La Vida

  • BEST PLACE TO BUY A SUGAR SKULL

    The Willow House

    We love the art that celebrates Días de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead — the enormous papier-mâché skeletons, the smaller scenes that depict the dead doing everything from writing at the typewriter to performing surgery in the operating room. But damn, sometimes that art can be expensive! So when we want a quick, sweet (but — warning… More >>
  • BEST REAL GLIMPSE OF THE BORDER

    Border Film Project

    The members of the Border Film Project — Rudy Adler, Victoria Criado and Brett Huneycutt — were smart enough to hand thousands of disposable cameras to immigrants and Minutemen. Some of them were smart enough to send them back, and SMoCA was smart enough to incorporate the results into a full-blown exhibition. We commend them all for creating a much… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN IMPORTS

    Bellas Artes de Mexico

    In the Southwest, "authentic" Mexican furniture isn't hard to find. Even big-box stores have hacienda collections these days. But that little "hecho en Mexico" sticker doesn't always mean much when it comes to quality. Authentic (not "authentic") handmade furniture and imports are much harder to come by. Fortunately, Bellas Artes de Mexico lives up to its name, making it our… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN POTS

    Mercado Mexico

    You don't have to go south of the border to find great Mexican pottery — at least not south of the U.S. border. Just south of Arizona Mills mall is a cozy little brick storefront overflowing with clay pots and colorful planters painted in shades of burnt orange and turquoise. Inside, shelves are brimming with imported goods from Mexico and… More >>
  • BEST RUSTIC MEXICAN FURNITURE

    La Casona/Pepe's Rustics

    From roughhewn pine benches to massive armoires covered in wrought-iron spikes that look more like torture devices than entertainment centers, this North Valley warehouse has everything to make su casa exude rustic charm. La Casona specializes in high-end custom rustic furniture, which is hard to find even in most so-called authentic Mexican stores. A custom dining table with mesquite legs… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO GET FURNITURE THAT LOOKS LIKE YOU HAULED IT UP FROM MEXICO

    El Paso Import Co.

    El Paso Import Co. started out selling authentic vintage Mexican furniture, but soon mixed in some reproductions (always making sure the buyer was aware). That's fine with us; we can actually afford this stuff. We love it, and are considering moving to a larger house since we've filled our own to the limit with armoires, huge tables and small cabinets,… More >>
  • BEST NEW SPANISH-LANGUAGE STUDIO

    The Spanish Place

    Tucked behind the Yucca Tap Room on the southwest corner of Mill and Southern avenues in Tempe, this relaxed and friendly community space is the place where Spanish-language champions and students can sharpen their Latin-seasoned tongues. The bright blue, green, red and orange walls shower The Place with a south-of-the-border warmth in two classrooms hosting a variety of beginning, intermediate… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO GET HIBISCUS WATER

    Phoenix Ranch Market

    Are you ready to get juiced? Try the aguas frescas at Phoenix Ranch Market. There always seems to be a long line of thirsty people waiting for a drink at this store's festive kiosk, where employees ladle ice-cold beverages out of enormous glass jars. We're partial to the jamaica (pronounced "ha-my-ka," not "Jamaica," mon), a sweet, tart red punch made… More >>
  • BEST MARGARITA

    Padre's Modern Mexican Cuisine - CLOSED

    When we're drinking a margarita, we'll pass on that name-brand $30 shot; what we really want is lime so tart it stings, salt that flakes on our lips, a blend of the hard stuff that's not too heavy on the orange liqueur. And after tasting hundreds of margaritas across the Valley, we found that very combination at Padre's Modern Mexican… More >>
  • BEST FROZEN MARGARITA

    Z'Tejas Grill

    Yes, it's a chain restaurant. But the margaritas are so tasty, we're betting even the folks at Arizona Chain Reaction have a hard time resisting happy hour here. Generously poured, perfectly blended, and with just the right tequila kick, these margaritas would convince even the most ardent food snob to give the blender a chance. Feeling adventurous? Try a flight,… More >>
  • BEST TEQUILA SELECTION

    Via DeLosantos

    Perhaps the only clue that this isn't your average Sunnyslope hole-in-the-wall is the cars in the parking lot: On one recent Sunday, we spotted an Audi, a Beamer, and a Lexus side by side. But there's nothing pretentious or upscale inside this homey Mexican restaurant and its smoky blue-tiled bar, just (very) low-key ambiance and a huge selection of tequila.… More >>
  • BEST MODERN MEXICANA RESTAURANT

