Holy Guacamole

story & photos By niki d’andrea

The Mission Kierland carries on Chef Matt Carter’s Latin cuisine crusade with luminous food.

Anyone with a proverbial “cross to bear” might be consoled by the literal load the Mission Kierland’s bar carries – a colossal crucifix, composed of amber-orange fiberglass and illuminated from inside, beaming brighter than all the chandeliers hanging from the high, vaulted ceilings.

But the radiant rood isn’t the only thing glowing in this Latin cuisine cathedral. The food’s luminous, too, proffering a fusion of Spanish, Mexican, Central and South American flavors. Chef Matt Carter’s a culinary star with a solar system of superb eateries orbiting his name – Zinc Bistro, House Brasserie, the original Mission in Old Town Scottsdale and, most recently, the decadent and jaw-droppingly delicious Fat Ox.

Opened in January 2017, The Mission Kierland shares a menu with the Old Town location (established in 2008), but the décor’s more dramatic and the vibe’s a little more modern at the North Scottsdale spot. During the day, cleverly designed floor-to-ceiling windows flood the restaurant with soft, natural light; at night, the chandeliers and giant cross cast their light across the upscale eatery. Lively conversations and the clanking of silverware fill the air at all hours (the acoustics are indeed cathedral-like, especially from the second floor, where, by the way, there’s a second bar, sans huge cruciate).

Tortillas, salsas and arepas (a popular breakfast food in Venezuela and Colombia, made from ground maize flour) are made fresh on-site daily, and The Mission’s meats are smoked over mesquite or pecan wood on a flat-top grill to imbue them with rich flavor. The drink menu includes several popular beers, including Dos Equis, Modelo, Pacifico and Tecate, and the craft cocktail menu revolves around margaritas (nine kinds), mojitos (four varieties), mules (three choices), and seven house specialties.

The wine menu is extensive. They also offer tequila flights. It’s an awful lot of alcohol for a place that resembles an old Catholic mission, but maybe some kind of instant repentance-setting is the whole idea.

Some starters shine on the food menu, especially the grilled and skewered street corn smothered in butter and cotija and sprinkled with paprika; earthy and subtly spicy shrimp antichucos (kebabs) spiked with oregano and black pepper; and the roasted corn gorditas (stuffed pastry) with zucchini, mushroom and thick huitlacoche crema.  The guacamole – made tableside with ingredients including chunky avocado, jalapeño, red onion, and chipotle puree – is also divine.

There’s not a taco on the menu that’s not stellar, but carnivores can savor out-of-this-world pork shoulder (slow-roasted for 12 hours and slathered in a pineapple habanero glaze) and herbivores can get fired up about Brussels sprouts tacos beautifully balanced with sesame, chile de arbol, apple, ginger and cotija cheese.

Grilled meats get smoked over wood, and include superb surf (Florida grouper) and terrific turf (filet mignon, pork shoulder) selections. But the source of the most succulent entrees is the Spanish griddle, where mouthwatering Chilean salmon, flavorful Pacific swordfish, and green chile duck confit begin their journey to your plate.

If there’s room for dessert, fill it with The Mission’s pumpkin bread pudding – a dense confection spiked with Scotch, smothered in ice cream, and sprinkled with pepitas and pomegranate seeds. Or undo the top button of your pants and dig into the Guatemalan chocolate pastilla made with XO tequila, and a fig and guajillo glaze. The rich dishes are eminently easy to finish and quite filling, so you might feel like you need to be rolled out of The Mission, but that’s a pretty sweet cross to bear.

The Mission Kierland

7122 E. Greenway Parkway, #140 Scottsdale,

480-292-7800 themissionaz.com