Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sofia's Mexican Food, Gila Bend, AZ

I recently visited Phoenix and Scottsdale for a conference where I was presenting some of my recent research. I arrived in town a day early, with the goal of getting out of the city to see the surrounding desert and also eating some good Mexican food, which Pittsburgh is lacking. I had identified the Sonoran Desert National Monument, about 40 miles southwest of the city as my hiking destination and Gila Bend, a city on the edge of the park, as my target for a Mexican pre-hike meal.

As soon as my flight landed, I dragged my luggage to the rental car garage, packed it into my subcompact rental, and immediately hit the highway. Ninety or so minutes later I was driving along the one main road of Gila Bend past motels and palm trees until I spotted Sofia's, a nondescript Mexican diner on my right.

The Saturday afternoon dining room was crowded, but I had no problem securing a window booth. It was pushing 1PM in Phoenix and I hadn't eaten anything since my 7AM (eastern time) Danish at my flight gate in Pittsburgh, so I ordered more than I usually would have. I went with an asada taco, a carnitas taco, a cheese and bean tostada, and washed it all down with a lime Jarritos soda. While I waited for my meal, some house salsa was served in a small pitcher, along with a basket of warm tortillas chips. The salsa was fresh, with a mild but persistent heat.

After a short wait, my meal arrived on a single platter.

I was most excited about the carnitas, so I started with them. They were exceptional. Perfectly crispy outside, nicely chewy inside, with a deeply intense salty porkiness. Nothing in Pittsburgh even comes close. Next, I moved to the asada taco, which was also terrific. The steak was freshly grilled and sliced, with some nice crunchy caramelized bits, but the flavour paled when compared to the lingering memory of my carnitas. I was starting to fill up, but still devoured the tostada. Unfortunately, I had made a tactical error finishing with the blandest dish of all and I was wishing that I had ordered a second carnitas taco instead. The beans were nice, but couldn't quite stand alone, and the cheese was some kind of orange shredded mild cheddar-like substance which didn't really bring much to the plate.

All three items were topped with diced fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro and onions, while a lemon wedge provided some acidity to the meal. The taco tortillas were lightly grilled on the kitchen's greasy hot-plate, soaking up the oils and aromas from the meats that had preceded them.

As I made my way out to the 98F heat, I figured that I had better stock up on supplies before hiking in the desert so I picked up a few gallons of water and some energy bars at a nearby grocery store before driving to the trailhead where I was going to hike. Unfortunately, I was intimidated by the combination of the scorching heat, the road that deteriorated to a dry creek bed that was impassable in my rental car, and signs telling me to keep alert for human smugglers, so I only paused in the park to take some pictures but missed out on a hike. Next time I'll bring some friends and a vehicle with four wheel drive. I'll also stop back at Sofia's for lunch.

Sofia's Mexican Food is located at 616 W Pima Street in Gila Bend, AZ. Call (928) 683-6382 for information, and make sure to bring a four wheel drive and companionship if you want to hike in the nearby Sonoran Desert National Monument.


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