers are necessary for all the tortillas and tortilla chips Chantico makes by hand. The name Chantico actually comes from the Aztec goddess of fire and hearth. The Aztec people would take dried corn kernels and add them to a pot of water with ash. The ash had lye in it or calcium hydroxide which softens the corn and converts it into something more easily digestible. Corn is also a major cornerstone of Mexican food, and that’s why Sterling chose to highlight it, including the traditional process the staff is taking to process the corn from start to finish using stone to grind the corn instead of an industrial machine to make the masa that is used for tortillas and tamales.
Sterling believes that's one of the many ways Chantico stands out from the pack, and another is the restaurant's vegan options. There's plant based cheese and fresh red, green and mole sauces made with vegetable stock, chiles, onion and garlic instead of lard or chicken stock like other restaurants sometimes use. There are more familiar items like flautas and chimichangas and more adventurous plates like the Cochinita Pibil, marinated slow-roasted pork wrapped in banana leaf and slowly cooked for hours.
“If you want a soft fish taco on a flour tortilla, we have that. If you want a fish taco on a 100 percent heirloom blue corn tortilla from Oaxaca in the Sierra Mountains, we have that,” Sterling says.
Drinks are the same way with plenty of high end tequila, mezcal, whiskey and other spirits in stock, fun cocktails like the Improved Champagne Problems and Unicorn Tears and flavorful non-alcoholic drinks like horchata and Mexican hot chocolate available. Happy hour is offered at the bar from 2 p.m. to close seven days a week, with a crossover of some dining room dishes at a discounted price and some additional food items plus drinks like the margarita and Paloma at a value price.
If you’re not sitting at the bar, the outside area with multiple patio spaces is an absolute dream, or there's also the main indoor dining room and atrium room. It's a perfect setting for catching up and grabbing a bite with friends and family or a date night. There's just dinner and happy hour right now, with brunch planned for the weekends in a couple weeks.
“I tried to think of what an 18-year-old vegan would expect out of a Mexican restaurant — what a 70-year-old person who has been eating Mexican food in Arizona would expect out of a Mexican restaurant,” Sterling says. “Kind of everybody in between.”
Chantico is located at 1051 E Camelback Road, Phoenix; 602.699.3015; www.chanticophx.com