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La Vida

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Best Of :: La Vida

BEST MEXICAN CHAIN WE HOPE GROWS HERE
Costa Vida

A good friend led us to Costa Vida because it's become her favorite lunch spot, not only because of the salads on a tortilla (not in a tortilla — these aren't fried; instead, they're layered with beans, your choice of meat, veggies, and cheese) but also because of the free cheese crisps for kids 5 and under. Very tasty — we loved the shredded chicken with black beans. We told the guy at the counter how good it was and that we'd be back, and he said, "Oh, well, we'd be happy to deliver lunch to you at work any time. Just call.

"Um, we work in downtown Phoenix, we told him.

"Oh, is that far?"

Turns out the guy had just hit town, fresh from Utah, where Costa Vida is HQ'd. Here's hoping Costa Vida expands its vision in metro Phoenix, and that someday soon we can take that nice guy up on his offer!

1744 S. Val Vista, Mesa, 85204
MAP
480-633-8226
BEST RASPADOS

On a sizzling afternoon, we've found a way to beat the heat that's even better than a slushie: a Mexican slushie. Made with fresh fruit chunks, flavored syrups, and scoops of shaved ice, they're called raspados and do they ever hit the spot when the heat's starting to make us a bit loco. La Reyna Michoacana, a cheerful sweet shop with shiny white tile floors, bright lemon-hued walls, and colorful fruit paintings along the counter, is our favorite pit stop for this south-of-the-border refreshment, offering raspados in flavors from strawberry and pineapple to rompope, a sweet almond concoction reminiscent of eggnog. Try one straight up, or order it diablito, with ground chile flakes to add a spicy twist. Sweetened condensed milk is another delicious addition, especially with La Reyna's fabulous tamarind raspado. No matter what flavor you go with, just remember — you gotta drink up to cool down.

BEST PALETAS

When summertime arrives — you know, in early March — we start craving Mexican popsicles, known as paletas. This year, we started the hunt for the cantaloupe bars we recalled from last season, but it wasn't easy to find them. We remembered Moreliana's cute packaging (a boy and girl enjoying their paletas) but figured, hey, one paleta's as good as the next — so we bought a bag of another brand. Not so, amigas. Only Moreliana's — available in pushcarts through the summer, and at various small ice cream shops and bakeries (but not Phoenix Ranch Market) — packs their paletas with tons of fresh fruit, so (to paraphrase Willy Wonka) the cantaloupe really tastes like a cantaloupe and the watermelon really tastes like a watermelon. The mango with chile is also the real deal — so much so that three of us tried to eat one without our mouths going numb and our faces sweating, but had to give up. Still, we gave up smiling.

BEST SUNDAE, MEXICAN STYLE

There's nothing like an ice cream sundae to satisfy a sweet tooth. Not just any sundae, mind you, but the kind of layered confection that's so good you'll forget there's such a thing as a love handle. With south-of-the-border Coke in glass bottles, nachos, and wicked chile tamarind raspados, too, this isn't your ordinary ice cream shop. Fruitti Sweets is a tiny little spot that scoops up lip-smacking flavors like boysenberry sorbet, and sugar-free caramel praline. Dreamy chocolate and fresh strawberry are among the sugary syrups we can't live without.

We can't skip the whipped cream, and the toppers include coconut so fresh we swear someone's grating them up in the back. They've got your maraschino cherry covered. Just when you thought it couldn't get any sweeter, pink and yellow sugar wafer cookies seal the deal. For less than three bucks, this sundae's so hot it's cool.

3326 N. 19th Ave., Phoenix, 85015
MAP
602-265-5151
BEST TRES LECHES CAKE
La Tolteca
Jackie Mercandetti

We have a very good friend who's a very good cook, and recently, she let on that she's been perfecting a recipe for tres leches cake. We put in an order for our birthday, but 'til then, we will continue to worship La Tolteca's version. Tres leches means "three milks," indicating the main ingredients: condensed, evaporated, and whole milk. All together, you've got one rich, delicious cake, so moist it's hard to tell where the icing leaves off and the cake begins. Dear friend, you have big shoes to fill! We can't wait to see if you're up to the task of matching the fine bakers at La Tolteca.

1205 E. Van Buren, Phoenix, 85006
MAP
602-253-1511
BEST FLAN
Los Sombreros Mexican Restaurant
Courtesy of Los Sombreros

It doesn't matter if we feast on a platter of fabulous carne asada, or inhale a whole basket of chips with queso fundido or chunky homemade guacamole — we always have room for dessert at Los Sombreros, one of the best places in the Valley for gourmet Mexican food. In particular, we're fanatics of the flan, served up in a thick, generous slice. It's almost big enough to share, but we'd never want to, especially since it's paired with Almendrado tequila. What? Tequila with dessert? Oh, yes, indeed. It's a sweet, aged liqueur with an intense, deep almond flavor. Swirl it a little, inhale that seductive aroma, and then take a sip before you take a bite of silky, creamy flan. It's even better when you drizzle it right on top of the custard. And don't worry about getting funny looks from your waiter. He'll be cheering you on until your last delicious bite.

2534 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 85257
MAP
480-994-1799
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BEST MEXICAN CHAIN WE HOPE GROWS HERE: Costa Vida

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