Gadzooks Enchiladas & Soup founder Aaron Pool in his restaurant on 7th Street and Osborn Road (photo by Darryl Webb/special for North Central News).

It’s lunch time at Gadzooks Enchiladas & Soup, and Aaron Pool is concocting the combo he’s feasted on for a decade.

He slides a cazuela from the open-fire pizza oven, bubbling with enchiladas and ready for toppings.

A lot of toppings.

“This is what I’ve eaten for 10 years now,” Pool said. “It’s a combo that I love — two enchiladas, one roasted tomatillo chicken and one guajillo-braised short rib of beef — made with tortillas that we make fresh, then topped with our Christmas sauce that’s half green and half red. I like the contrast of flavors, and it’s like having completely different meals in one dish.”

Pool tops the dish with Chihuahua cheese, “lava” habanero sauce, honey-vinaigrette cabbage slaw, pico de gallo and jalapeño ranch dressing. And a sprinkling of cotija cheese.

It’s been his go-to meal since he opened the restaurant in March 2013.

In a small building at 7th Street and Osborn Road that began as a gas station and segued into a custom dress shop before becoming the original restaurant location, Pool stands behind the counter, layering his lunch and talking about how he got started in the business.

“I graduated from ASU in 2009, and I had this idea for an enchilada and soup shop because I love enchiladas,” he said. “I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Luckily for me I was just a super naïve 24-year-old. My dad says that was a blessing. You don’t know any different, so you think, ‘Oh yeah, I can do that.’

“My mom worked in the kitchen with me when we opened. She was my main prep cook for many years. The recipes were a mixture of me figuring out how to cook stuff, and my mom’s recipes: the soups, cornbread, the smashed jack potatoes — basically a mashed potato with a lot of garlic, green onion, Mexican cheeses and cream.”

Service is an assembly line of sorts, where customers build their own combination enchiladas and tacos. They begin with house-made tortillas — corn or a 50/50 blend of flour and corn masa. Fillings include Pool’s favorite chicken and short ribs, along with Modelo-braised bison (get there early, it sells out fast). There also are green chili pork shoulder, smashed potatoes, sauteed spinach and mushrooms, cornbread (more on that later), and spicy potato hash (only on Sundays).

The selections are baked in individual earthenware cazuelas until bubbly, then come toppings that can include goat cheese or a fried egg, asadero and chihuahua cheese, red and green sauce, jalapeno ranch, salsas, chile or honey vinaigrette, scratch-made crema, cotija cheese, honey vinaigrette slaw, pickled onions and pico de gallo.

All those can go on soup (tortilla and potato-corn chowder) and chopped salads as well.

“When I was doing the business plan for Gadzooks, I wanted every ingredient to be the best, like what is the best shredded beef I’ve ever had and how can I make one as good or better,” Pool said. “And I wanted something different, too. That’s where the bison came in. I’d never seen it braised or shredded. We braise it in Modelo beer.”

About that cornbread — think of corn pudding with chilies and cheese, more for spooning than eating by the slice. Absolute heaven. It’s a variation on their mom’s corn casserole, Aaron said.

“We asked her, ‘What if you made the corn casserole but you used some of the Mexican ingredients we have?’ So, we put serrano chilies, chihuahua cheese and crema in it and baked it. When it was done, we said, ‘Oh my God, this is really good.’ It has a creaminess, like a tamale.

“People started putting it in their enchiladas. You talk to somebody about Gadzooks, they’ll probably tell you about the cornbread.”

From that original 7th Street shop, the restaurant has grown to locations in Central Phoenix, Chandler, Mesa and Chase Field. Another will open soon at Epicenter in Gilbert.

Aaron’s brother Jared, who moved to Phoenix after practicing dentistry in San Francisco, shares managing responsibilities with Aaron. Their mother, Linda, operates Mama Linda’s bakery at 20th Street and Osborn and supplies cookies and cakes for Gadzooks. Another brother, Drew, part owner of Wren House brewery and tap room, selects the beers for the restaurant.

The business has expanded into Poolhouse Hospitality Concepts, with Gadzooks and recent additions Green Woodpecker and Poolboy Taco.

The Green Woodpecker, originally a Walgreens then a floral and gift shop in Park Central, serves beers and al pastor tacos cooked on an open-fire trompo.

“We used the name Green Woodpecker as an ode to what it was in the ’70s,” Pool said. “It’s really cool to see that space transform”

The group also will open Poolboy Taco on the corner of Earl and Central, at the main entrance of Park Central. “It’s a glass box, basically, a kitchen with counter service and all outdoor dining,” Pool said. “We’re working to elevate that experience and make that outdoor environment feel welcoming, like you’re in a park.”

Gadzooks Enchiladas & Soup, at 3313 N. 7th St., is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., all week. Other locations are at 40th Street and Camelback, Arizona and Frye in Chandler, and Wilson and University in Tempe. For more information, call 602-279-5080, or visit


  • Marjorie Rice

    Marjorie Rice is an award-winning journalist, newspaper food editor, travel editor and cookbook editor with more than three decades' experience writing about the culinary industry.

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