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La Vida

  • BEST PLACE TO GET YOUR MEXICAN GAME ON

    Dulceria Pico Rico

    In the interest of our gaming-themed "Best of," we wanted, dear reader, to find you the best cockfight in town. But The Man cried fowl. You can't find a legal cockfight in AZ anymore, although we hear there's still some action on the west side of Phoenix. Anyhow, we don't want to recommend anything that would hurt a chicken, short… More >>
  • BEST TATTOO

    Silvana Salcido Esparza, owner and executive chef of Barrio Cafe, is proud of the series of tattoos that decorate her right leg. For her, tattooing isn't just the trendy thing to do, but a way of expressing and paying homage to her culture. "I didn't start getting tattoos until I was 35," says Esparza, who's now 45. "So it's not… More >>
  • BEST PRICKLY PEAR MARGARITA

    Four Seasons Resort at Troon North

    We've had a lot of margaritas in our day, but we must admit to doubling our intake after discovering what the addition of a little prickly pear juice can do to such an already perfect drink. And nobody in the Valley does prickly pear margaritas better than the surprisingly low-key bar at this posh resort in far north Scottsdale. Unlike… More >>
  • BEST MARGARITA

    Richardson's

    The blender has done for margaritas what the automatic transmission did for sports cars. Why do people pay top dollar for high-end tequila, then ask the barkeep to blanderize it with pulverized ice? As Frank Sinatra was prone to say when given more than two cubes in his whiskey tumbler, "What do I look like, a figure skater?" If you… More >>
  • BEST FROZEN MARGARITA

    Z'Tejas Grill

    Some folks like their margaritas on the rocks, just as some folks enjoy a 10-inch spike to the upper thorax. Those rocks-in-their-heads margarita masochists will argue that frozen margaritas are an abomination thought up by girly men. Back in the day, they'll point out, we didn't have blenders, so margaritas would have been served chilled or on the rocks at… More >>
  • BEST TEQUILA SELECTION

    Old Town Tortilla Factory

    We can thank those wacky conquistadors for inventing this first distilled liquor of the New World. True, the Aztecs had already thought up pulque, a form of the fermented drink from the agave plant, but it was the Spaniards who first distilled this into tequila, probably because they ran low on their own firewater. Nowadays, fine tequila is as highly… More >>
  • BEST MODERN MEXICANA RESTAURANT

    Mucho Gusto Taqueria and Mexican Bistro

    Gregarious gourmets Carlos Manriquez, a.k.a. "the Sorcerer of Sauces," and Chad Withycombe hold court here at Mucho Gusto. They're two of the crew that operate Scottsdale's BYOB gem Atlas Bistro, and their contribution to the Valley is enormous -- now in the way of Southwestern and modern Mexican fare. Manriquez's passion for fine victuals at a modest price comes across… More >>
  • BEST GOURMET MEXICAN RESTAURANT

    Coyoacán Steak House - CLOSED

    French cuisine is what most folks think of when the phrase "haute cuisine" is bandied about, and this seems to follow. The phrase is in French, after all, duh! For many moons, French, Italian, and even Japanese vittles have lent themselves more to the concept of haute cuisine than, say, Mexican. But gourmet Mexican cuisine has been on the rise… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN, CENTRAL PHOENIX

    Rosita's Place

    Nearly every 'hood in the Valley has its own "Best Neighborhood Mexican" restaurant, sometimes more than one. The category exists not for those gourmet, highfalutin Mexican places -- the same four places you always see listed in rags around town, and deservedly so, for exceptional, haute Mexican cuisine. We love those spots, but sometimes you just want a good enchilada,… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN, WEST VALLEY

    La Perla Cafe

    La Perla is a pearl of a joint. Opened by the Pompa family back in 1946, La Perla Cafe is located in the sort of funky building people instantly feel at home in, whether they've come in for a plate of chile rellenos and rice and beans, or to enjoy a margarita and some chips and salsa while grooving on… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN, SOUTH PHOENIX

    Comedor Guadalajara

    After more than 35 years and two generations of family ownership, Comedor Guadalajara still packs 'em in for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Neither the regulars nor the newbies are coming for the decor or the ambiance, as there's little of either on the premises. Everything's meticulously clean, but form follows function here, and CG's function is to fill that belly… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN, TEMPE