    Barrio Cafe

    A craving for Mexican food and a craving for Barrio Cafe's memorable fare are two completely different things. It's almost as if chef Silvana Salcido Esparza intentionally set out to defy diners' expectations, combining her own dazzling ideas with traditional flavors found in southern Mexican cuisine. Looking for chips and salsa to land on your table? Instead, you'll get a… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN PATIO DINING

    Old Town Tortilla Factory

    What better way to enjoy a margarita (or several), a basket of chips and salsa (or several) and maybe even more, than on the twinkly patio at the Old Town Tortilla Factory? This longtime favorite is a little ritzier than your average Mexican dive, but a little less plastic than some of the neighboring Scottsdale joints. We love to kick… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, CENTRAL PHOENIX

    El Portal

    We still think Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox should leave office to do the public service she does best — running one of the best Mexican restaurants in town — but we've gotta admit, the lady does a pretty good job of multitasking. You'll often see Wilcox — along with members of her family, and a rotating selection of… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, SOUTH PHOENIX

    Los Dos Molinos

    Los Dos Molinos just might be the king of all neighborhood Mexican joints. It's festive, with glossy blue walls, shiny red chile peppers hanging from the ceiling, and loud music; reasonably priced; and, of course, delicious. The menu covers basics like tacos, enchiladas, and tamales, and the house specialties are unforgettable: adovada pork ribs marinated in red chile; fall-apart-tender pork… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, WEST VALLEY

    Garcia's Las Avenidas

    It's amazing what can spring from a humble taco stand. Fifty years ago, Olivia and Julio Garcia started small, dishing up home cooking out of a tiny spot with only two picnic tables for seating. Over the years, the business took on new life as the Garcias opened more restaurants, expanding into a well-known chain. Eventually, the family sold their… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, TEMPE

    El Peñasco Mexican Kitchen

    Owner Mayela Vargas named El Peñasco Mexican Kitchen after a tiny town in Chihuahua, Mexico, where her parents were born, and the hometown spirit shows. There's a village of miniature adobe homes on display in the middle of the room, murals of plants and pottery on the walls, and upbeat norteño on the stereo. Instead of chips, diners are presented… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, SOUTHEAST VALLEY

    El Zocalo Mexican Grille

    In Mexico, if you're hungry and looking for a lively gathering spot, you head to el zocalo, the bustling cultural epicenter of small towns and cities alike, where you can dine at an outdoor cafe and watch the world go by. In Chandler, if you're hungry and looking for a lively gathering spot, you head to this charming restaurant, situated… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, SCOTTSDALE

    El Molino Mexican Cafe

    Old Town Scottsdale isn't the first neighborhood that comes to mind for inspired Mexican food, which is why this unassuming, cheerful spot is such a pleasure to discover. Unlike glitzier restaurants a stone's throw away, where cocktails and cleavage compete with the eats, El Molino is all about the menu, full of scrumptious family recipes that've kept this place in… More >>
  • BEST MOLE

    Restaurant Mexico

    For years, college kids seeking a cheap meal and working professionals wanting a laid-back atmosphere for a break from business have been coming to this no-frills restaurant for irresistible Mexico City-style cuisine. There's no better time to come than Thursdays at lunch, where you can expect to find the joint filled with hungry folks chowing down on the $5.75 chicken… More >>
  • BEST COCHINITA PIBIL

    Asi Es La Vida

    Good thing we love Sonoran cuisine, because it dominates the menu at so many Mexican joints around these parts. But sometimes, for variety's sake, it's a thrill to get a taste of what lies a lot farther south of the border. In the case of Asi Es La Vida, we're talking about specialties from Mexico's central and southern regions. Everything… More >>
  • BEST TORTILLAS

    Carolina's

    We tried — no, make that really tried, just ask our editor — to see if anyone in town could beat out Carolina's, the perennial winner of Best Tortillas. Surely, we thought, this sprawling metropolis has got to have a feisty new contender in this category. And indeed, there are some great homemade tortillas to be had around town. But… More >>
  • BEST TAMALES

    Mucho Gusto Taqueria & Mexican Bistro - CLOSED

    Tamales are tricky. We can whip up a taco, but when it comes to tamales, we have no idea how to get the corn base moist and tasty, or where to begin to make a filling as delicious as the inside of a pork tamale at Mucho Gusto. This Tempe haunt is a favorite far and wide, for innovative Mexican… More >>
  • BEST BURRITO

    El Sol Mexican Cafe & Bakery

    You'll find all kinds of just-baked Mexican pastries on display at this sunny little nook, popular with the Chandler lunch crowd. But take one look at the menu, and it's pretty obvious what they do best at El Sol: burritos, which are the perfect showcase for El Sol's wonderful handmade tortillas. Start your morning with a cheap, hearty breakfast burrito,… More >>
  • BEST TORTAS (MEXICAN SAMMYS)

