Hotel Feasting

Epazote might be the only dinner option at the El Conquistador, but it's a good one

Hotel restaurants face a special challenge in that they have to provide a menu that satisfies a wide range of customers, from those in the mood for an intimate dining experience to those who are interested in having a drink and watching the game, or having a meal with the family that everyone can enjoy.

Epazote Kitchen and Cocktails, in the Hilton El Conquistador, is the only dinner option at the hotel. It does a great job of satisfying the needs of both hotel guests and local residents. The restaurant has a nice, open space with a separate bar, and TVs are visible only in the bar and patio areas, which is a nice touch. I always find it annoying when I'm trying to enjoy dinner in what's supposed to be an upscale restaurant while TVs are on everywhere.

The restaurant was busy on both of our visits. Although the place seemed understaffed, our servers remained friendly and helpful, even if the drinks and food took a few extra minutes to arrive at the table.

The food is outstanding, although some dishes are a bit pricey for the portion size, mostly the appetizers. Despite the "cocktails" in the restaurant name, we didn't see a specialty cocktail menu on either visit, though there is a well-stocked bar. But the wine menu has good variety, with a nice selection of local Arizona wines. However, the Arizona wines ranged from $11 to $12.50 per glass, pricey compared with $7 to $8.75 per glass for other wines.

The menu is a mix of casual dishes (green chile pork nachos appetizer ($10), for instance), and more upscale dishes, like the crab tower appetizer ($14) and the herb-grilled filet of beef ($28). The crab tower appetizer was delicious. It included a generous amount of crab mixed with a sour-cream type dressing, avocado and pico de gallo, and was served with tortilla chips. The rock shrimp ceviche ($12) was also very tasty—the jicama added a great textural contrast to the shrimp, but the portion seemed quite small for the price. The chicken tortilla soup ($8) also suffered from the high price/small portion problem, but the rich broth was fantastically flavored and had the perfect amount of spiciness. However, my bowl didn't have much in the way of actual chicken in it. The wedge salad—with bacon, corn, cucumber, tomato, cotija cheese and chipotle ($8)—was a refreshing way to begin the meal, although the kitchen forgot to put the corn on the salad.

On both visits, our entrées were absolutely perfect, and the portions were generous. Ted's beef short ribs ($21), with goat's-milk mashed potatoes and carrots, were fall-apart tender and had a sweet yet tangy barbecue sauce. My flat-iron steak ($19), with roasted fingerling potatoes and portabella mushrooms, was done a perfect medium-rare, and the spicy tomatillo sauce brought a bright, fresh flavor to the dish. For round two, Ted tried the pork tenderloin ($19) with sun-dried cherry barbecue sauce and a refreshing apple-jicama slaw. The tenderloin was beautifully prepared, retaining that juicy touch of pink in the center, and the cherry barbecue sauce wasn't too sweet or overpowering. My Pacific sea bass ($24) was wonderfully crispy on the outside while still moist and flaky on the inside. And the marinated tomatoes exploded with juiciness and flavor, complementing the fish well.

Dessert ended our meals on a great note. The El Conquistador cheesecake ($7) is served with toasted pecans, spicy brittle and a rosemary chile caramel sauce, which I initially thought sounded like an awful mix. But thankfully I was wrong. It was a unique and delicious flavor combination. The peach cobbler ($7) can only be described as amazing—it is a huge dessert (bring friends and ask for extra spoons) served in a piping-hot cast-iron pan. It's not too sweet or syrupy, and the crunchy oat crumb topping was definitely delish.

Epazote Kitchen and Cocktails is doing a wonderful job of serving up unique, locally sourced (when possible) dishes with great flavor, presented with panache. It's a difficult task to create a restaurant where you're as comfortable having a romantic, upscale dinner as you are chilling at the bar and noshing on some Nimbus beer-battered onion rings with poblano dip ($8). Incidentally, they looked fantastic and are on my list for our next visit.

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