Best Of :: La Vida
Although we can't prove it unless we start sneaking into some kitchens, it's pretty obvious that a lot of Mexican restaurants get their tortillas straight out of a bag — and some don't even bother to reheat them. What gives, people? There's a lot of competition for good Mexican food in the Valley, and to set yourself apart from the pack, you need to make grand gestures. That's what they do at Verde, a humble little downtown spot serving cheap, casual eats and flour tortillas we're absolutely certain are as fresh as can be. Just take a look in the big front window, where you can see ladies hand-forming and cooking them on a griddle right on the premises. These are a little thicker than the norm, tender, and perfect for scooping up gobs of Verde's fragrant green chile pork — or simply enjoying plain.
Barrio Cafe chef Silvana Salcido Esparza turned 50 this year, and she was pissed. It wasn't the number of candles on her cake or years she's spent building her restaurant business on 16th Street — it was Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Esparza's been glued to the news and images of Arizona's Mexican community in all its lackluster glory on the big screen. "Oh, we have a vibrant community here," she says. "We just need a center for that community to really shine." So she started with her back wall. Esparza brought in El Moises to paint a mural, and then she was struck with a vision: a Calle of Murals. She set up a Facebook page, then an e-mail address, then a website. She has almost 20 artists and 500 Facebook fans. The first official "Calle 16" mural will go up in October. "They can't stop us," says Esparza. "I want the city to crawl back to us and ask where they can help."
Art with a political edge is what this town's been needing in the worst possible way, and Phoenix's new Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center/Galeria 147 has been delivering. In a state where Latinos are under the gun, both literally and metaphorically — from the Legislature, in the form of the ethnic studies ban and SB 1070, to Sheriff Joe Arpaio's notorious anti-immigrant sweeps of Hispanic neighborhoods — ALAC's providing an outlet for the indignation and outrage of an entire people. ALAC's debut presented works from old hands like painters Ramon Delgadillo and Luis Mena, in addition to new ones, such as muralist Francisco Garcia, whose work depicts the sacrifice, the pride, the victimization, and the beauty of Arizona Latinos. Out of the crucible of oppression often comes the stuff of great art, and ALAC/Galeria 147 seems to be proving that with its very existence.
It was a collection of tentacles coming out of a Starbucks mug. How could we not love it? And that's just one of the bizarre creations we got to see at the Mutant Piñata art show at Bragg's Pie Factory. This annual event never fails to tickle our imagination with papier-mâché vampires and anatomically correct (or so we're told) baboons. You may be used to candy-filled piñatas, but we're telling you that the real treat is the eye candy you'll see at this show. Leave the bat at home. The mutant piñata show happens each March, during Art Detour, and the word is that several pieces from last year's show — including a fabulous vampire by Tempe artist Mike Maas — will appear in the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art's People's Biennial in October 2011.
Want to beat the crap out of Jan Brewer? Now's your chance — though at $85 a pop, we're not sure you'll want to deface your purchase. Leave it to Scott Jacobson — he of the impish grin and years in the middle of Arizona politics doing public affairs for a big, bad utility company. These days, Jacobson's pushing piñatas rather than power — though, really, his political spin on papier-mâché wields a strength of its own. E-mail him if you'd like one of his piñatas for your very own.
One of the best events of the year is the Dia de los Muertos festival, hosted by the Desert Botanical Garden on Halloween weekend and during the first week of November. The festivities include Mexican folk arts, storytelling, dance, and poetry, as well as a mercado with awesome wares for sale. Wander the garden paths and check out the ofrenda installations, pause to make crafts with the kids — like decorating your own calaca (smiling skull) mask or molded sugar skulls. There is enough pageantry and, yes, food to keep you entertained all day. Who knew celebrating death could be so fun?