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La Vida

  • BEST RASPADOS

    La Reyna Michoacana

    On a sizzling afternoon, we've found a way to beat the heat that's even better than a slushie: a Mexican slushie. Made with fresh fruit chunks, flavored syrups, and scoops of shaved ice, they're called raspados and do they ever hit the spot when the heat's starting to make us a bit loco. La Reyna Michoacana, a cheerful sweet shop… More >>
  • BEST PALETAS

    Moreliana Fruit Bars

    When summertime arrives — you know, in early March — we start craving Mexican popsicles, known as paletas. This year, we started the hunt for the cantaloupe bars we recalled from last season, but it wasn't easy to find them. We remembered Moreliana's cute packaging (a boy and girl enjoying their paletas) but figured, hey, one paleta's as good as… More >>
  • BEST SUNDAE, MEXICAN STYLE

    Fruitti Sweets

    There's nothing like an ice cream sundae to satisfy a sweet tooth. Not just any sundae, mind you, but the kind of layered confection that's so good you'll forget there's such a thing as a love handle. With south-of-the-border Coke in glass bottles, nachos, and wicked chile tamarind raspados, too, this isn't your ordinary ice cream shop. Fruitti Sweets is… More >>
  • BEST TRES LECHES CAKE

    La Tolteca

    We have a very good friend who's a very good cook, and recently, she let on that she's been perfecting a recipe for tres leches cake. We put in an order for our birthday, but 'til then, we will continue to worship La Tolteca's version. Tres leches means "three milks," indicating the main ingredients: condensed, evaporated, and whole milk. All… More >>
  • BEST FLAN

    Los Sombreros Mexican Restaurant

    It doesn't matter if we feast on a platter of fabulous carne asada, or inhale a whole basket of chips with queso fundido or chunky homemade guacamole — we always have room for dessert at Los Sombreros, one of the best places in the Valley for gourmet Mexican food. In particular, we're fanatics of the flan, served up in a… More >>
  • BEST PANADERÍA

    Flores Bakery

    We can't tell you how happy we are that the Atkins diet trend has completely fizzled. For a while there, Mexican pastries were our naughty little secret, an indulgence that we couldn't sheepishly mention without getting dirty looks from our protein-obsessed friends. But now that everybody's back to embracing over-the-top carbs (how else to explain the cupcake phenomenon?), we'll tell… More >>
  • BEST VIETNAMESE BAKERY THAT CATERS TO MEXICANS

    Bamboo Bakery

    David Pham is a classically trained French pastry chef from Vietnam who runs a Phoenix bakery that caters mainly to Mexicans. Don't you just love America? (Okay, don't answer that. We're sick of you bigots out there!)In any case, Pham has certainly added a dose of sugar to the local melting pot with the Bamboo Bakery. Initially, Pham focused on… More >>
  • BEST EYE CANDY ON THE WALLS

    Realeza Michoacana

    Since those popsicle pushcarts are, literally, moving targets, when we get a taste for our favorite paletas, we head to this sweet little shop, where the freezer is always packed with cantaloupe, watermelon, and tamarind popsicles. Realeza Michoacana also sells a wide variety of ice cream and fresh fruit spiked with chile, as well as a bakery case full of… More >>
  • BEST AGUAS FRESCAS

    Phoenix Ranch Market

    Why is there always a line at the grass-roofed hut next to the open dining area at Phoenix Ranch Market? Because all those hungry shoppers need something thirst-quenching to go with the burritos, tacos, and tortas they're getting at the hot foods counter, and these refreshing, cantina-style drinks (most made with fresh fruit juices) taste good with everything. Not to… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN COFFEE DRINK

    La Olla Coffee Company

    Hey, have you been to Christown Mall lately? That is one weird mall, dude. You walk inside — and there's a Costco. And a Wal-Mart.Luckily, in between the two, along with Famous Footwear and Claire's, is La Olla. It's a cubby of a coffee shop, and we would never have found it if a good friend with a taste for… More >>
  • BEST MOLE

