Rising star chef Rene Andrade and his team harness the power of fire to serve up a masterclass in Sonoran-style grilling at Phoenix’s Bacanora.

Team at Bacanora restaurant's bar

Thomas J. Story

There’s a special kind of magic that happens when Rene Andrade begins to sling 46-day, dry-aged ribeye over open flames on a handbuilt steel grill. The smell of mesquite and rendered fat fills the dining room at Bacanora, and so begins an artfully maneuvered dance with fire and smoke.

The Phoenix chef relies on rolled pieces of cardboard to burn slowly, building up the wood like a tent and allowing the fire to take shape—a “spark of home,” Andrade says. All the while, he wears a chain from his grandmother, a reminder of the person who taught him how to show love through food—puro amor.

Bacanora restaurant exterior
Bacanora restaurant

Thomas J. Story

Chef Rene Andrade at Bacanora
Rene Andrade at Bacanora

Thomas J. Story

Andrade’s reputation is building, too. Wild chiltepin peppers, grown on his family’s ranch in Sonora, Mexico, have received much fanfare. Patrons flock to his bright pink dining room for a taste of his wood-fired food. Bacanora was named a James Beard finalist for the Best New Restaurant of 2022 (winners hadn’t been announced as of press time). The chef, though, doesn’t seem to let it go to his head. His staff remains a tight-knit group of friends who are more like family.

While Adrian Galindo mixes drinks behind the bar with equal parts flair and banter, Roberto Centeno works the grill, throwing corn right onto the hot coals. It’s about control, Centeno says of the skilled craft of minding these types of temperatures. There’s a fine line between a piece of meat—or a handful of vegetables—getting burned versus beautifully charred.

Bartender Adrian Galindo makes cocktail at Bacanora
Adrian Galindo

Thomas J. Story

Roberto Centeno works the grill at Bacanora restaurant
Roberto Centeno

Thomas J. Story

When we visit Bacanora, Andrade has two priorities: sharing his food, and making sure he gives credit where credit is due. We’re no sooner done with a feast of ribeye, smoked bluefin toro, and—the unexpected star of the show, frijoles de la olla—when we’re quickly whisked off to nearby Pizzeria Bianco, a legendary wood-fired Phoenix joint led by renowned chef Chris Bianco, to meet the rest of his team. Andrade first cooked with Bianco (a James Beard winner who is also nominated for Outstanding Restaurateur this year) at a food festival in Sonora—their bond forged while grilling nearly three dozen chickens—and has considered him a mentor ever since.

Bacanora restaurant decor
Bacanora

Thomas J. Story

Bacanora’s grill is made in part from the same type of brick found in Bianco’s pizza ovens. Organic grain is used in both Bianco’s pizzas and the flour tortillas that are made for mopping up every last drop of beans at Bacanora. “You learn things and burn things,” Bianco says of his illustrious career, and relationship with the younger chef. “Not everybody needs to burn.”

Culinary magic doesn’t happen by accident, and Andrade is tapping into a precise formula with gusto, and tireless dedication. (“We never have days off,” he only half-jokes.) The wisdom of the past keeps him grounded while he keeps his eyes on the horizon—ready to help bring the “new kids” of Phoenix’s burgeoning gastronomic scene into the fold. His dishes, of course, complete the equation.

Perhaps Bianco says it best: Andrade excels at an art that is “impossible to fake”—marrying “technique and humility, provenance and place.”

Try Some of Bacanora’s Recipes at Home