    Restaurant Mexico

    We all like a sure thing. Like a rerun of Seinfeld, a steak dinner at Durant's, or the latest White Stripes CD. And in Tempe, when it comes to "neighborhood Mexican," Restaurant Mexico is a no-lose proposition. Tucked into a brown block of businesses just east of Mill Avenue, Restaurant Mexico has got it going on: simple yet tasty Mexican… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN, SCOTTSDALE

    Los Olivos Mexican Patio

    For a "neighborhood Mexican" restaurant, Los Olivos is nicer than most, which may have something to do with the 'hood involved, one where SMoCA and the James Hotel are its next-door neighbors. We speak here of the original location on Second Street in Old Town Scottsdale, a beautiful, rambling place with tasteful, Diego Rivera-like murals, stained-glass windows, Spanish chandeliers, and… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN, SOUTHEAST VALLEY

    Rancho de Tia Rosa

    This 8,000-square-foot hacienda-style restaurant is the kind of place you want to take mom on her B-day. The eatery boasts colorful tile-topped tables and collectibles gathered by owners Liz and Dennis Serrine during their frequent visits to Mexico. The place is named for Dennis' grandmother, affectionately known as Tia Rosa, or "Aunt Rosa," by her immense extended family, and the… More >>
  • BEST MOLE

    Mini Mercado Oaxaca - CLOSED

    There are a lot of great mole dishes in Phoenix, and consequently, this was one of the hardest categories to fill in BOP. Let's just say we never met a mole we didn't like, be it red, brown or green. The word "mole" comes from a Nahuatl word meaning "mixture" or "concoction," and true to the label, moles can contain… More >>
  • BEST TORTILLAS

    Carolina's

    We purposely set out to find tortillas better than those at Phoenix legend Carolina's, ate our way across town, and ended up about 40 pounds heavier. What did we glean from our efforts? That Carolina's still has the best tortillas this side of the Mexican border, tortillas so exquisite that they only need a little butter when grilled to melt… More >>
  • BEST TOMATILLO SAUCE

    Mariscos Playa Hermosa

    We never know when the fever will hit us (someone cue Peggy Lee) -- the fever for Mariscos Playa Hermosa's camarónes culichi, or shrimp in green tomatillo sauce. And once we've got the fever, nothing will do but to make a beeline to this humble little place and snarf up a serving of that tangy ambrosia, which includes melted jack… More >>
  • BEST ADOBO

    Lamb Adobo at Los Sombreros

    Food critics are a nasty lot. They love to scrap, backstabbing each other until the meanest of them stands supreme, like the king of the hill in the children's game of the same name. Of course, our Stephen Lemons is the Blackbeard of Culinary Criticism, always ready to raise the Jolly Roger and let blast a flow of invective at… More >>
  • BEST ELOTE EN VASO (CORN IN A CUP)

    La Reina Michoacana

    Lured into La Reina Michoacana by a painting of roasted corn on the cob in the store's window, we were all pumped to savor the unparalleled perfume and smoky taste of one of Mexico's finest street dishes. When we were told "no hay," we were very disappointed, but the counter lady guaranteed that La Reina's elotes en vaso (literally, corn… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN SEAFOOD

    Serrano's Fishmarket and Restaurant

    None other than Aquaman rolls into town the other day on vay-cay from helping the Gulf Coast recover from Katrina, and the scaly superhero is craving some excellent seafood, natch. But where do you send the King of Atlantis for primo piscine eats here in our landlocked metropolis? There's only one place the Protector of the Seas and Oceans can… More >>
  • BEST PALETAS (FROZEN FRUIT BARS)

    La Michoacana

    You've seen those steadfast guys in the dead of summer pushing colorfully painted, four-wheeled refrigerated carts full of exotic frozen fruit bars through deserted streets and you've always wanted to stop one and sample his wares. You don't really have to go cruising for one of those heat-seeking vendedores when you get the urge to splurge your daily carb allotment.… More >>
  • BEST RASPADOS (SNOW CONES)