    Mini Mercado Oaxaca - CLOSED

    Even though mole shows up on a lot of menus around town, it's usually the token Oaxacan entree in a sea of Sonoran specialties. But at Mini Mercado Oaxaca — located in the heart of Sunnyslope, where the burgeoning Oaxacan community has earned the 'hood the nickname "Little Oaxaca" — the mole isn't just a stand-alone regional item. Here, it's… More >>
  • BEST TORTILLAS

    Carolina's

    We've given Carolina's "Best Tortillas" more times than we can count, but don't assume we're being lazy just because we're giving them the honor again. Seriously, we spend all year thinking about tortillas, comparing the offerings at every Mexican place we visit to the hot, homemade beauties we find here.Indeed, there are lots of tasty tortillas in these parts, but… More >>
  • BEST QUESADILLAS

    Restaurant Mexico

    The first time we ordered a quesadilla at this downtown Tempe eatery, we had to do a double-take when it arrived with our meal — it was unlike any we'd ever seen. Usually, we have some kind of melted cheese-and-tortilla thing in mind.But at Restaurant Mexico, where the menu focuses on Mexico City-style dishes, the kitchen has a lighter touch… More >>
  • BEST TAMALES

    El Bravo

    What makes the green corn tamales at El Bravo so addicting? Is it the moist, sweet masa, or the creamy, tangy green sauce? We're not sure, but we know that every time we visit this cheerful, family-run nook, we can't resist ordering one. The menu's filled with other temptations, too — like burros made with thin, homemade tortillas, and a… More >>
  • Los Reyes de la Torta

    BEST TORTAS

    Los Reyes de la Torta

    Sooner or later, you're going to blow your diet, so you might as well come to Los Reyes de la Torta and enjoy every guilt-inducing bite of their gargantuan Mexican sandwiches. There's hardly anything here for vegetarians, but if you're a meat lover, you'll get a week's worth of protein (not to mention calories) stuffed into one big bun. Can't… More >>
  • BEST COMBINATION PLATE

    Mi Cocina Mi Pais

    Okay, we know what you're thinking. "How much can a restaurant improve on the time-honored taco, enchilada, and chile relleno platter?" Our answer: When it doesn't include any of the above.We're used to getting variety at Mexican restaurants, but Mi Cocina Mi Pais has won us over by sheer novelty, with a tasty culinary repertoire that ventures much farther south… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN SEAFOOD

    San Carlos Bay Seafood Restaurant

    Close your eyes, pretend the sound of cars passing by on McDowell is actually waves crashing on the shore of the Sea of Cortez, and let your taste buds take a beach vacation at San Carlos Bay, where you'll find the finest Sonoran-style seafood in town. Perfectly cooked shrimp dishes are plentiful here. No matter what you're craving, the menu… More >>
  • BEST MODERN MEXICANA RESTAURANT

    Padre's Modern Mexican Cuisine - CLOSED

    A downside of most Mexican restaurants in the Valley is menu fatigue. We love classic Sonoran dishes, but sometimes a break from tradition is just what we're craving. At times like those, we head to Padre's, where Mexican food comes with a twist.For starters, we're hooked on the lobster thermidor quesadilla, and lately we can't resist the cilantro mousse with… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN BRUNCH

    Barrio Café

    A lot's been written about chef-owner Silvana Salcido Esparza's creative, contemporary Mexican fare, from the fresh guacamole with pomegranate seeds, prepared tableside, to her hauntingly delicious cochinita pibil, fork-tender pork that's been slow-cooked for 12 hours.Indeed, we still think Barrio Café is worthy of every "Best of" we've given it. But brunch here is still — 'til now, anyway —… More >>
  • BEST FAMILY-FRIENDLY MEXICAN RESTAURANT

    Tradiciones

    When you need to please the kids and the grandparents alike, head to Tradiciones. Heck, you might as well invite your extended family while you're at it, because the colorful dining room has abundant seating for large groups. Ordering appetizers is a snap, thanks to the generous sampler plate, and "La Parillada," the house-specialty platter heaped high with sizzling grilled… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, CENTRAL PHOENIX

