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Beef fajitas at El Comal Taqueria and Grill in Phoenix. [Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella]

Made-from-scratch Mexican food sets El Comal apart

El Comal is a bright, clean restaurant in downtown Phoenix that features the homemade flavors of the Martinez family and Michoacan comfort food.

Named for the flat griddle used to toast spices, cook tortillas and grill meat, El Comal has everyday plates such as burritos, tamales and tacos. The made-from-scratch sauces and prepared chilies, fresh ingredients and specialty dishes set El Comal apart from other restaurants.

Flavio Martinez owns El Comal with his sister Luzmila.

"I noticed that all the restaurants are the same. I wanted to do something unique, authentic,” Flavio says. “I use fresh tomatoes, tomatillos, everything fresh as far as possible. We cook our own beans, make our own chips.”

El Comal has skirt steak, chicken, shrimp and some vegetarian options on the menu, along with crab, octopus, beef cheek, tripe and tongue.

Fresh chips, salsa and refried beans with cheese were set out on my table at no charge and distracted me from the menu. The scent of grilled meat filled the air and made me hunger for fajitas ($15).

In good time, a sizzling platter of tender skirt steak, grilled onions and peppers appeared, the colors brilliant. The tortillas were hot and fresh, and I experimented with salsas that ran from mild to habanero hot. There’s a full bar with eight top-shelf tequilas and 10 Mexican beers, as well as craft cocktails invented by Flavio. I chose something simple to drink: a draft Pacifico to cool the heat and bring the flavors alive in my mouth.

Burritos are a popular El Comal choice and there are nine different versions that run from $4 for bean and cheese to $11 for a fajita burrito. Machaca con huevo is ideal for breakfast with shredded beef, egg, grilled peppers, onions and melted cheese. I picked up a regular burrito to go that weighed in at a pound and a half, so there’s plenty to share with a friend or doggie-bag leftovers.

The menu includes many special dishes, including Fiesta Molcajete, an impressive vertically plated dish with beef, chicken, shrimp, cactus leaf, grilled onions and sauce for $18, and Seven Seas, a seafood soup, also priced at $18. Seven Seas is prepared with crab, scallops, shrimp, octopus, clams, oysters and more. Most soups also have tomatoes, cilantro and onions to fill out the palate.

Not on the menu yet at El Comal — but available for purchase — are a couple of unique beer cocktails. There’s a red-beer shrimp cocktail, with a bottle of Modelo upside down in a shrimp-and-tomato-juice-filled glass, sipped through a straw. Eat the huge shrimp with your fingers. Another upside down Modelo beer drink involves cucumber juice and a straw — don’t ask, just try it and be surprised.

El Comal opened about six months ago and has garnered a strong local following. It’s no wonder that El Comal’s early reviews were so favorable because the food is good and everyone knows the Martinez family. Both Luzmila and Flavio grew up in Phoenix and went to Phoenix High School.

As a boy, Flavio told his teacher that someday he would own a restaurant. Flavio worked hard to learn the restaurant business, starting from the ground up. Dishwasher, cook, server, bartender, manager — Flavio learned front of the house and back of the house. Flavio’s dream was fulfilled about three years ago when he opened Fiesta Taqueria & Grill on Stewart Avenue in Medford.

Fiesta Taqueria in Medford, and now El Comal in Phoenix, are two Martinez family restaurants to enjoy for lunch, dinner and takeout.

El Comal Taqueria and Grill, 723 N. Main St., Phoenix, is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Call ahead for takeout, 541-897-4203.

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