Pico de Gallo is a tidy taqueria that started as a taco stand but has grown into several small rooms by enclosing its al fresco porches. It is self-service, meaning you walk in and study the day’s menu posted on the wall. If you’re not totally familiar with Tucson-style Mexican food, you will likely be able to discuss things with Adam Delgado, son of proprietors Ignacio and Antonia (he explained to us that the purple beverage in the vat next to the sweet rice drink known as horchata is wild-berry lemonade; and that the day’s special taco, cahuamanta, was manta ray). Once you place your order, you pay for it, then find a free table. When the food is ready, one of the staff will summon you to the counter to fetch your plates. Everything except for big bowls of soup comes on disposable dishware with plastic utensils.
Pico de Gallo serves Sonoran-style dishes found on many local menus, including tacos of spiced beef and fried fish; burros and quesadillas; and tamales by the dozen. Coctel de elote (corn cocktail) is always on the menu, but it is not quite the beverage its name suggests. It does come in a large Styrofoam cup, the cup filled with an extraordinary stew of warm corn kernels, drifts of soft melted cheese, hot chili, and lime. Spoon it up like soup; it is corn-sweet and lime-zesty.
Marshaled in a refrigerated case at the counter are plastic red cups filled with the restaurant’s namesake, pico de gallo. In this case, the “nip of the rooster” is a blast of salt, chili powder and lemon juice, sprinkled on top of a ravishing bouquet of watermelon, coconut, pineapple, mango, and even some jicama.
The most compelling thing to eat at Pico de Gallo is the fundamental foodstuff, a soft corn tortilla, either on the side of something else or as the wrap for a taco. Look into the kitchen as you place your order and you will see a big white mound of moistened masa from which the cook pinches off a piece each time a tortilla is needed. When you order three corn tacos, let’s say filled with birria, chicharron, and carne asada, each of the three tortillas will be made to order on the grill. They are soft, earthy, and full-flavored in a way that is an entirely different league from store-bought ones.