    Rosita's Place

    We couldn't dream up a better neighborhood Mexican joint than Rosita's Place. It's got that been-there-forever charm — with rustic décor, and a bubbling water fountain that flows into a tiny fish pond — along with welcoming service from waitresses decked out in ruffled dresses. The prices are old school, too. This is the kind of restaurant where you can… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, SOUTH PHOENIX

    Comedor Guadalajara

    The Sanchez family's South Central eatery has been around nearly 40 years, thanks to tasty Sonoran cuisine and a welcoming atmosphere fit for families — the sprawling dining rooms here go on and on, each one painted a more colorful hue than the last.Comedor Guadalajara's menu is pretty extensive, too, with burritos, tacos, chimichangas, and a nice selection of combination… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, WEST VALLEY

    Pedro's

    From the looks of its plain, brick exterior, it's hard to tell how hoppin' it is inside Pedro's, but once you snag a table and dig in to dinner here, you'll immediately get why this place has become a west-side institution.The Sonoran-style eats are homey and flavorful, and portions are downright grande — the burros, in particular, are quite a… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, SOUTHEAST VALLEY

    Guedo's Cantina Grille

    Who knew that a couple of tacos and some cerveza is all it takes to feel like you're on vacation? The beachy vibe at Guedo's is so true to the laid-back spirit of Baja that the only thing missing is the smell of the ocean breeze. Outside, the patio is decked out with palapas, palm trees, and plenty of misters.… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, TEMPE

    Casa Reynoso

    Tucked into the corner of a strip mall where Fry's is the main attraction, Casa Reynoso doesn't look like much from the parking lot. Inside, though, it's cozy, with lots of archways, wrought iron, hanging plants, and pottery. Grab one of the booths and take your time with the menu, which showcases recipes handed down through generations of the Reynoso… More >>
  • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, SCOTTSDALE

    Los Olivos Mexican Patio

    Los Olivos' original Scottsdale location has been around for decades, and it's one of the funkiest Mexican restaurants in the Valley. The quirky blue room, just a step past the lobby, looks like a psychedelic underwater scene, with a big fish tank and a cluster of bubble-shaped skylights that cast a cool glow on tables full of diners. Meanwhile, the… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN CHAIN WE HOPE GROWS HERE

    Costa Vida

    A good friend led us to Costa Vida because it's become her favorite lunch spot, not only because of the salads on a tortilla (not in a tortilla — these aren't fried; instead, they're layered with beans, your choice of meat, veggies, and cheese) but also because of the free cheese crisps for kids 5 and under. Very tasty —… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT CHAIN WE'RE GLAD IS A CHAIN

    3 Margaritas

    There's nothing fancy about 3 Margaritas, a lesser-known, smaller chain than the big guns in town. We stumbled upon it only recently, and were so happy to find it. From the chips to the fajitas, everything was fresh and tasty, with no big surprises, except that we hadn't discovered it earlier. It's a great family restaurant with enough fire on… More >>
  • BEST PIÑATA

    Sanchez and Sons

    Living so close to the border, we don't have much trouble finding a run-of-the-mill piñata. Even gringo-friendly markets like Safeway carry piñatas shaped like SpongeBob and Disney princesses. But if you want the real deal, not just some assembly-line rip-off, Sanchez and Sons is the place to go. Each piñata here is handmade, and owner Amador Sanchez says his crew… More >>
  • BEST NON-AGGRESSIVE PIÑATA

    Party City

    You'd think, here in Phoenix, a really good piñata would be easy to come by. Think again. It took us months to land our "Best Piñata" winner, and at that, the kind gentleman who sold us our red, blue and orange burro admitted he doesn't carry the "pull piñata" model. The pull piñata is popular among the toddler set —… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO BUY A QUINCEAÑERA DRESS

