All of us in the Valley of the Sun were thrilled back in 2010 when La Hacienda reopened at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, bringing back the beautiful dining location, but with a fresh, contemporary twist on Mexican fine dining. Now, six years later, it remains one of my favorite dining spots in the Valley.
Richard Sandoval, known in the restaurant industry as the “Father of Modem Mexican Cuisine,” came on board at La Hacienda to help direct the menu and create food using “Old Hands, New Ways” to explore Latin cuisine. The result? Creative dishes using indigenous ingredients such as huitlacoche, pomegranate, and queso blanco to replace traditional yellow rice, refried beans, and cheese-laden dishes.
The Chef de Cuisine at La Hacienda, Forest Hamrick, is responsible for the restaurant's daily operations. Hamrick was raised in El Centro, Calif. and spent much of his youth with his friends visiting family in Mexicali, Baja Mexico. There, he learned the joy of homemade tortillas. He has spent years studying the Mexican language, culture and food. After graduating from Scottsdale Culinary Institute, Hamrick traveled throughout Mexico, eating everywhere from the best restaurants in Mexico City to street markets. “In some cases, I ordered the entire menu just to see the technique and taste the flavor profile of each dish,” he says.
Sandoval and Hamrick embrace a cooking style that is lighter and ingredient driven. Every dish offers fresh ingredients and bold tastes, but nothing is so spicy where the heat overshadows the food. It brings complete balance. One of my favorite ways to begin an evening is by ordering tableside guacamole. Made with avocado, tomato, cilantro, onion, and spices, this guacamole is as fresh as it gets. The ceviche de mariscos, with shrimp and halibut, is an excellent starter. The mix of citrus and heat is a great way to start any meal. Another great starter are the lobster tacos (tacos de langosta) feature tasty chile de arbol sauce with avocado. The little tacos offer the perfect bite of fresh Maine lobster.
Of course, I have a hard time visiting and not ordering the Queso Fundido with melted Oaxaca and Chihuahua cheeses and a chile morita salsa. That's the decadent bite I dream about.
I usually pair the guacamole and ceviche with my favorite margarita in the Valley—the Elderflower, made with Patron silver, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, and fresh sour. Another fun option, for those who prefer a bite, is the El Pina Diablo, made with pineapple-serrano chile infused tequila.
Of course, with hundreds of tequilas available, more than 200 in fact, there's sure to be something for everyone. For those curious about trying different tequilas or just really enjoy tequila, there are several tasting flights available and the tequila goddess is happy to help you select flavors you might prefer.
The main dishes will amaze you with the taste adventure. Verduras a la Parilla features adobo marinated and grilled seasonal vegetables, Oaxaca cheese, mashed potatoes, and an herb pesto sauce. This is one vegetarian dish I find beyond flavorful.
Two beautiful fish dishes I recommend are theRobalo Frito and Camarones al Tequila. Robalo Frito is a light, tempura-fried seabass served with a mango salsa and chile arbol remoulade for a classic sweet and spicy blend of flavors. My favorite is the Camarones al Tequila. These juicy shrimp are marinated in Olmeca Altos Tequila, then served with a bean gordita (a little fried corn cake filled with black beans and cheese), rajas con crema (sliced poblano pepper with cream that is popular in central and southern Mexico), chipotle salsa, poblano salsa and a pico de gallo. This is true Mexican food that you'd find around the Sunday dinner table.
If you prefer meat, the Carnitas Hacienda features slow-roasted pork shoulder with chicharron, avocado salsa and a sweet corn-habañero slaw. My husband's favorite dish is the Tampiqueña, a skirt steak served with cactus pico, guacamole, chile poblano, a lovely little helping of potato gratin and a mole cheese enchilada on the side. A classic dish that explodes with the flavors of Mexico is Pollo en Mole de Abuelita, or pan-roasted chicken in a mole sauce with plantains and poblano rice.
There are also the more classic enchiladas and fajitas, but with so many unusual and traditional options, I suggest going for something you've never eaten before. The wait staff is friendly and accommodating about helping to understand the menu and making adjustments for individual requests.
Be sure to leave room for one of the desserts or the signature flaming coffee that is also created table-side with coffee, cinnamon, and tequila.
My favorite desserts are the homemade warm churros with dipping sauces, the seasonal Mexican empanadas, and flavorful house-made sorbets.
Other house favorites include the vanilla caramel flan with fresh berries and the coconut tres leches cake.
Dining at La Hacienda is a complete experience that goes beyond the food. The ambience creates an unforgettable evening. Fireplaces, flagstone floors, colorful mosaics, and beautiful light fixtures accent the dining room, giving this restaurant the warmth of a Mexican estate house. When the weather is good, I prefer to sit on the patio with the millions of stars twinkling overhead. The atmosphere at La Hacienda is always casual and relaxed. I truly enjoy visiting with friends and my family, and it has become somewhat of a tradition when I want to take out-of-town guests for a unique Mexican dining experience.
La Hacienda also offers a kids menu (my grandkids enjoy this one because it offers real food such as grilled steak, tacos, and quesadillas and they can order Refrescos Mexicanos, the bottle Mexican sodas in apple, strawberry, or grapefruit). This is one restaurant where you can always count on an elegant yet comfortable dining experience with exceptional food.
La Hacienda is open for dinner daily beginning at 5:30 pm. The bar and lounge open at 5 pm. Dress is casual, but reservations are suggested by calling 480.585.4848 or online here.