    Tortas La Presa

    Bigger than a Dagwood. Taller than a New York deli sammy. Able to foot-punch Quiznos' patootie with one slice of bread tied behind its back. That's a Mexican-style torta from Tortas La Presa on North Seventh Street. Not for the weak of arteries, a La Presa torta is a mountain of mozzarella, sliced hot dogs, fried eggs, chorizo, breaded strips… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN SEAFOOD

    Mariscos Playa Hermosa

    Maybe it's because we live deep in the middle of Cactus Country that we Phoenicians always seem to be craving seafood. Seems to explain the abundance of mariscos joints here in Sand Land, eh? Still, not all Mexican seafood establishments are created equal. So the one we always make a beeline for when that seafood craving overtakes us is Mariscos… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN HOT DOG

    Nogales Hot Dogs

    Nogales hot dogs are so very bad, and so very, very good. In fact, we like to think of these bacon-wrapped wieners drenched in mayo and topped with any number of condiments such as guacamole, cheese, pinto beans, onions, mushrooms, chopped tomatoes, and so on, along the same lines that we regard unprotected sex. It might not be the best… More >>
  • BEST CHILE RELLENO

    Rosita's Place

    We're chile relleno hunters, and we've spent years seeking the perfect specimen. In our culinary travels, we've encountered numerous wanna-bes, from rellenos that required a chain saw to those that collapsed in an indigestible heap, like a baking pie in an artillery range. Splat. The unassuming little restaurante named Rosita's has the best we've come across north of the… More >>
  • BEST TONGUE

    Asadero Norte de Sonora

    The best tongue we've ever had was at Bikini Lounge on a First Friday from this artist chick named Summer who had a pierced nose and dreadlocks, though, of course, we couldn't really eat that tongue. Heh, not that we didn't try! Haven't seen Summer in many a month, but we think about her every time we bite into one… More >>
  • BEST PALETAS (FROZEN FRUIT BARS)

    Moreliana Fruit Bars

    Cruise south down Central Avenue and you're likely to pass Moreliana Fruit Bars, the birthplace of one of our favorite things about summer — paletas, those sweet frozen bars hawked from little orange carts in the streets and avenues of Phoenix. For 21 years, Moreliana has been making a multitude of flavors — at the moment, nine cream-based and nine… More >>
  • BEST CARNICERÍA (MEAT MARKET)

    Super Carniceria La Hereford

    We have to wonder: If the cows are happier, does the meat taste better? Because that's the impression we get from Super Carniceria La Hereford, where blissful bovines populate the pasture on the store's colorful outside mural. Inside, you'll find upbeat accordion music, piñatas hanging from the ceiling, and miniature aisles of snacks, produce, and seasonings that'll catch your eye… More >>
  • BEST RASPADOS (SNOW CONES)

    Frutti Sweets

    We used to think cherry slushies were the bomb, until we tried the raspado de tamarindo (tamarind-flavored Mexican shaved ice) at Frutti Sweets, a cheerful little shop that also sells soda, paletas, and ice cream. This sugar-rush-inducing concoction is a potent blend of chile powder, ice, tamarindo, a squeeze of fresh lemon, and a squirt of chamoy (fruity chile sauce),… More >>
  • BEST TRES LECHES CAKE

    La Tolteca

    Does anyone in this town remember the Guggy's surprise cake? At this point, we're pretty sure we dreamed the whole thing up, but we have vivid memories of birthday cakes purchased at Guggy's coffee shop (there was one at Scottsdale Fashion Square, back in the day when that was still an outdoor mall) made of thick, rich layers of cake… More >>
  • BEST PANADERÍA (BAKERY)

    Azteca Bakery & Mexican Food

    Everyone has a weakness. For some, it's gambling. Sex. Chocolate. For us, it's Azteca's glorious conchas — swirled sweet rolls laced with a ribbon of sugary pastel icing. It's hard to go into this bakery and come out with less than a sackful of the light, flaky pastries. Founded by Bernardo Lopez in 1956, Azteca is now one of the… More >>
  • BEST LATIN FEAST

    The Spanish Place, Fifth Sunday Cultural Event

    Whenever a fifth Sunday squeezes into the crowded calendar, Nancy Lewis and her crew of Spanish cultural champions fill their mouths with linguistics and their bellies with delectable Latin food. The group samples authentic Latin cuisine outside of the standard Sonora, Mexico, fare, including the centrally located Havana Cafe (Cuban) and Eliana's (Salvadoran), the West Valley's Mi Cocina (Ecuadorian), and… More >>
  • BEST LUNCHTIME SERENADE