    Bridals by Ofelia

    In Latin American culture, a young girl's quinceañera (her 15th birthday) marks her movement from child to woman. The first thing that delighted us about this dress shop was the coincidental (and, yes, alternately spelled) name Ofelia, which brings to mind one of Shakespeare's most tragic teenagers — Ophelia, who drowned herself for love before she was even allowed to… More >>
  • BEST ONE-STOP SHOPPING FOR QUINCEAÑERA NEEDS

    Quince Girl Expo

    Planning a quinceañera is as complicated and stressful as planning a wedding. You need the dress, the venue, the flowers, the photographer — the list goes on. Fortunately for young Latinas planning their sweet 15, there's Quince Girl magazine, a sort of one-stop advice shop to guide the girls, and their stressed-out moms, through the planning process. Once a year,… More >>
  • BEST WAY TO DRESS FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM

    Ch.A.L.E. Clothing

    Ch.A.L.E. stands for Chicanos Achieving Latino Equality, and founder Leticia Almezaga certainly gets the point across with the sloganized T-shirts and accessories for sale on her Web site. The online clothing shop based in Phoenix was born around the same time as Almezaga's daughter, when she needed a way to support herself. The shop is bursting with pride por la… More >>
  • BEST CHICANO STYLE

    Chicano Style

    Sorry for the unoriginal award title, but we figured the name of this fashion outpost says it all. Chicano Style comes highly recommended by none other than our own "¡Ask A Mexican!," Gustavo Arellano. "The Mexican" hails from Orange County, and, as it turns out, so do the Chicano Style peeps, who've set up their first shop outside California at… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN IMPORTS

    Mercado Mexico

    We stumbled across this spot while trying to avoid rush-hour traffic (Guadalupe has a speed limit of 25 miles per hour, but it's better than sitting bumper to bumper with Arizona Mills patrons.) And lucky us, because it is literally room after colorful room of imported Mexican treasure. Narrow aisles hold hundreds of glass margarita pitchers, Talavera (that brightly colored… More >>
  • BEST RUSTIC MEXICAN FURNITURE

    El Pueblito

    The best thing about carved Mexican furniture is the unfinished style of the truly authentic pieces. The look has become so popular in the Southwest that every furniture store, from Sears to Levitz, offers an imitation. But the replicas are too shiny, too polished.Not so at El Pueblito. You can run your hands over the huge pine and mahogany tables… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO GET OLD MEXICO STYLE ON A BUDGET

    Razmataz

    We'll say it right now and get it out of the way: Mother knows best.Okay, happy now, Mom?True story: We were out and about in Scottsdale, doing deep undercover research for this year's "Best of." (Hey, it's a nasty job, but someone's gotta do it.) And we wanted to round out the "La Vida" section with a place that offers… More >>
  • BEST ACTION
    IN A PARKING LOT

    Sundays at Phoenix Ranch Market

    We'd like to be jet-setting hipsters with unlimited travel budgets. Sadly, we're just working stiffs with tiny bank accounts. When we're ready for some out-of-town fun without the TSA screening, we head to Phoenix Ranch Market on Sunday for some parking lot people-watching. Enormous grills cook up delectable eats while fantastically loud local radio stations with promotional booths tempt you… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN NEIGHBORHOOD

    Sunnyslope

    We knew we'd found the best Mexican neighborhood in town when we heard that Silvana Salcido Esparza lives there. After all, Chef Silvana, as she's known to fans of her Barrio Café, runs one of the best Mexican restaurants in town, on one of our most-traveled paths, 16th Street.We asked her to share some Mexican favorites in Phoenix, and among… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO BUY MEXICAN FOLK ART

    The Purple Lizard

    This upscale boutique in central Phoenix takes the prize in this category because it offers items we simply have never seen anywhere else. Sure, there's the expected mix of loteria games, Frida Kahlo replicas and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) figurines. But resting on a high shelf is a collection of true treasures — wood statues of… More >>
  • BEST LATINA ART COLLECTIVE

    Phoenix Fridas

    Frida Kahlo remains an important Latina cultural and feminist icon for many artists (even after that awful movie they made about her a few years ago), so it makes sense that she's the namesake for this local women's artist collective. The Phoenix Fridas, as you might guess, focus their work around Mexican folk-art traditions, though they go about it in… More >>
  • BEST BROWN-TOWN BILINGUE POWER-BOOSTER

