Best Of :: La Vida
Like an old friend, Así es la Vida, Spanish for "such is life," is the kind of restaurant that, no matter when we visit, never fails to remind us why it holds a place in our hearts. Since it began in 1993, closed in 1999, and resurrected itself again in 2003, the family-owned spot, more or less responsible for teaching the Valley much of what it now knows about the cuisine of central-southern Mexico, has experienced nearly as much love and rejection as the Mexico City-born artist Frida Kahlo (which may be why homages to her self-portraits grace the walls). The restaurant's outward appearance may be a bit more frayed, its now-purple exterior with flashing "open" signs hardly becoming of a place once lauded by the New York Times as one of Phoenix's most interesting dining destinations. But inside, tucked into its cozy rooms appointed with Mexican art, white tablecloths, and fresh flowers, the food — an Acapulco-style shrimp cocktail, a well-seasoned Carne Tampiqueña, and enormous butterflied garlicky shrimp you'll pick up and eat right out of their skins — is as thoughtful and as flavorful as ever.
On one hand, it could be said that chef Doug Robson's Otro Cafe is a complement to his first restaurant, Gallo Blanco, in the way of very good and deftly prepared Mexican cuisine. In another sense, it's a more elevated companion that can hold its own. You'll find outstanding, bulked-out tacos here, as well as the Spanish-style tapas called El Español, an Inca salad made with nearly a dozen ingredients, and the satisfying tocino con rajas torta, a kind of BLT run through a Mexico City kitchen. For dessert, you'll want the postre de coco, a delicate creation of creamy coconut pudding topped with chocolate shavings that's reminiscent of a Mounds bar gone gourmet.
For the longest time, this 36-year-old neighborhood staple in Central Phoenix had pared down its menu to just its famous green chili and red chili burros. Not that anyone was complaining. When you serve essentially just two dishes (and a couple of variations on each) and the lines are still out the door, you're doing something right. Earlier this year, the family-run hole in the wall (truly, no signage or dining room to speak of) expanded its menu to include excellent beef and shredded chicken tacos, bean tostadas, cheese enchiladas, and cheese crisps. They now accept credit cards, too. And just like that, Rito's got even better.
Have you had the chicken burro at Asadero Norte De Sonora? Because if you haven't, you're missing out on a kind of chicken burro nirvana — a piece of wrapped paradise in the form of stellar shredded bits of mesquite chicken, frijoles, shredded cabbage, and creamy guacamole. It will make you feel happy. It will cause you to grin while you polish off your grande agua fresca. And most likely, it will see you in its modest little restaurant home again. This time, perhaps, with a few loaded tacos, a chicken dinner with all the fixin's, or a giant smoking grill of parrillada.
When Victoria Chavez started Los Dos Molinos nearly 40 years ago in Springerville, Arizona, she hardly could have imagined her New Mexican-style restaurant, named after two antique chile grinders, would be the fiery family business it is today. The original Phoenix location, housed in the adobe-style onetime home of Western silent movie actor Tom Mix, keeps the home fires burning with packed plates of meltingly tender adovada ribs marinated in a spicy red chile sauce, chunky chimichangas slathered in green chili, and potent margaritas enjoyed on the casita's courtyard patio.
There's nothing like a neighborhood restaurant that's actually, well, in a neighborhood. And this homey spot just off historic Glendale's main drag has been serving old-school Mexican eats since 1949. Originally Lily's Cafe, it became Fajardo's in 2009 when Alfredo Fajardo, the son of the original restaurant's cooks, reopened the place, keeping the old recipes intact. There's nothing over-the-top here, just good, hearty plates of crunchy beef chimichangas, cheese enchiladas, and oven-roasted pork chops (a Sunday special) with strips of green chile. Judging by the regulars who regularly pack the place, the neighborhood approves.