By Jacki Mieler | Photo by John Burcham
Second acts are, by nature, ripe for disappointment. “That’s a tough act to follow” isn’t exactly an empty cliché, as countless sequels have sent fans running back to the comfort and familiarity of the original.
When Paul and Laura Moir decided it was time for a sequel to Brix, their nationally recognized downtown-Flagstaff fine-dining institution, they focused on developing a second act that would stand on its own, an original in its own right. In 2009, they opened Criollo Latin Kitchen, separated by just a few blocks from Brix but miles away in its more approachable and casual dining experience.
Crafting Latin-inspired cuisine with an emphasis on local ingredients was always the Moirs’ intent, but finding a historic building that originally housed Flagstaff’s movie theater was pure fate. That, and a deliciously tangy jalapeño margarita, sealed the deal for Criollo, a sequel that stands on its own.
“I really love how it has taken its place in the community,” says Paul, who, along with Laura and executive chef David Smith, created a menu built around things they like to eat.
As it turns out, Criollo’s loyal following has similar tastes, especially when it comes to the top-selling fish tacos. The first bite of organically farmed fish — beer-battered, nestled into a locally made tortilla and drizzled with jalapeño glaze — is a one-way ticket from landlocked Arizona to ocean waves and beach umbrellas.
The salmon tostada is evidence that Criollo isn’t a one-hit fish wonder. A crispy tortilla base is slathered with a thick black-bean spread and topped with seared salmon, goat cheese and crunchy pepita seeds.
A talented bar staff, equipped with an arsenal of unique spirits and beer, turns out refreshing and Latin-inspired cocktails to complement the cuisine. Those in the know can score cheap tacos and sip on interesting margaritas during the weekday happy hour.
The weekend brunch menu is served until 4 p.m., and it’s worth two visits in one day to squeeze in both the traditional migas — an egg dish with tortilla chips and green-chile sauce — and the blue-corn pancakes. Not your run-of-the-mill flapjacks, Criollo’s version is vibrant in color and taste, achieving the crowning breakfast glory of balancing sweet and savory flavors.
The team at Criollo prides itself on the locally sourced menu, and the third act is the final piece in the puzzle. The recently opened Proper Meats and Provisions, a few blocks south of Criollo, supplies the restaurant with locally raised meat. As clichés go, the third time is the charm, and that appears to be spot-on for those who get to dine at Criollo.
Criollo Latin Kitchen is located at 16 N. San Francisco Street in Flagstaff. For more information, call 928-774-0541 or visit www.criollolatinkitchen.com.