Best Of :: La Vida
If northern Mexican food is all about the beef, then Oaxacan food, of which La 15 y Salsas is a shining example, is all about the salsa. A trio of fresh salsas hit the table with every meal, with a basket of thin, crunchy corn chips on the side. The salsas come in bowls just big enough to give diners a taste of the salsas' bright, spicy, or smoky flavors, but not so big they become the meal itself. Sample brightly green and acidic tomatillo speckled with fresh cilantro, powerfully spicy chile de árbol, chunky roasted tomato salsa, and glossy, dark pasilla chile. There's a seemingly endless number of salsas this well-loved Sunnyslope neighborhood has in its repertoire, and it is worth many a repeat visit to try them all.
In early October, a group of Native American and indigenous artists plans to unveil the largest bi-national land art installation ever shown on the U.S./Mexico border. The interdisciplinary four-person group — Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martínez, Kade L. Twist and Nathan Young — is Postcommodity, and together, the artists are known for creating socially conscious and culturally focused works shown in galleries and museums in Arizona and around the country. But in October, the group has an especially ambitious vision: tethering more than two dozen 10-foot-diameter balloons more than 50 feet in the air. The balloons, decorated with large "scare eyes" (used in farming to deter large predator birds), will create a temporary two-mile-long sculpture intersecting the border. The aim is to connect American Indian, Latin American, and Mexican immigrant communities in one of the most divided, hostile, and militarized zones in the Western Hemisphere — which means it's time to mark your calendars and fill your gas tanks. Border art history is in progress.www.postcommodity.com
Every year for the past decade or so, a select group of Phoenix Jews and Latinos have gathered to break bread — or, rather, matzoh, the unleavened crackers that symbolize the unfinished bread made by Jews fleeing the Pharaoh, an integral part of the Passover story and any seder dinner.
The Latino-Jewish Seder, typically held in the spring a few days before the actual Passover holiday begins, is co-hosted by Valle del Sol and the American Jewish Committee and includes participants of the current Hispanic Leadership Institute (a program of Valle del Sol), local AJC members, and local Latino and Jewish leaders with the purpose of fostering "an environment of dialogue, cross-cultural communication, and to build greater understanding between both communities."
In other words, it's a great time to kibbitz (that's Yiddish for chat) and learn about a fundamental Jewish custom, the seder dinner — including the "mandatory" four cups of wine, which definitely make the chatter lively.www.valledelsol.com
Led by Angela Ramirez, Flamenco Por La Vida has become an early-evening staple Saturdays at Crescent Ballroom. The troupe's passionate songs and fiery dancing in Crescent's lounge often top the indie rockers that take the stage in the main room afterward. Each week, Ramirez and her crew don traditional garb — the ladies in traje de flamenco, the men in vests and black slacks — and whirl, spin, clap, and stomp to a fiercely strummed acoustic guitar. The weekly performance has proved so popular that the Crescent has been home to Lluvia Flamenca, a semi-annual festival that finds Ramirez and her group joined by flamenco performers from all over the world.
A quiet lunch spot featuring a sprawling patio by day, La Flor de Calabaza is a Latin lounge by night. With art on the walls, white leather couches, and nightclub lighting, the vibe here is fresh, and so is the food it serves. The cocktail list includes drinks such as El Orgasmo, Nalgas de Indio, and Beso de Angel. On Tuesdays, the bar pours 99-cent margaritas, on Wednesdays, a DJ ignites the dance floor with salsa and bachata, and Thursdays feature 99-cent tacos. During the weekends, live bands such as Jalapeño Rock, Diluvio, and Gravedad play rock en español. If dancing makes you hungry, La Flor de Calabaza keeps its kitchen open late. Located in the Roosevelt district, La Flor de Calabaza shares in the First Friday fiestas with music and drink specials. If you want to unleash your inner rockero this weekend, a table reservation is recommended.
Most of the time, Mijana is a Lebanese restaurant, but on Friday nights, the tables are put away and Mediterranean music is replaced with Latin dance music, and el baile begins. A $10 cover charge buys a lesson at 9:30 p.m. with professional instructors from all over the Valley as well as access to the social dancing part of the night that begins at 10:30. The professional dancers divide newbies into beginner and intermediate groups to help get hips and feet moving. Most Fridays, DJ Ben keeps things hot with a mix of salsa, bachata, and merengue. Occasionally, Mijana brings in a Latin big band to set dancing feet ablaze with live music. Once you've worked up a thirst, quench it at the full-service bar while watching bodies step and twirl. Fridays at Mijana come alive for a must-do Latin Night.