    City of Phoenix Latino Institute

    About 10 years ago, the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation department noticed a town that was brown. "With Latinos poised to become the majority in Phoenix in the near future," says Carmela Ramirez, "we needed to be ready to help empower our community and stop others from taking advantage of us." Ramirez, along with co-founders Albert Santana and Diane… More >>
  • BEST BIGOT

    Rusty Childress

    The competition for Best Bigot was fierce. With the debate over illegal immigration raging, there were so many nominees: Sheriff Joe Arpaio, County Attorney Andy Thomas, Governor Janet Napolitano, State Representative Russell Pearce, white supremacist J.T. Ready. It was hard to ignore Arpaio's illegal immigrant hotline. Who can forget Thomas' novel idea of charging illegals with "conspiring" to smuggle themselves… More >>
  • BEST LATIN RADIO STATION

    95.1 Latino Vibe

    While it's moved away from its mostly reggaeton format in the past year, Latino Vibe still airs NYC DJ Kazzanova's reggaeton mix in a prime Saturday spot (8 to 10 p.m.), and its own on-air talent — like the lovely Jackie Morales on weekdays and Raul RocDaHouse on weekends — still sometimes spin songs by the genre's breakout stars like… More >>
  • BEST BILINGUE RADIO-WAVE BARRIO

    La Buena Onda 1190, "El Break"

    They have big brown muscles, big brown mouths and big brown boobs. But most importantly, they have big brains and huge hearts. The hot, hipster crew from "El Break" is the best shot in the arm of political activism for the local Latino community since Chicanos por la Causa. This is a modern day crop of activistas who have their… More >>
  • BEST LATIN ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY

    Ritmo Latino

    Albert Lineses III, better known as DJ AL3, has been dedicated to building a better Latin nightclub community since he began spinning mixes around the Valley in the early '90s. With the establishment of Ritmo Latino Entertainment in 2005, AL3 created an enterprise "for Latinos, by Latinos," which has grown to include the hottest weekend Latin dance nights in town.… More >>
  • BEST LOCAL HOPE FOR A RONSTADT RETURN

    Marisa Ronstadt

    Her cousin Linda ain't got nothing on her. Marisa Ronstadt is making a name for herself in the music world. After spending years touring locally in Phoenix with different groups including Los Amigos, Pazport, and Straight Up, Ronstadt is starting to get recognized in La-La Land. The South Mountain High graduate grew up rooted by the rock and mariachi sounds… More >>
  • BEST PLACE TO HEAR LIVE MARIACHI MUSIC

    Garcia's Las Avenidas

    Mariachis at a Mexican food restaurant? Typical, right? The crooners at Garcia's Las Avenidas are anything but. Walk into this old-school Mexican restaurant on a Saturday night and you will hear the bittersweet harmonies of a live mariachi band wafting through the building. Starting at 6 p.m., the band makes the rounds, serenading tables that make requests. The family-owned restaurant… More >>
  • BEST LATIN DJ

    DJ Big Latin

    To paraphrase the moniker of the great James Brown, Andy Herrera (a.k.a. Big Latin) is the hardest-working DJ in the Valley's Latin music scene. When he isn't busy handling promotions for locally owned label Nastyboy Records or bringing big name acts like DJ Kane to town, the stout spinster has spent the past five years working the wheels of steel… More >>
  • BEST REGGAETON NIGHT

    Friday Nights at Henry Jack's Place

    Daddy Yankee gets some serious play on Friday nights at Henry Jack's Place, as does Don Omar, Pitbull, N.O.R.E., and Hector El Father. No, playa-hater, we ain't firing off a list of Latin Lotharios who've been hooking up at this Avondale nightspot. It's a rockin' rundown of the superstar reggaeton artists whose hits are getting spun on the turntables of… More >>
  • BEST GAY LATIN DANCE NIGHT