    Oasis Raspados #2

    Forget your carnival midway snow cones and Stop-and-Rob Slurpees. And Hawaiian shave ice (only mainland haoles dare to call it shaved ice) isn't even in the running. All hail the new king of frozen desserts -- the raspado, Mexico's luscious take on fruit-flavored syrup drizzled over finely crushed ice. What separates the divine raspado from its other, more pedestrian brain-freeze… More >>
  • BEST TRES LECHES CAKE

    Panadería La Estrella

    Fresh pineapple or fresh strawberry? Hmmmmm. The choice was tremendously difficult, but after an exceptional amount of hemming and hawing, we decided to go with Panadería La Estrella's strawberry-filled pastel de tres leches, which literally translated means "three-milk cake." And after tasting what seemed to be a thousand less-than-stellar variations on one of Mexico's (and Latin America's) most popular desserts,… More >>
  • BEST BOLILLOS (FRENCH ROLLS)

    La Sonorense Bakery #2

    In the 1860s, the French under Napoleon III descended for a short time on Mexico, dragging with them European-style breads and pastries. Lucky for us, Mexico ultimately kept the bread recipes but booted out the French, creating Cinco de Mayo for us to drunkenly celebrate here in the U.S., as well as the Mexican version of the baguette -- the… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN DESSERTS

    Barrio Cafe

    We've been sampling fancy desserts at Mexican restaurants in this town for so long that -- we're embarrassed to admit -- we remember eating deep-fried ice cream at Willy and Guillermo's. Thank goodness we've grown up, and so has Mexican cuisine in Phoenix. One of our favorite adults is Barrio Cafe, where you can top your meal with incredible French… More >>
  • BEST PANADERÍA (BAKERY)

    Flores Bakery

    We miss the good ol' days when, instead of a 7-Eleven or Circle K, every neighborhood had its own little grocery pit stop right around the corner. Flores Bakery in Guadalupe is just that kind of place, an old-fashioned blast from the past with exceptional baked goodies to boot. Besides the usual quick packaged snacks, you'll find a small meat… More >>
  • BEST CARNICERÍA (MEAT MARKET)

    Carnicería El Camino

    We know we've come home to Mexico when we catch that first whiff of smoky barbacoa wafting on the breeze. Whether it's from chicken, beef, pork, lamb or baby goat being grilled over an open mesquite fire or slow-roasted on hot coals in an open pit, that heavenly smell is, for us, an unmatchable part of the best of Mexican… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN GROCERY SHOPPING FOR GRINGOS

    Phoenix Ranch Market

    We are seriously jealous, not to mention thoroughly bummed. Now that we've been to Phoenix Ranch Market at 59th Avenue and Thomas Road (visualize AJ's duded up for a Mexican quinceañera fiesta), we are finding it increasingly difficult to shop at our local Safeway. Our neighborhood grocery doesn't sport larger-than-life-size metal mariachis and a tin donkey on its roof, gaily… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO FIND AUTHENTIC MEXICAN COOKING SUPPLIES

    La Tolteca

    We thought we'd died and gone to Libertad Mercado in Guadalajara when we discovered the Mexican cookware, utensils and supplies stocked at La Tolteca, a combo bakery, deli, restaurant and meat counter on East Van Buren done up in bright, serape-esque colors. If you can tear yourself away from La Tolteca's long glass bakery cases filled with fragrant pan dulce,… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO BE ON THE FEAST OF OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE

    Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel

    There's no contest: Our Lady of Guadalupe is the reigning Queen of Mexico and has been for more than 470 years. Since 1531, when the brown-skinned Virgin first appeared to Saint Juan Diego, a humble man of Chichimeca descent (he made the saints' list in 2002), on the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City and miraculously imprinted her image on… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO FIND A STATUE OF SANTISIMA MUERTE

    Yerbería San Francisco

    Ever see those statues of what appear to be the Grim Reaper in drag at the swap meet? That, mis amigos, is La Santisima Muerte -- Most Holy Death. She's the subject of a fast-growing cult in Mexico that considers her a powerful saint, though the Catholic Church has banned her from its approved saints list (which now excludes the… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO FIND A STATUE OF JESUS MALVERDE

    Yerbería Fuente de Salud

    We first stumbled upon the mysterious Jesus Malverde years ago during a trip through Magdalena, Sonora. We couldn't figure out the story behind the statues and busts of a dashing Errol Flynn look-alike that we just had to buy at a large religious store there, and the counter girl waiting on us wasn't very forthcoming about his history or the… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN BOTANICA

