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Best Of 2012


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Best Of :: La Vida

Best DREAM-er

Even a year ago, we didn't think there'd be any way we'd be bestowing this award to President Obama, who was solidifying his reputation in the Latino community as a do-nothing president despite his promises that national immigration reform would be among his priorities.

But better late than never. On June 15, Obama lifted a huge weight off the backs of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States by their parents. He declared, in a major policy shift, that his administration "will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children and have since led law-abiding lives." It grants temporary immunity — under certain conditions — for nearly 1 million immigrants who have been living in fear of deportation: if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16, are under 30, have been in the United States for at least five years, have no criminal history, have a high school diploma or GED, or served in the military. Obama's plan will also allow these young adults to apply for a work permit that will be good for two years, with no limits on how many times it can be renewed. While it has the elements of the DREAM Act, a similar plan that has failed to pass in Congress, Obama's executive decision is temporary and stops short of establish a path toward citizenship for those young people.
Best Mexican Restaurant in a Bowling Alley
Oaxaca Restaurant (at Let It Roll Bowl)

Ah, the bowling alley snack bar — a place that’s never, ever as good as you want it to be. Especially at those corporate houses that dominate the kegling landscape. The pizza is always prefab junk, and the deep-fried goodies rarely are any better. That’s why this family-run eatery at Sunnyslope’s independently owned Let It Roll Bowl is a breath of fresh air. Reasonably priced standards such as tacos, burritos, and enchiladas are available, as are regional specialties like molotes (deep-fried fritters stuffed with potato and chorizo) and tlayuda (think: Mexican pizza). Menu entrees include black or (very good) red mole, stuffed chiles, gorditas, and green or red ribs. None of it costs more than $8 and all of it tastes pretty darn good. And if you feel your bowling experience simply isn’t complete without a pizza or hot dog, well, they’ve got that American stuff, too.

8925 N. 12th St., Phoenix, 85020
Best Mexican/Chinese Fusion Fast Food
Chino Bandido Takee-Outee

We're not sure exactly how the idea for fast Mexican/Chinese food came about ("Hey, you put your chimichanga in my sweet and sour sauce!") but we're glad it happened — and it's a Valley original. With two locations, you can indulge in a Chino Bandido fix whether you're in the East Valley or on the west side. Either way, you'd better not skip the jade chicken, a deep-fried, bright-red treat that feels like dessert for dinner. Pair it with carnitas or carne asada burros and jerk rice with pork. Just be sure to leave room for (we know this sounds odd, but bear with us) a fresh-baked Snickerdoodle cookie for dessert. Fusion at its finest.

15414 N. 19th Ave., Phoenix, 85023
1825 W. Chandler Blvd., Chandler, 85224
Best Upscale Mexican Restaurant
The Mission
Jackie Mercandetti

Chef Matt Carter's sophisticated, intimate spot serving modern Latin cuisine in Scottsdale might mean shaking the piggy bank for some extra coin, but the culinary journey is worth it. Mixing French cooking techniques with influences from Spain, Mexico, Central and South America, Carter's dishes are intensely flavorful and expertly prepared. Start with a stellar smoked pork pozole, or shared plates of duck carnitas empanada and smoked pork shoulder tacos in hand-pressed corn tortillas, then move on to exceptional grilled entrees like the chimichurri hanger steak and Chilean salmon. The tequila, cocktail, and wine lists are as impressive as the cuisine — especially when sipped by a flickering outdoor fire or inside amid chandeliers, ornate mirrors, and the restaurant's glowing wall of Himalayan salt blocks.

3815 N. Brown Ave., Scottsdale, 85251
7000 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix, 85054-6151
Best Neighborhood Restaurant, Central Phoenix
Tacos Atoyac

The abundance of Sonoran-style Mexican eateries is plainly clear in the Valley. But finding comida oaxaqueña, Oaxacan food from southwestern Mexico, takes a bit more work. Thank the dynamic duo of Oaxacan Pablo Lopez and Chilean-born Dan Maldonado for bringing their bare-bones taco shop to north Central Phoenix — where the food's served up street-style, fast and flavorful, and at jaw-droppingly low prices. Start with the $1 street tacos, filled with tender lengua or luscious pork al pastor, then move on to the mighty fish taco (possibly one of the best in the Valley), or the crazy-tasty tlayuda, likened to a Mexican pizza featuring a dinner-plate-size thin, crunchy tortilla slathered with a bean spread. And with nothing on the menu over $8, there's room in the budget to splurge on a heavenly sweet cup of homemade Mexican horchata.

1830 W. Glendale Ave., Phoenix, 85021
4001 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 85012
Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, Downtown Phoenix

To those in the know (and that's more and more all the time), this award probably comes as little surprise, because this is one of downtown's true gems. There's no signage to speak of, there's no place to sit inside, the menu is tiny, it's open for only a couple of hours a day, and it takes only cash. Sounds like a real pain in the ass, huh? Well, maybe, but the line out the door at lunchtime indicates that it's worth it. Serving only red or green chili burritos (and their deep-fried counterparts, chimichangas), this hole-in-the-wall does basically just one thing and does it better than almost anybody else. The green chili, with its tender chunks of pork and wonderfully deep flavor, is our favorite in town, even though it can be kind of a mess (seriously, it takes some practice eating these things, but that's part of the fun). And the red chili, spicy and bold with bites of beef, is a winner, too. Of course, they're both wrapped in fresh tortillas, and you can have cheese and/or beans added to the mix, as well. Next time you're downtown during lunchtime, do yourself a favor and pop in.

907 N. 14th St., Phoenix, 85006
1202 E. Mohave St., Phoenix, 85034

Best DREAM-er: President Barack Obama


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