    Fridays at Paco Paco Club Premiere

    Though the dilapidated exterior of Paco Paco makes it look as if it's fit for demolition, inside is a fiery Latin disco-dive that lures in P-Town peeps from across the GLBT spectrum every Friday because of its hot beats, stiff drinks, and unpretentious atmosphere. Bare-chested boys, luscious lesbians, transgender types, and other members of the swishy set reign supreme on… More >>
  • BEST VA-QUEER-O BAR

    Club Zarape

    Don't try ordering an apple-tini here. It's a gay bar, but not that kind. No fancy drinks, electronica or twinky go-go boys. At Club Zarape, the standard swill is a can of Tecate beer with a lime wedge and salt packet on top. The place, which looks like the piñata aisle at Food City with all the colored paper and… More >>
  • BEST VA-QUEER-A BAR

    Cash Inn

    It's not necessarily a cholo bar, but it may as well be with all the tank tops, spiky crew cuts and sagging-pantalones vaqueros at this joint. The Cash Inn is one of the best va-queer-o/a friendly bars in town. It's country, but to be cool, you don't have to be. While some girls who like girls can be spotted two-stepping… More >>
  • BEST LATIN DANCE CLUB

    Sky Lounge

    While the perpetual chaos of light-rail construction has snarled downtown Phoenix, you'll definitely want to brave the bulldozers and barricades choking Copper Square to get a heaping helping of Hispanic hotness and Latin luxury at the Sky Lounge.This bilevel beat emporium is like a Baskin-Robbins of Latin dance music, with multiple flavors of sweet and sultry sounds blasting from both… More >>
  • BEST NEW LATIN NIGHTSPOT

    Rain Club & Lounge - CLOSED

    Everything about Rain is cool. Whether it's the front door surrounded in electric-blue lighting, a pair of cerulean-colored bubble columns near the dance floor, monsoon-themed video projections on the walls, or a couple of twisted metal dance cages that shoot jets of fog every 15 minutes, this new Scottsdale nightspot in the Papago Plaza showers us with swank. In fact,… More >>
  • BEST MEXICAN NIGHTCLUB

    Club Tropicana - CLOSED

    This upscale nightclub caters to a mostly Latino/a clientele, but everyone's welcome. Formerly the Rockin' Horse Saloon, Club Tropicana is a complete departure from the biker/cowboy vibe of RHS. The music is mostly a mash-up of salsa and merengue, whether the tunes are coming from a live band like the Pan Americana Salsa & Merengue Orchestra, or DJs like Pooya,… More >>
  • BEST MARGARITA

    Cadillac pint

    This ain't no Hyundai, baby. The Cadillac is a monstrous witch's brew that rivals a properly constructed Long Island iced tea for pure liver-pummeling power. It's also — quite shockingly — as good as or better than anything we've come across in the countless Mexican cantinas we've frequented over the years. And it's made by... the British? Except when it… More >>
  • BEST FROZEN MARGARITA

    Z'Tejas

    We used to sneer at those amateurs who insisted on making this tequila-and-lime confection take a pass through the blender. The best margaritas, we'd insist, are always on the rocks. Then we were introduced to the Sixth Street Margarita at the cavernous, comfortably dim Tempe franchise of this laid-back chain. Okay, so they're talking about the Sixth Street in Austin,… More >>
  • BEST HIBISCUS MARGARITA

    Mucho Gusto

    As we began to see hibiscus pop up as a trendy ingredient in hot spots from San Francisco to New York City, we were reminded of where we saw it first: Mucho Gusto. This cute Tempe cafe has consistently great specialty margaritas, none of them better than one infused with hibiscus. We especially like it in the drink's frozen incarnation.… More >>
  • BEST TEQUILA SELECTION

    Old Town Tortilla Factory

    Sitting in the patio of this gorgeous old hacienda, surrounded by twinkling lights and leafy trees, feels something like visiting the home of an old friend with excellent taste — and a huge collection of premium tequilas. The restaurant's bar, or "margaritas tequileria," features 100 agave distillations, and trust us: We have yet to try one that doesn't go down… More >>
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