Upward Projects, the company making a splash around the metropolitan area of Phoenix with their various restaurant ventures, is the little engine that could.
The company has been responsible for a variety of eclectic restaurants, four of which are within a block of each other on Colter Street and Central Avenue.
Three of the restaurants (Federal Pizza, Joyride Taco Shop and Postino Winecafe) practically sit shoulder-to-shoulder next to one another, while for dessert, their ice cream shop, Churn, resides across the street from Federal Pizza.
All of the restaurants seemed to sprout up within a few weeks of one another. Joyride, the company’s latest chess piece, opened around the first of the year – their second location after first opening in Gilbert about six months prior.
The restaurant sits on the edge of the downtown corridor in Phoenix and caters to a business crowd, more than it would to a couple on a first date, with 180 degrees of window panes, and modern semi-circle blue booths that take up half of the floor plan. True to that, the customers who passed through Joyride on this Friday night, in their Dockers and button-down shirts, mostly fit of this description. But, the real question: is the food any good?
Meals at the restaurant start with the requisite bowl of chips and salsa like any Mexican restaurant worth their weight. And everyone likes a bowl of warm, salted tortilla chips — especially the kind where a thin layer bubble of tortilla separates from the rest of the chip — right? Yet, what accompanies the ensemble steps the chip up to the next level.
The type of salsa that Joyride serves is likely their signature technique: fire-roasted ingredients. Some make it chunky, others make it sweet, while others construct it with a slight kick. Theirs, a mild mix of charcoal infused roasted tomatoes processed in a blender, mixes well with whatever they serve.
The salsa is a wonderful complement to one of Joyride’s signature dishes, a burrito served in an enchilada-style enclosure, bifurcated at the middle, just so you can see all those ingredients written on the menu come alive. As described on the menu, the Machaca, enclosed with the beef, eggs, along with the Poblano and yellow peppers, fraternize well with one another to provide a sweet juicy flavor, which repurposes itself fine by morning as a breakfast burrito — if you’re fixing for leftovers.
The guacamole suffers in comparison by being under-seasoned, as well as with an egg-like taste to it, even as someone who had the good sense to garnish the dip with a few green chiles. (Let’s not mention that it’s seven dollars.) Likewise, their fish tacos need another revision. The shrimp within it shares the same cooking method as the salsa, which suits the taste well, but it’s a tad bland with the coleslaw mixed.
Erring on the safe side, horchata is the drink of choice for tonight’s meal. The horchata, a traditional Mexican milk beverage, is a mainstay in their cuisine. The cinnamon and almonds, to say nothing of the dairy in it, negates any heat generated by the main course. Despite a lack of “heat” by this particular meal, the fresca, with its prevalent mix of cinnamon, offers a nice counter-balance to everything else on the table.
Whatever problems Joyride has now can easily be chalked up to freshman nerves, even if it didn’t come out of the gate strong like Federal Pizza did. Still, the promise of simple traditional meals like the burrito is undeniable, despite some obvious weaknesses of the sides and main courses.
“It’s simple,” assistant editor Mackenzie McCreary, remarked as our meals were served at our table. And yeah, it was.
In its current form, Joyride doesn’t offer anything revisionary about how it serves its Mexican food. Instead, it focuses on what it does best, by emphasizing the taste of its street-food ancestors, while not betraying the price of the food.
At about three months young, Joyride Phoenix still hasn’t lived long enough to break free of that admittedly provincial label. Yet, a key to their survival will be if they learn to adapt.
Damn, I forgot to try their dessert.