    Yerbería La Esperanza

    For some reason, here in Phoenix, botanicas are uniformly called yerberías. But a rosa by any other name is still a rosa, and, whatever you want to call them, they're one and the same: specialty stores that sell a bewildering variety of medicinal herbs and religious supplies used for both natural remedies and curanderismo, a lively blend of folk cures,… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO FEEL LIKE YOU'RE IN A MERCADO IN MEXICO

    Dos Hermanos Centro Comercial

    Just like in Mexico, this large indoor mercado, lined with small, individual businesses, is a one-stop-shopping destination that houses just about everything you could possibly want or need to make your life complete. Visit Friendly Records for Mexican music CDs in every genre, or bargain for over-the-top laminated and ormolu-encrusted 19th-century French repro furniture -- the apex of Mexican middle-class… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO GET HOT WHEEL RIMS AND SEE ART AT THE SAME TIME

    4U Used Cars and Tires

    We hung the fastest U-turn we could when we spotted the artfully arranged chrome wheel rims standing guard at the entrance to 4U Used Cars and Tires on Van Buren Street. Even though we're usually not into this sort of thing, and admittedly know next to nothing about wheel rims (or cars, for that matter), we were inexplicably seduced by… More >>
  • BEST PIÑATA STORE

    La Piñata Nueva

    They don't sell anything else but piñatas at La Piñata Nueva. A hundred or so tissue-paper creations of all shapes and sizes hang from the ceiling of the warehouse at 27th Avenue and Thomas Road: Traditional Mexican star-shaped piñatas share space with Scooby-Doos, Winnie the Poohs, Spidermen, and Shreks. The piñatas are made here, on site, by women who watch… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO FIND A QUINCEAÑERA DRESS

    Joyful Events (a.k.a. Wedding Depot)

    After we found out about the Latin American tradition of the quinceañera, we really began to feel sorry for Hispanic relatives everywhere. Blame it on the 16th-century Spaniards, or maybe it was those pesky Aztecs, but whoever thought up the idea of marking a 15-year-old girl's passage into womanhood and society with a huge, expensive blowout must have owned all… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN FOLK ART STORE IN CYBERSPACE

    funkychickeneggranch

    When it comes to fabulous Mexican folk art, for sheer variety and eclectic selection, no one can beat funkychickeneggranch. That's the seller's name that native Phoenician Nancy Nenad goes by on eBay, where she maintains a virtual store filled with the sacred, the profane and the downright loony. Go to www.ebay.com and search under sellers for funkychickeneggranch. Co-owner of the… More >>
  • BEST BRICK-AND-MORTAR MEXICAN FOLK ART STORE

    Sueños Latin American Imports

    Since the phenomenal rise in popularity of Mexico's DÍas de los Muertos (Day of the Dead to you, gringo) here in the U.S., folk crafts related to this uniquely Mexican celebration of the dearly departed are hot (and sometimes high) ticket items. A shotgun marriage between 16th-century Catholicism's All Souls and All Saints Day in November and ancient pre-Columbian rites… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO FIND MEXICAN FOLK ART ONCE A YEAR

    Friends of Mexican Art (FOMA) Hacienda Tour and Mercado

    Long before the rank-and-file rabble elevated Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to Mexican Idol status, Friends of Mexican Art (fondly referred to as FOMA) knew that Mexican fine and folk art were extremely cool. Started here in Phoenix more than 42 years ago (during an era when Day of the Dead most likely referred to your own funeral), FOMA, a… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN POTS

    Pot World

    We said pots, dude, pots -- you know, the kind you grow plants in. So if you're ready to rid your front yard of those pink flamingos, lawn jockeys, '70s garden gnomes and icicle twinkle lights from Christmas Past, you can achieve a more sophisticated look (and the eternal gratitude of the neighbors who have been staring at all of… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN TILE

    Mexican Tile Company

    Sick of Country French (or Arts and Crafts or anything mauve) and want to plunge into more colorful Mexican decor? If that's the case, Mexican Tile Company is where you should start for your casita's extreme makeover. For more than 30 years, this veritable Valley tile institution has been offering real Mexican tile, both decorative and flooring, to picky homeowners… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN COLONIAL-INSPIRED FURNITURE

