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Best Of 2005

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La Vida

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Best Of :: La Vida

BEST PRICKLY PEAR MARGARITA
Four Seasons Resort at Troon North

We've had a lot of margaritas in our day, but we must admit to doubling our intake after discovering what the addition of a little prickly pear juice can do to such an already perfect drink. And nobody in the Valley does prickly pear margaritas better than the surprisingly low-key bar at this posh resort in far north Scottsdale. Unlike lesser prickly pear margaritas, there is nothing syrupy or heavy about these purplish-pink babies; they're possessed of a perfect light tartness. The only drawback: The resort is so far from civilization, and the drinks go down so smoothly, you're probably going to have to book a room.

10600 E. Crescent Moon Dr., Scottsdale, 85262
MAP
480-515-5700
BEST PLACE TO GET YOUR MEXICAN GAME ON
Dulceria Pico Rico

In the interest of our gaming-themed "Best of," we wanted, dear reader, to find you the best cockfight in town. But The Man cried fowl. You can't find a legal cockfight in AZ anymore, although we hear there's still some action on the west side of Phoenix. Anyhow, we don't want to recommend anything that would hurt a chicken, short of a trip to KFC. But as far as "good" games go, we found Dulceria Pico Rico, a Mexican game store on 16th Street. DPR carries several versions of Loteria (Mexican bingo), as well as the Mexican version of Chutes 'n' Ladders, called Serpientes y Escaleras, and Pin the Tail on the Donkey, er, Burro. Even if you're bummed about not catching a cockfight, there's something very satisfying about winning the pot in Loteria. Victory tastes like chicken.

2533 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 85006
MAP
602-253-5610
BEST TATTOO

Silvana Salcido Esparza, owner and executive chef of Barrio Cafe, is proud of the series of tattoos that decorate her right leg. For her, tattooing isn't just the trendy thing to do, but a way of expressing and paying homage to her culture. "I didn't start getting tattoos until I was 35," says Esparza, who's now 45. "So it's not like I'm some kid who runs into the tattoo shop and runs out half an hour later with a new tattoo." In fact, Esparza reports that her tattoos took countless hours of conceptualization, and they are all original designs, featuring images of Toltec warriors, Nahuatl women, a Mexican eagle, the Day of the Dead calavera dressed as a chef, and a Mayan corn god. Each tattoo has a special meaning for Esparza. "In my culture, we believe that corn is life, and it denotes a new beginning and sustenance," she says. "And it's also associated with food, which is such a big part of my culture." Esparza's tattoo of Nahuatl women grinding corn comes from artist Diego Rivera's Mercado mural, and she chose the design for its suggestions of feminine power. "The woman signifies everything for the Mexican culture," she says. "Everything is centered around the mother." Most of the work was done by various tattoo artists in Mexico City, except for the Mayan corn god, a local job. Eventually, Esparza says, the series of tattoos will become a full leg sleeve, brought together by images of corn. We don't think that's corny at all.

2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 85006
MAP
602-636-0240
BEST MARGARITA
Richardson's

The blender has done for margaritas what the automatic transmission did for sports cars. Why do people pay top dollar for high-end tequila, then ask the barkeep to blanderize it with pulverized ice? As Frank Sinatra was prone to say when given more than two cubes in his whiskey tumbler, "What do I look like, a figure skater?" If you want a Slurpee, go to 7-Eleven. If you want an honest margarita -- one with real bite -- head to Richardson's, where there's no blender, or sweet-and-sour mix, to get in the way of a good thing. Richardson's knows the recipe for pure refreshment on a hot summer day: good tequila and fresh-squeezed lime juice with a dash of Triple Sec poured into a glass filled with ice (cubes!) and rimmed with salt. That's it, nothing more. Alter this recipe even a smidgen and you may be drinking a cocktail, but it ain't a margarita.

6335 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 85016
MAP
602-265-5886
BEST FROZEN MARGARITA
Z'Tejas Grill

Some folks like their margaritas on the rocks, just as some folks enjoy a 10-inch spike to the upper thorax. Those rocks-in-their-heads margarita masochists will argue that frozen margaritas are an abomination thought up by girly men. Back in the day, they'll point out, we didn't have blenders, so margaritas would have been served chilled or on the rocks at best. Perhaps, but then there's this little thing known as "progress," of which we're so fond. Since the invention of the margarita back in the 1930s, progress has come to improve our lives with such marvels as air conditioning and frozen margaritas, both of which are available for your pleasure at Z'Tejas. Its eight-ounce Chambord margarita is particularly wicked -- a blend of Sauza Gold, triple sec and sweet and sour, swirled into Chambord liqueur that makes them so potent that imbibers are cut off after three drinks. While the knuckle-draggers are sipping theirs on the rocks (and probably trying to start a fire with two sticks), we'll be on our third Chambord maggie, enjoying a lovely yet profound buzz.

7014 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, 85251
MAP
480-946-4171
BEST TEQUILA SELECTION
Old Town Tortilla Factory

We can thank those wacky conquistadors for inventing this first distilled liquor of the New World. True, the Aztecs had already thought up pulque, a form of the fermented drink from the agave plant, but it was the Spaniards who first distilled this into tequila, probably because they ran low on their own firewater. Nowadays, fine tequila is as highly regarded by snooty connoisseurs as excellent scotch or whiskey, and it boasts nearly as many varieties. The Old Town Tortilla Factory offers well more than 100 types of tequila in its "Margaritas Tequilaria," the bar adjacent to the beautiful, hacienda-like hideaway of a restaurant. Sure, there are traditional margaritas to be had, and fancier ones, like the "Millionaire's Margarita" with Cuervo Reserva and 150-year-old Celebration Grand Marnier. But we prefer a glass of one of those rare, anejo (aged) tequilas to sip, while we watch Tortilla Factory's must-see, fire-spitting waterfall gurgle in the moonlight. What would we say if the ghost of one of those ferocious conquistadors stopped by for a drink? What else? ¡Salud!

6910 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 85251
MAP
480-945-4567
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BEST PRICKLY PEAR MARGARITA: Four Seasons Resort at Troon North

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