Best Of :: La Vida
Long before the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921), American turistas regularly invaded our neighbor to the south looking for exotic adventures and souvenirs they could drag home as proof of their traveling derring-do. Until the late 1960s, one of the mandatory stops on the Mexican vacation circuit was Tlaquepaque, a charming little town outside Guadalajara in the Mexican state of Jalisco that catered to the cravings of insatiable American consumer/collectors. The town was crammed with curio shops that carried handmade pottery made by artisans living in another nearby ceramics town, Tonalá.
Mexican ceramicists and shopkeepers quickly learned to pander to tourist tastes, and thus was born vintage Mexican tourist pottery, which has become wildly collectible. From the 1920s on, non-indigenous forms of utilitarian tableware, like formal tea sets, snack plates, divided lazy Susans, soup tureens, and other equally gringo forms of culinary presentation were schlepped back across the border and proudly displayed in the parlor.
Actual use of the low-fired decorated and glazed pottery pieces was problematic, since their glazes contained unhealthful amounts of lead. One of the very few places in the Valley that sells good vintage Mexican tourist pottery, as well as market and other Mexican folk art pottery — and for prices that don't involve the sale of newborns or second mortgages — is Bill Stolp's space at Antique Trove in Scottsdale. The owner, who also sells out of his house in Fountain Hills, has a good eye for vintage ware and prices it within the means of the average collector.
On our last trip to the Antique Trove, we spotted pieces done in the style of the famous Lucano family, wonderful soup tureens in the shape of a nesting chicken and a pokey turtle, and platters lavishly hand-decorated in what is called fantasía style. Stolp even had several noteworthy tree of life candelabra (arboles de la vida) from Metepec, another ceramics town in the state of Mexico famous for this particular form. Inventory changes frequently, so make sure to visit often. And take plenty of money.
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.