By Marjorie Rice
Joyride Taco House, with its lively music, glass-walled spaces and roomy patios, gives off a beachy vibe, underlined by a cadre of good-natured young servers and a feeling that if you looked hard enough, you could see waves in the distance.
It’s a carefully crafted atmosphere, a hallmark of parent company Upward Projects.
Joyride offers tacos – of course – along with burritos, chilaquiles, enchiladas and a selection of side dishes and salads that expand beyond the usual favorites to offer tastes of Mexico. There’s also a wide selection of tequilas, cocktails and fruit-based drinks.
“Joyride is traditional Tex-mex style food with fresh, vibrant, bold flavors served in a fun place where people go to have a good time,” said Cesar Jovel, director of culinary standards for Upward Projects.
Jovel joined Upward Projects in 2013, the same year Joyride opened in a former Humpty Dumpty restaurant. It joins Postino, Windsor, Federal Pizza and Churn to form a cluster of eateries on Central Avenue just north of Camelback Road. Each location is in a remodeled commercial building and each features a unique atmosphere that promotes the company’s mission to “create a space where friends could eat, drink and feel good.”
“We call it ‘the block,’ ” Jovel said.
“We strive to look for unique spaces and all of our locations have history built into them. We bring our new managers to the block so they can see the history and the culture of the area.”
Two years ago, Jovel helped direct an update of Joyride’s menu, streamlining and simplifying recipes and focusing on the freshest ingredients.
“The original menu had a more Southern California, Tex-Mex feel and we made it more traditional,” he said.
A standout traditional dish added to the revamped menu features cubes of watermelon with spears of Persian cucumber (shorter than standard cukes with fewer seeds), pumpkin seeds, queso fresco and house-made chamoy, a condiment based on dried fruits, with chili powder, sugar and citrus juice.
“We wanted to have something light and fresh to go with the usual heavier appetizers,” Jovel said. Pork adobada tacos are a customer favorite, with an updated meaty filling that’s tender but still holds its texture. “We use a guajillo rub on the pork then char it before we braise it for more than four hours,” Jovel said.
“That’s what gives it that fall-off-the-bone feel without being mushy.”
Grilled and crispy fish tacos also are popular fillings, along with grilled chipotle-laced shrimp. Hatch green chile queso, served bubbly hot in a small skillet, is another favorite, a blend of Monterey jack, asadero and Oaxaca cheeses, roasted peppers and salsa. Guests can add chorizo, carne asada, chipotle shrimp or carnitas.
Brussels sprouts got an update, sliced and fried then mixed with pickled Fresno chiles, queso fresco, mint and cilantro. Mexican street corn is served off the cob with habanero aioli, cotija cheese and paprika.
Amanda Wilson, an Upward Projects general manager with stints at Windsor, Federal Pizza and Joyride, was at the Central Avenue location recently to lend a hand with the Friday midday crowd and to talk about Joyride’s menu, ambience and service.
“The community supports us so much,” Wilson said. “We’ve been really fortunate to have that. Our restaurants and the feeling we create, together with the community, have grown together to create a really special place here on Central. We are all determined to create a wonderful atmosphere that’s welcoming. That, along with great food, really is the heart and soul of this restaurant.”
She said the aim is to create a place where guests can relax, hang out with friends and enjoy good food and drinks.
“You’re going to love it here, and you’re welcome here,” Wilson said. “We’re going to draw you in with our atmosphere and vibe, and we’re going to keep you here with our food and drinks.”
Joyride Taco House, located at 5202 N. Central Ave., is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Mondays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays. For information, call 602-274-8226 or visit https://joyridetacohouse.com.