It’s been a rewarding three weeks for south East Valley diners who have been waiting for worthwhile new restaurants.
First, chef Roberto Santibañez introduced his sophisticated Mexican cuisine at Maria Maria in Tempe. Then Robert and Danielle Morris opened their ambitious small-plates restaurant Cork in Chandler.
Now, Valley restaurateur Steve Short (Basis, Atlasta Catering) has unveiled Bar Tepo, a stylish yet casual New American eatery at Dana Park in Mesa.
Bar Tepo’s mostly gray, cream and red interior is eye-catching, from the wavy textured wall in the entryway to the array of light fixtures hanging from the high ceiling.
Hits from the ’90s — The Black Crowes, TLC, The Verve — play on overhead speakers. From booths and banquettes you can watch the action in the open kitchen.
Through a window in the glass storefront, a 12-seat bar also serves the patio, where tables share space with a large, comfy sectional.
And if the vibe doesn’t remind you of a “Scottsdale-type restaurant,” as one of my dining companions calls Bar Tepo, the food certainly will.
Herb-infused flatbread with sweet chili and basil butters is a prelude to two of the tastiest appetizers I’ve had in a long time.
The first is a pair of roasted artichoke and Boursin cheese puffs with a bacon fondue ($5). The golf ball-sized pastries almost melt in my mouth; the fondue is creamy and smoky.
I almost regret having to move on to other dishes — until I try sweet corn cakes topped with braised duck ($10). Habanero barbecue sauce gives it some bite, which is quickly soothed by chunks of mango.
The flavors are still dancing in my mouth when entrees arrive.
A sweet-spicy counterpunch again delights in three mouthwatering brown sugar Hoisin chicken tacos ($10) with mango salsa and red chilies.
Southwest chicken cordon bleu ($18) is stuffed with a poblano pepper and topped with a green chili relish. Tenderloin medallions ($25), seared au poivre, are tender and flavorful.
A Tepo BLT ($10) features thick, crispy strips of pancetta with burrata cheese and micro greens — no tomato — while a savory prime rib sandwich ($12) with caramelized onions comes on a soft potato roll.
Only a couple of dishes fail to wow me: a surprisingly bland burger topped with lobster ($16), spinach ravioli in a so-so pesto sauce ($15) and pizzalike flatbread with andouille sausage and smoked gouda ($9).
And a pair of desserts — an ancho chili brownie with cinnamon ice cream ($8) and a coconut-macadamia tart ($8) — are good, but not great.
Overall, though, Bar Tepo looks to be another impressive addition to the south East Valley dining scene, the type of restaurant that’s still all too rare for the area — especially Mesa.
Where: 1652 S. Val Vista Drive, Mesa (northwest corner of Val Vista Drive and Baseline Road)
Open: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
Prices: Appetizers $5-$10, salads $10, burgers/sandwiches $8-$16, entrees $15-$38.
Info: (480) 633-0155 or www.bartepo.com