    Tradiciones

    At Phoenix Ranch Market's new sit-down Mexican restaurant, there's always music. Sometimes it's piped in, but more often, it's performed by live musicians — perhaps a band out on the courtyard stage, or a soloist singing romantic melodies from his vantage point behind a keyboard in the busy dining room. The spirited sounds make the festive atmosphere even more fun,… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO HEAR LIVE MARIACHI MUSIC

    La Casa del Mariachi

    The worst thing a Mexican restaurant can do is hire a bad mariachi band. Imagine being tied to your table, waiting for the check, while the Mexican Hat Dance plays for the umpteenth time. Shudder. We've been there. Thankfully, you won't have that experience at La Casa del Mariachi. Sure, the interior is pure kitsch, with faux tile roofs, candy-colored… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN RADIO STATION

    Club 95 Latino Vibe

    Even before reggaeton became all the rage in the Valley, Club 95 was playing hot tracks by reggaeton artists like Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Ivy Queen. The station also sponsored various reggaeton nights around the Valley, adding even more muscle to the growing music scene. Club 95's DJs also spin Mexican regional and Spanish pop, but in the… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO BUY NARCOCORRIDOS

    Discoteca de Joyas Musicales

    According to author Elijah Wald, there have been public cries to ban narcocorridos, or Mexican drug ballads, in Mexico since the '70s. Baja California jumped on the bandwagon with a voluntary ban in 2002. Even Arizona has considered a radio ban on narcos. Yeah, good luck with that. Often talked about as the cousin to gangsta rap, narcos hide… More >>
  • BEST PIÑATA STORE

    Dulceria Pico Rico

    What's a party without a piñata? Boring, we say. And what better way to acquire your piñata than with a one-stop party shop at Dulceria Pico Rico? This well-lighted, expansive shop on 16th Street, in the heart of what we've come to call Little Mexico, has a wide array of piñatas, in all the probably-not-sanctioned characters of the day —… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO FIND A QUINCEAÑERA DRESS

    Azteca Wedding Plaza

    The quinceañera was originally a religious coming-of-age ceremony that declared a young virgin eligible for marriage. Today, it's more like a Hispanic teenager's excuse to party. Yes, it's supposed to be about God, but what would a celebration of womanhood be without the perfect dress? Azteca Wedding Plaza specializes in quinceañera supplies, from frilly white dresses to wax-covered floral headpieces… More >>
  • BEST VENUE FOR BIG-NAME LATINO ACTS

    Dodge Theatre

    There's a reason hordes of Hispanics have been heading for downtown Phoenix in recent months, and it isn't to stage another massive demonstration for immigrant rights. It's because Dodge Theatre has become something of a hot spot for superstar Latino acts over the past year. The topflight, 5,000-seat venue has been packed with Chicanos from across the Valley, who show… More >>
  • BEST LATIN DJ

    DJ Big Latin

    Andy Herrera, a.k.a. DJ Big Latin, has been spinning cumbia, bachata, merengue, and reggaeton around the Valley for the past four years, and the portly Dominican has always been one step ahead of the trends, helping to launch the Valley's first (and still most popular) reggaeton night at Jackson's on 3rd, networking with the Valley's Latin radio stations, and bringing… More >>
  • BEST LATIN DANCE NIGHT

    Beat Lab Saturdays at Club Dwntwn

    In its past incarnation as the Crowbar, Club Dwntwn was a hip-hop and Top 40 palace catering to gay clientele. Now, the club is one of downtown's top gay Latin hot spots, offering two dance floors with DJ-spun cumbia, salsa and Spanish-language rock. Despite the recent surge in popularity, Latin-Jamaican hybrid reggaeton (pronounced "reggae-tone") is only played at a handful… More >>
  • BEST GAY LATIN DANCE NIGHT

    "Kaliente Saturdays" at Karamba

    No doubt about it now — Karamba is purely a gay Latin club, even if it's best known for having hosted the hugely popular '80s/electro/glam night "Hot Pink!" on Fridays. Club owners recently replaced "Hot Pink!" with "Vertigo Fridays," a reggaeton and Latin dance night, complete with lithe, gyrating go-go boys. The rest of the week is filled with Latino/Latina… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN NIGHTCLUB

    Club Macarena

    Although it might take you a few extra minutes to get through the long line outside this west-side Hispanic hangout, the wait will be well worth it, if for no other reason than to peep the outlandish fashions on display by the throng of Latino clubgoers who flock to the ultra-popular Club Macarena every weekend. Rancheros sport shiny new cowboy… More >>

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