Best Of :: La Vida
Tamales are tricky. We can whip up a taco, but when it comes to tamales, we have no idea how to get the corn base moist and tasty, or where to begin to make a filling as delicious as the inside of a pork tamale at Mucho Gusto. This Tempe haunt is a favorite far and wide, for innovative Mexican cuisine that reaches outside the box to tempt and challenge diners. The margarita menu is creative as well, and we are most happy with a thick, banana-leaf-wrapped tamale and a hibiscus marg.
We love the art that celebrates Das de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead the enormous papier-mch skeletons, the smaller scenes that depict the dead doing everything from writing at the typewriter to performing surgery in the operating room. But damn, sometimes that art can be expensive! So when we want a quick, sweet (but warning not edible) Day of the Dead fix, we head to the Willow House, where we can find a beautiful (in its way) sugar skull, made deep in Mexico and decorated with the traditional brightly colored sugar frosting and shiny tinfoil, for $4. On a recent trip to Willow, we also found a lovely cardboard Jesus air freshener to hang in the car.
The members of the Border Film Project Rudy Adler, Victoria Criado and Brett Huneycutt were smart enough to hand thousands of disposable cameras to immigrants and Minutemen. Some of them were smart enough to send them back, and SMoCA was smart enough to incorporate the results into a full-blown exhibition. We commend them all for creating a much more realistic glimpse of the border than most of us will ever get.
In the Southwest, "authentic" Mexican furniture isn't hard to find. Even big-box stores have hacienda collections these days. But that little "hecho en Mexico" sticker doesn't always mean much when it comes to quality. Authentic (not "authentic") handmade furniture and imports are much harder to come by. Fortunately, Bellas Artes de Mexico lives up to its name, making it our pick for best Mexican imports store. Walking into this family-owned furniture shop feels a bit like walking into the home of a 16th-century conquistador. The place is filled with beautifully hand-carved tables, doors and wardrobes with details so intricate it feels like they must open up to reveal some south-of-the-border Narnia. Bellas Artes is owned by Cristina and Felipe Guzman, who import furniture from their family's well-known furniture shop in Guadalajara, Mexico. The family's woodworking ability is clearly the star of the show the mesquite tables are breathtaking, and one of our favorite pieces was a Last Supper scene carved from one giant piece of pine but the store is also good for hand-painted ceramic dishes, traditional tin mirrors, and random, brightly painted knickknacks.
You don't have to go south of the border to find great Mexican pottery at least not south of the U.S. border. Just south of Arizona Mills mall is a cozy little brick storefront overflowing with clay pots and colorful planters painted in shades of burnt orange and turquoise. Inside, shelves are brimming with imported goods from Mexico and Latin America. There are ceramic lizards to crawl down your garden walls and a selection of handmade pots that dwarfs those of the gardening departments at Home Depot and Lowe's. There's a bit of a language barrier for non-Spanish speakers, but there are usually a few young translators around to help bridge the gap. Besides, the only question you'll really need to ask is Cunto cuesta? (How much?), because once you find a Mata Ortiz pot for less than its manufactured equivalent, you won't even dream of going somewhere else for Mexican home decor.
From roughhewn pine benches to massive armoires covered in wrought-iron spikes that look more like torture devices than entertainment centers, this North Valley warehouse has everything to make su casa exude rustic charm. La Casona specializes in high-end custom rustic furniture, which is hard to find even in most so-called authentic Mexican stores. A custom dining table with mesquite legs and padded leather chairs can set you back $10K, but we think it's worth it for an heirloom piece tailor-made for your space. Don't worry if that's more than you paid for your car, you can still find something that won't break the bank. The affordable stretched leather equipal tables, along with colorful Talavera pottery, tin mirrors and hand-painted folk art, will make your home feel like a permanent fiesta.