Taco Guild – Phoenix, Arizona

When you think of tacos, does church come to mind?

On Osborn Road just off 7th street lies an old church from the 1800’s that has taken form of one of the most nationally recognized taco hotspots in the United States- Taco Guild.

If not for the aroma or well-stocked tequila bar, one would think nothing different of the establishment from the outside. The stain glass windows are still intact and a cross sits atop the building on a bell tower.

The inside holds one large chandelier in the center of the dining area, maroon leather pews line the perimeter of the restaurant, and the bar area symbolizes a large altar.

According to Jason Kline, general manager of Taco Guild, the story goes something like this:

In the Pioneer Days in Arizona, a man named John Preston Osborn lived in Prescott. He owned a ranch with a barn, horses and livestock. Unable to stop vandalism by the Natives, who scattered his livestock, burnt down his barn and stole his horses, Osborn purchased 160 acres in North Phoenix.

Osborn would join a group of community members and from there a church would be born from land purchased from Mr. and Mrs. George and Edna Smith. The “Bethel Methodist Church” got its name from Mrs. Smith’s hometown in Illinoi.

The church, now home to Taco Guild, was built on December 18th, 1893. The Bethel Methodist Church was vacated in 2012. Taco Guild opened in 2013.

Kline, a Phoenix native, has been with Taco Guild for two years.

“The owners were very sensitive to the fact it used to be a church when they first were coming in and doing the work, laying it out, figuring out what this could be,” Kline said.

The owners invited some of the congregation back before renovations began. “They asked them if there was anything they should or shouldn’t do,” Kline said. “They said it’s no longer our house it’s yours.”

Kline said many of the people of the congregation are frequent customers.

Luis Nava, executive chef since opening, said the landmark brings people in but the food makes them stay.

“They [customers] never expect a taco place to be built inside a church,” Nava said. “People come in here and ask to take pictures of the place and once they’re inside, they love our food and they love our drinks.”

Daniel Kraus, a resident of Phoenix described dining at Taco Guild as, “going to church on a Thursday.”

According to Kline, the restaurant is looking into starting a new series of “tequila dinners.” They plan to team up with a tequila connoisseur and pair food with tequila. Also, cook food with tequila. Guests will be able to purchase tickets to attend the nightly tequila dinners.

Mom’s Pesto

The best meals I have ever eaten came from home.

My deep-rooted appreciation and interest in food stems from growing up in a Sicilian family who did not eat to live but lives to eat. As a kid, I always found myself in the kitchen observing my mother cook and helping her chop, dice, trim and season. The methods of how the food was prepared and made it to the table struck my curiosity. I wanted to learn how she created these flavors that left many dinner guests coming back for more.

There is discipline and responsibility that comes along with cooking. I find it to be rewarding when I cook something that knocks my cravings. Cooking is creating; it is taking a bunch of random ingredients and turning them into something that makes sense.

During my most recent trip home to Buffalo, New York, my mom taught me how to make her pesto sauce using fresh basil and Italian parsley from her garden. This would be the start of (my most recent) best meal.

I walked out on the back patio with my cup of Earl Grey tea. My father hid behind the Buffalo news and our dog, Lina, sat comfortably on his lap. My mom held her coffee cup up to her face and took a sip while admiring the hues of greens in the woods behind our house.

The basil and parsley caught my eye; the plants were woods of their own with massive bushels of emerald green leaves. My mom saw me admiring them.

“We’re going to make pesto while you’re here to bring back to Arizona,” my mom said. “I have to make it with you because there’s no recipe.” Of course, I had no reservations to the idea of learning a generation-to-generation technique. I had barely finished my cup of tea when she told me to grab some newspapers and a pair of scissors.

We cut all of the basil and Italian parsley down, trimmed the leaves away from the stem and washed them. With a lot of olive oil, garlic and red chili flakes (I like heat) and a Cuisinart the pesto came together to fill two mason jars.

When it came time to fly out west, my mom and I securely bubble-wrapped the glass jar and stuffed it into a Kleenex box in my checked bag.

For dinner the following night, I would make Farfalle pasta with pesto and chicken cutlets, which were breaded with my mom’s homemade breadcrumbs.

I seasoned the boiling water with salt and olive oil. Once the pasta was cooked adente, I took two big scoops of the pesto and added it to the pasta. As soon as the frozen pesto hit the hot pan, my kitchen was struck by a whirlwind of garlic, olive oil and herbs. The heat brought the pesto back to life. The basil and parsley still smelt earthy and fresh regardless of its long travel.

I drenched the fileted chicken breasts in egg yolk and then showered them with breadcrumbs. A hot pan with olive oil and a slab of butter was sizzling on the pan behind me, yearning for the chicken to drop. The oil resonated a low crackling sizzle.

One swift movement and I placed the chicken in the pan. It immediately started to develop this beautiful golden brown crust. I could already taste the crunch of the outside layer but the tender part of the chicken. I could smell the grated Parmesan in the breadcrumbs melting together and then the cutlets were finished.

I sat down at my table and began to eat.