Joyride Chef Eric Ramirez

Joyride Chef Eric Ramirez is introducing some new tacos and other menu items as the downtown restaurant reopens for in-house dining. 

Seven years ago next month, Joyride Taco House – the casual beach-vibe Mexican restaurant – debuted in the old GrainBelt Building on the northwest corner of Page Avenue and Gilbert Road.

It was one of the early pioneers of the boom that transformed downtown Gilbert into the booming Heritage District.

For years, the building had been a Bermuda Triangle for restaurants with five eateries opening at various times – all ending in failure.

Its ill-fated tenants included Mahogany Run, Gilbert’s first fine-dining restaurant; Gonzo’s All American Grill, celebrating  Diamondbacks 2001 World Series hero Luis Gonzales; and the GrainBelt GrillHouse – a restaurant known more for high prices and skimpy portions than anything else. 

For several years, the building sat empty until 2011, when Postino WineCafe owner Craig DeMarco inked a 20-year lease for a 2,500-square-foot portion of the cavernous building – by then divided into several leasable spaces.

Postino East opened in 2012 – and Joyride followed the next year.

Joyride Taco House has continued the success it almost instantly enjoyed when it opened.

The always expanding Joyride menu now features more than tasty tacos. Patrons also can enjoy salads, burritos, tortas, “especiales” and recently added Tricked Out Churros. 

Owned by Upward Projects co-founders Craig and Kris DeMarco and Lauren Bailey, Joyride is part of a restaurant group that now has six additional Postino WineCafés, including the Gilbert location and others in Houston and Denver.

Upward Projects began 18 years ago with Postino WineCafé in the Arcadia area’s 1959 post office and over time has established a company standard for adaptive building reuse.

 A second Joyride Taco House opened in January 2014 on the robust north Central Avenue corridor in Phoenix.

 Joyride Taco House in Gilbert is celebrating its reemergence from the pandemic-driven closure of inside-dining in restaurants throughout Arizona.

 Like most other restaurants that have reopened for inside-dining, Joyride has implemented safety measures for customers and staff.

“While we’re excited to reopen our doors, we knew the only way we would be okay doing this is if we placed the health and safety of our teams and guests as our number-one priority,” Bailey said. 

Safety measures include redesigned floor plans that allow social distancing and open-air inside and outside seating, hand sanitizer accessible to guests and sanitization stations utilized by the employees, digital and single-use menus as well as rigorous sanitization of high-touch areas. 

Joyride staff is receiving daily wellness checks, symptom screening and hand-washing requirements at least every 30 minutes. They will temporarily wear masks and gloves.

The restaurant is also continuing takeout service.

Overseen by Beverage Director Brent Karlicek, “cocteles” and other beverages include signature margaritas, draft, bottled and canned beers, wines and tequila. Aguas Frescas, such as cucumber mint, are available either with “no booze” or with rum, vodka or gin. 

The family-friendly restaurant also offers Taco Tuesdays with value-priced $2 tacos and $5 margaritas.

Chef Eric Ramirez, whose résumé includes Lon’s at the Hermosa, Latilla at The Boulders and a decade-plus with Fox Restaurant Concepts, is debuting four new tacos.

“We wanted to break the mold for Mexican food restaurants in the Valley,” said Ramirez, Upward Projects’ culinary director. 

“We want our food to be a fun take-off on traditional dishes; we want it to be approachable food you can’t get anywhere else,” chef added, noting that many items are gluten free and vegetarian.

“Besides great food, we have a pretty unique team service approach that elevates the standard of hospitality,” said Ramirez, who has been with Upward Projects for two years. He and his wife Kara met at the company’s original Postino. 

In Gilbert, Ramirez also depends on General Manager Amanda Wilson of Mesa and sous chefs Luis Lara of Gilbert, Alex Miranda-Hernandez of Chandler and more than 40 other associates, mostly East Valley residents.

“Our entire atmosphere is welcoming, with music, fun indoor/outdoor space, a laid-back ambiance, a great experience for everyone,” Ramirez said.

Featuring festive concrete tiles imported from Mexico, garage doors and two patios, Joyride Taco House encourages sharing of plates like nachos with a house salsa and a vibrantly colored Salsa Trio, including a tomatillo, pico gringo and a slightly spicy habañero.

 “We make them in house every day,” chef said.

Other starters include traditional favorites guacamole and a house chicharorones.

 Two recent additions are the multi-textured Watermelon & Pepino and Corn Fries. The salad includes a Latin-inspired chamoy, or sauce, queso fresco, crunchy English cucumbers and pepita seeds. Ramirez added ground hibiscus flowers to make a finishing powder.

“The Corn Fries are something a little different and fun, a dish you don’t normally see,” he said. Plucked early, the baby ears are toasted and battered in smoked paprika and served with a tomatillo ranch sauce. 

Another share item is sea bass ceviche, made the Peruvian way. 

“We soak the Corvina fish from Southern California in lime juice for about 30 minutes and add pickled Fresno chilis, refreshing cucumbers, onions and scallions,” Ramirez explained. “Then, we finish with sweet pineapples to take a little of the bite off.” 

The new house-made Tricked Out Churros feature a variety of dipping sauces and toppings such as Nutella Banana Churros and a Churro Sundae with dulce de leche, chocolate sauce and sprinkles. 

Flintstones Churros are deep fried and covered with cinnamon and sugar with a sprinkling of colorful Fruity Pebbles cereal.

 “It’s already a favorite,” Chef Ramirez said, “and for today’s connected diners, it’s just the kind of item they want to tell everyone about right now. It’s ‘Instagramable.’”

Information: 480-632-8226 or joyridetacohouse.com