Phoenix Coqui Puerto Rican Food to Open This Month in Place of Crazy Jim’s


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Crazy Jim’s Restaurant, a beloved Phoenix favorite, has closed after 36 years in business.

Last week 4041 North 15th Avenue was a lonely sight. The blue awning was there, but the name was gone. The once-busy parking lot was empty, the door that used to welcome patrons locked, the blinds closed. A handwritten “Permanently Closed” sign sat in the window.

Soon, however, the empty space will be home to a Puerto Rican restaurant, Phoenix Coqui. The building will get a facelift. The black, gold, and white of the Phoenix Coqui will replace the blue and white from before.

While the brick-and-mortar is new, Phoenix Coqui Food Truck has been in business since 2017. Owned by Alexis Carbajal and Juan Ayala, it was the first Puerto Rican food truck in Arizona.

click to enlarge Juan Ayala puts heart and soul into his cooking. Try one of the mouthwatering empanadillas. - PHOENIX COQUI

Juan Ayala puts heart and soul into his cooking. Try one of the mouthwatering empanadillas.

Phoenix Coqui

It started because the couple, now business partners, could not find Puerto Rican food that reminded them of home. So, they decided to make it. Ayala brought his family recipes, love of cooking, and 15 years of restaurant management; Carbajal brought his business background. Together they started a food truck to have a taste of home and make people feel at home.

One of their customers, Melissa Sanchez, said, “The food brought me to tears. It reminded me of my grandmother’s cooking.”

“We know Crazy Jim’s was an iconic place and we have big shoes to fill,” said Alexis Carbajal.

Over the years, Crazy Jim’s became a go-to spot for many locals, who have memories of childhood visits, first dates, and other special-occasion meals there. Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard made it his hangout.

“My wife Monica and I were regulars at the 15th Ave Crazy Jim’s for years. We could always get something good and fast. I particularly liked the many versions of grilled chicken and generous salads,” Goddard said in an email. “Sad to hear it has closed.”

Many others had emotional reactions to the closure.

Aside from the delicious food, sauces, and pillowy pitas, it’s the sense of community that people will miss about Crazy Jim’s.

But according to Claudia Aguirre, the owner of Crazy Jim’s, owning a restaurant is being married to it and she and her kids are ready to do other things with their lives.

She told 12 News that there were no financial issues or scandals that led to the closure.

True to her kind nature, Aguirre left with a thoughtful gesture for Phoenix Coqui. Carbajal said, “She actually converted the mural inside the restaurant to have our name.”

Phoenix Coqui’s name is a mix of the partners’ backgrounds. Carbajal grew up in Phoenix (to immigrant parents from Mexico) and is inspired by Phoenix as a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings. Ayala is from Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. Hence, Coqui, an arboreal nocturnal frog native to Puerto Rico. “If you are on the island, you’ll hear it,” says Carbajal. “It’ll either drive you crazy or lull you to sleep.”

“We know Crazy Jim’s closure was a big loss for the community,” said Carbajal, “but we hope to bring something new to the table and hopefully that excites people.”

With more capacity to cook, Phoenix Coqui will slowly expand its menu.

The restaurant is scheduled to open this month. Until then, visit the food truck from noon to 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday at 4129 North 7th Avenue. Try some of the popular dishes, Mofongo bowl (pigeon peas, roasted pork, rice, plantains), and empanadillas. They have vegan options available as well.

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