Chileverde is a place where you might see movers and shakers enjoying lunch. You know who they are: that lawyer you saw on TV last night, or perhaps a famous local chef. You'll see plenty of people wearing jury tags, too.
There are several reasons for this mixture of clientele. One, of course, is the location. Chileverde is located next door to the Pima County building on Stone Avenue between Congress and Pennington streets. It is a short walk for many a downtown worker, and several courthouses are in the vicinity.
Another reason: The service is fast casual, which is ideal if you have to get back in short order to that all-important legal stuff.
The décor and atmosphere are pretty cool. Part of the kitchen is open, so you can watch the cooks hustling. The floors are painted cement; an open brick wall adds an industrial-chic look. The small tables are packed close together, and there's a big-screen TV always tuned to news.
Another important part of the décor is the salsa bar. Salsas include a pico de gallo, a salsa verde, a mild red sauce, a hot red sauce, and a thin and flavorful guacamole-like sauce, plus fresh limes. Grab napkins, silverware, salt, pepper and your fountain drink, and then head for your table; it's all very simple and easy.
On one visit, John and I clocked in around noon, midweek, to find the place pretty empty. Fifteen minutes later, almost all of the tables were filled.
At the counter, John ordered the two carne asada tacos ($6.50), and I had the daily special: a shredded beef chimichanga ($8.99) with a drink. John then grabbed a table, and I headed for the salsa bar. (By the way, the prices of some of the items actually increased between visits; we only paid $6 for those tacos.)
Before I even sat down, a complimentary cone of chips was delivered to the table. These come with every meal, as does a side of refried beans, one grilled onion and one grilled green chile (hence the name: Chileverde).
But before we could even dig into those chips, our food arrived. That had to be some type of speed record. Now, I appreciate expediency in service, especially at lunch, but it seemed as though the kitchen, in an effort to get diners moving, may have had items plated and ready before they were ordered. The result? Lukewarm food. What a bummer! Even the beans hadn't been heated thoroughly.
The temperature, or lack of it, affected the flavor of both dishes, especially the carne asada. A few more minutes on the grill and some warm tortillas would've made a big difference in the overall flavor. Fair tacos would've become great tacos.
My chimichanga was not of the deep-fried variety. Instead, it had been grilled to a toasty brown color. The filling consisted of shredded beef, some cheese, chopped chiles and onions. But all those flavors were lost, because the food wasn't hot.
Would things be better the second time around? Yes, yes, yes!
Miranda and I ate there, again midweek. She ordered the burro de pollo asado ($7.50), and I ordered the mar de Cortes salad ($9); we also decided to split an order of guacamole ($5.50). Miranda had lemonade ($1.95) which is made fresh and served from a big glass olla on the counter.
Again, food arrived at the table lickety-split. (However, we had to ask for the cone of chips this time.) The generous portion of guacamole was served atop a bowl of chips. Chunky and amazingly fresh, it was topped with white cheese and some pico de gallo. It was almost a meal for one all by itself.
Miranda's burro was also huge. Inside were good-sized bits of grilled chicken, avocado, pico de gallo and cheese. All those flavor layers came together perfectly. She especially enjoyed the creamy beans that came with the burro. She said they tasted homemade, like "they had been cooking, (prepared) by someone's mother, for a long time." She also called them rustic and earthy. I took bites of everything she ate, and I agree. She also wished there were more of the chiles and onions on the side; perhaps they could add these to the sides menu, or offer them at the salsa bar.
My salad consisted of mixed baby greens, avocado and cilantro that had all been tossed in a tangy mango vinaigrette. On top were about 10 medium shrimp that had been marinated in tequila and lime, and then grilled to the ideal point. As I ate it, the avocado blended with the dressing, adding a nice creaminess.
All considered, it was a much better meal than we had on our first visit—offering what I believe is a truer sense of what the kitchen puts out on a regular basis.
Chileverde has another personality as well: Thursdays through Saturdays, it becomes a club, called Centro, with live music and a limited menu.