    Fiesta Furnishings

    "Muy classy!" is all we can say about Fiesta Furnishings, a spacious decor emporium that features furniture and accessories with an elegant Spanish Colonial feel. Owned and operated by Claudia and Ralph Farrar, who were both importers of Mexican folk arts and crafts before they met and married, Fiesta specializes in items you won't see in your run-of-the-mill Mexican furniture… More >>
  • BEST RUSTIC MEXICAN FURNITURE

    MexAmigo - CLOSED

    Don't know where to find "country Mexican" furniture and accessories for that autentico rancho look? MexAmigo has crammed an entire building with reasonably priced rustic Mexican furniture just waiting to go home to your hacienda. It's right here you'll find table and chair sets of pigskin-and-estaca wood equipales (historically speaking, they're said to date back to pre-Conquest times in… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN DECORATING ACCESSORIES

    Casa del Encanto - CLOSED

    We thought we had stumbled into 18th-century Mexico through a rip in some time dimension when we pulled up to Casa del Encanto, which literally means "the enchanting or bewitching house." Built in a classic Spanish colonial U-shaped configuration with rust-colored walls, arched windows and cantera stone trim, Casa del Encanto is a perfect re-creation of an elegant, upscale Mexican… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN RADIO STATION

    Radio Campesina, KNAT-FM 88.3

    The Phoenix branch of Radio Campesina (there are also stations in Parker, Fresno, and Salinas) boasts the hottest Mex-mixes in the Valley, airing tunes by renowned Latin pop artists such as Juan Gabriel and Los Tigres del Norte, as well as pioneers like norteño innovator Marco Antonio Solis and ranchero legend Vicente Fernandez. The latter artist is also a DJ… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO BUY NARCOCORRIDOS

    El Idolo de Oro

    It seems that if it's Mexican and it even remotely involves music on tape or CD, El Idolo de Oro has it. This tuneful stop stocks just about every regional group living, breathing and harmonizing in Mexico, including oompah bands from Michoacán; norteño/Tex-Mex groups from Sonora, Chihuahua and Sinaloa; the exitos (hits) of wailing mariachi ensembles from Jalisco -- even… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO HEAR LIVE MARIACHI MUSIC

    La Casa del Mariachi

    The takeout menu for this great place announces in Spanish that it's "the place where you will find good ambiance, good music and good food." And the restaurant's proud claim is no lie, especially on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. On those nights, beginning at about 6:30, mas o menos, La Casa del Mariachi serves up bueno grub (its specialty… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN NIGHTCLUB

    El Capri

    You might feel a bit intimidated when approaching this popular discoteca, which is situated alongside a freeway overpass. But don't be put off by the parking lot crammed with Cadillac Escalades and Audis, the squad of Phoenix cops gathered outside keeping the peace, or the lengthy line out the front door. Really: Don't let it get to you, cabrón. Just… More >>
  • BEST LATIN DANCE NIGHT

    Saturdays at Club Dwntwn

    You'll find the hottest Latin club in these parts is wedged amongst the high-rises of downtown Phoenix. Without fail, Club Dwntwn draws an enormous crowd -- 1,500 people on a Saturday! -- and in just three years has expanded from two rooms to three. Even then you can barely walk through without bumping into someone. In the main room, DJs… More >>
  • BEST GAY LATIN DANCE NIGHT

    Karamba

    Club Karamba steams up its own windows every weekend with Kaliente Saturdays, a party packed wall-to-wall with queer Latin lovers dancing to the beat of DJs Tranz and Melo. The jockeys throw salsa, merengue, cumbia, rock and pop en español into the mix while Latin music videos project onto an enormous screen. It's a sexy backdrop for a high-energy crowd… More >>
  • BEST MOONLIGHT HIKE CONDUCTED IN SPANISH

    Nancy Lewis' Full Moon Hikes at South Mountain

    Every month, on the night of the full moon, Nancy Lewis and her crew of Spanish-language champions convene at South Mountain's Javelina Trail to sweat out basic grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary under a glowing light other than a fluorescent one. Fluent speakers and Spanish-language newbies meet monthly to participate in a physical and linguistic workout en español. The sociable atmosphere… More >>
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