Dive into South America and Spain with each bite.
Move over Mexico, Contigo Latin Kitchen’s diverse menu presents the complementary flavors of South America and Spain, with a few twists and turns along the way, like any good road trip.
Though situated on the grounds of The Westin La Paloma Resort (complete with amazing views), locals can outnumber guests on any given day.
“We often look at the reservation list and know every name on it,” said Contigo partner Nick Kreutz. Contigo’s friendly prices accommodate locals, and the whole shebang reads like a great neighborhood restaurant—with off-the-charts pan-Latin fare.
He and partner Deborah Tenino share years of experience in the restaurant business, along with a disciplined dedication to excellence. Kreutz, the former general manager at The Grill at Hacienda del Sol, worked for years in the wine and spirits industry, which is how he met Tenino of local Tavolino fame. She grew up on a Southern Arizona cattle ranch and studied classical European cooking in Barcelona, Spain.
Though many countries are represented on the menu, don’t call their food fusion.
“Our food is actually a real reflection of the breadth of what you’d find in the different geographic areas we focus on,” said Kreutz. “For example, you see a lot of Japanese influences in Peruvian cooking. Our Brazilian Moqueca com Vegetais features coconut milk and lemongrass—staples more commonly associated with Asian food—but is 100 percent traditional Brazilian.”
And for a resort restaurant, Contigo is charmingly laid back. “We wanted to own a place we’d like to take our own families to.”
You might start with a cocktail such as the Lemon Squash, or a Pisco Sour, or perhaps a beer from Nicaragua or Brazil. Depending on availability, one of their trio of beers on tap might come from Buqui Bichi Brewing in Hermosillo, Mexico. And due in part to Kreutz’s history in the industry, the wine list is robust. Like the menu, “The wine list rewards people who are willing to search for something new. There’s not a big mark up and we are approaching 250 selections. The list is heavy on Spanish wines, but we also have South American, French, and domestic wines, too,” said Kreutz.
During happy hour (4 – 6 p.m.), most drinks and eats are only $5. Choices are scaled down, but feature some of their greatest hits—mojitos, sangria, and margaritas, and Short Rib Tacos, Ceviche Tostadas, and Patatas Bravas.
Those with kids in tow will be grateful for a dedicated kids menu, where everything is $6 for those 12 and under. Among other offerings you’ll find tacos, a Latin American grilled cheese, and quesadillas.
You can’t go wrong beginning your meal with the Arepa Con Chapigñones—pan-roasted shitake mushrooms, smoked paprika, and melted manchego on a corn cake served with briny pickled vegetables that provide a nice foil to the richness of the appetizer.
As with all of their plates, they pay attention to presentation, but it never overshadows the food. There’s no need for fancy tricks here—the flavors stand alone.
Raw ocean trout marinated in soy, chiltepin, and lime with a drizzle of chipotle cream topped with crunchy fried leeks and sliced avocado make up the Tostada “Contramar,” which is really four mini-tostadas made to share.
Ingredients often include chiles, but what’s the heat factor like? “We have a couple of ceviches that can be spicy, depending on the season. The peppers’ heat index can go up and down according to the season. But overall it’s a user-friendly menu—lots of flavor without the scare factor,” said Kreutz.
Dive straight into the Tacos De Calamari first, as they arrive crispy-crunchy, hot, and are best devoured right away. The tacos feature battered squid, a spicy remoulade, and housemade pickled salsa, served with whole black beans and garlicky rice.
“You find a lot of battered fried fish in the coastal regions of Mexico, and these tacos are a play on that.” And the corn tortillas? “They come from La Noria on Prince and First. We don’t serve flour tortillas; corn is more traditional,” said Kreutz.
Another win: the Mexican Chochinita Pibil—braised pork shoulder marinated in citrus and pineapple with achiote (a burnt orange-colored seasoning made from the annatto seed), also served with black beans, rice, and an avocado puree.
“We really wanted to differentiate ourselves from the usual Sonoran food. All beans are sprinkled with a mild, salty queso fresco that they make in house.
What’s the most popular item on the menu? The braised short rib tacos with grilled tomato salsa,” Kreutz said without hesitation.
Personal favorite? “I’m currently in love with the Pescado Veracruzana. We start with a tomato and white wine broth then put the freshest fish we can get in it. It’s not the salmon and tilapia people are used to seeing. We use cabrilla, corvina, and ono, or whatever is freshest.”
Contigo offers two paellas. One is vegetarian (Paella Del Huerta) and the other is Paella Valencia featuring clams, mussels, shrimp, Spanish chorizo (dry-cured sausage), fresh parsley, lemon, saffron, and bomba rice (nerd alert: this short-grain rice with amylopectin is considered the perfect rice for paella with just the right amount of starchy stickiness). “But we can do any ingredients you want with advance notice. In the past, we’ve done paellas with lobster, scallops, goat, rabbit.”
The paellas serve two, but they can also be sized up for larger groups. Also festive, consider ordering a whole or half roasted suckling pig for your next shindig.
The Finish Line
Desserts aren’t found on a menu but rather recited by your friendly waiter. The tres leches cake delivers, as does the flan, which has a unique flavor and texture due to the addition of cream cheese. It’s the best of both dessert worlds embellished with a zig-zag of caramel sauce. “I first ate this version of flan in Guadalajara, then came home and tried to re-create it,” said Kreutz. The verdict? Success.
Housemade ice creams change every few days. “Sweet corn ice cream is one of my favorites right now. It’s addictive,” said Kreutz.
Read about the partners’ exciting future plans here. Spoiler: it’s a new restaurant opening.
Location and hours
Contigo Latin Kitchen, located at 3770 E. Sunrise Dr., is open from 4 – 9 p.m. Monday – Thursday and from 4 – 10 p.m. Friday – Sunday.
For more information, visit eatatcontigo.com.