Spotted Donkey Cantina

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El Pedregal
34505 N. Scottsdale Road, Carefree

With its glowing votive candles, crucifixes, wrought iron lanterns and photos of spotted donkeys, this warm, inviting cantina evokes a rustic, kitsch-free Santa Fe, which is not surprising when you know that owners Cliff Skoglund and Robert Hall (who also own the widely acclaimed SF stalwart Geronimo) hail from that artsy craftsy town. The menu — a deliciously effective meld of Mexican and Southwestern cuisines — offers starters such as tempura-battered calamari with chipotle dipping sauce, five cheese fondue with grilled pita and excellent nachos, heaped with pulled pork and drunken black beans. Entrees range from sturdy mac and cheese (made with Hatch green chiles and applewood-smoked bacon) and Chicken Rojo (a breast smothered in spicy mushroom-achiote sauce) to braised beef tacos, shrimp tostadas and green chile meatloaf with cheddar smashed potatoes. Everything is generously portioned, reasonably priced (remarkable, considering the tony neighborhood) and just plain tasty. Desserts may be the one weakness and even they're not bad. Knock back a few specialty margaritas and live large.