Last month, we published our 2017 Best of Phoenix issue. Each year, we devote an entire chapter to Mexican food, drinks, restaurants, and shops. From breakfast burritos to late-night Sonoran hot dogs, whatever you crave, this list has you covered.
Best Upscale Mexican Restaurant: Barrio Café Gran Reserva
Considering the city's size, the roster of upscale Mexican restaurants in metro Phoenix is surprisingly small. Barrio Café Gran Reserva is a pleasant outlier, a small, intimate spot with fine-dining airs and a multicourse menu de degustación, with optional wine pairings. Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's refined and distinctive take on regional Mexican cooking is more interesting than the Mexican fare you'll find at most of the city's high-end resort restaurants. The intimacy of the space also adds to its general allure.
Best New Mexican Restaurant: Ladera Taverna y Cocina
Ladera Taverna y Cocina is the latest project from Genuine Concepts, which is better known for hip neighborhood outposts like The Vig than for its traditional Mexican restaurants. For its first Mexican concept, the group has tapped chef Jorge Gomez, who has devised an accessible menu of refined, regional Mexican cooking. Highlights include the cochinita pibil tacos and the savory green chile, both of which benefit from expert slow-cooking. The drink menu, featuring fun and novel diversions like a house margarita paired with a frozen paleta, is reason enough to visit.
Best Late-Night Mexican Food: Taqueria La Hacienda
It doesn't take long to fall in love with Taqueria La Hacienda. The taco selection is comprehensive — try the spicy chicharron if you love your pork with some heat — and the service is generally very prompt and friendly. Even better, night owls are well-accommodated. La Hacienda is open until midnight on weeknights and until 2 a.m. on the weekends. It's no wonder, then, that the truck has become a popular spot for late-night travelers making their way to and from nearby Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Best Mexican Restaurant to Take a Scenester: Tacos Chiwas
In a city glutted with Sonoran-style taquerias, Tacos Chiwas specializes in Chihuahuan staples like homemade gorditas and montados, generously stuffed or topped with specialties like desebrada, shredded beef slow-cooked in your choice of red or green sauce. For local scenesters, especially those looking to fill Instagram feeds with gorgeous platters of tacos and gorditas, a visit to Tacos Chiwas is an absolute must.
Best Mexican Sushi: El Tataki Sushi and Mexican Grill
In the burgeoning culinary genre that is Mexican sushi, El Tataki stands out as one of the most refined Mex-sushi spots in metro Phoenix. For newcomers to the Mex-sushi scene, this west-side spot is one of the best places in town to sample rolls like the Cielo, Mar y Tierra, a classic surf-and-turf roll made with shrimp, chicken, beef, avocado, and cucumber. The restaurant also serves a whole menu of traditional Japanese sushi, if that's your thing, as well as more conventional Mexican fare.
Best Mexican Restaurant to Take an Out-of-Towner: Barrio Cafe
Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's Barrio Cafe has been instrumental in helping advance and expand what we talk about when we talk about Mexican cooking in metro Phoenix. The chef's highly personal, regionally inspired take is refined, artistic, and bold, and you can pretty much say the same thing about any dish on the Barrio Cafe menu. The restaurant has earned national recognition over the years and has become the essential spot in town to take any out-of-towners with an interest in Mexican cuisine.
Best Mexican Grocery Store: Los Altos Ranch Market
When you come to Los Altos Ranch Market, it's best to budget more time than you think need for a quick grocery run. "Popping in" to pick up a few essentials can easily turn into an hourlong shopping expedition, thanks to Ranch Market's comprehensive selection of traditional Mexican and Latin American food items, including meats, produce, cheeses, fresh and dried herbs, and bakery items. If you get hungry, stop by the cafeteria for hot combo platters, or grab a fresh fruit drink at the agua fresca bar.
Best Mexican Food Court: Mercado de los Cielos
Mercado de los Cielos at Desert Sky Mall in west Phoenix is one of the biggest indoor Latino marketplaces in the city. The highlight of visiting El Mercado is its food court, which manages to squeeze several restaurants and snack shops into a somewhat diminutive space. Come here to snack on Mexico City-style specialties like pambazos and machetes; feast on platters of colorful Mexican-style sushi; or treat yourself to some Mexican raspados and aguas frescas.
Best Carnicería: Carnicería Castillo
The hand-lettered sign outside Carnicería Castillo in south Phoenix makes a bold claim: "The Best Carne Asada and Pollo al Carbon in Phoenix!" Thankfully, this is not just an empty boast. This longtime neighborhood butcher shop sells consistently great carne asada, along with some of the juiciest, smokiest grilled whole chickens in town, prepared daily on the grill outside and sold in big, gorgeously wrapped aluminum packs in the shop's small takeout kitchen.
Best Panadería: Pan y Pasteleria San Sebastian
For a small shop, the selection at Pan y Pasteleria San Sebastian in Sunnyslope is pretty astounding, running the gamut from staples like conchas, empanadas, and cuernitos, to harder-to-find pan dulce like cacahuates (creamy, peanut-shaped pastries). You'll also find muffins, fresh bolillos, and a nice assortment of cakes. You really can't beat the value and freshness, either, a winning combo at what is a truly great neighborhood panaderia.
Best Mexican Candy Shop: Dulceria Importaciones Valentinas
Dulceria Importaciones Valentinas is more than just a candy shop — it's a full-fledged party emporium. The store is festooned with brightly colored piñatas and balloons at every turn, and the selection of both Mexican and American candies is mind-boggling. The inventory runs the gamut from the classics — tamarind-flavored lollipops and mazapan — to the latest candy and snack fads imported from Mexico.
Best Burrito: Mucha Lucha Taco Shop
Tacos, obviously, are the specialty at Mucha Lucha Taco Shop. But while tacos may get all the glory, you will definitely want to indulge in one of the restaurant's enormous and delicious burritos. The Surf & Turf specialty burrito at Mucha Lucha is arguably one of the most ambitious in town. It's an overgrown tube crammed with spicy shrimp, carne asada, peppers, and rice.
Best Breakfast Burrito: El Horseshoe Restaurant
El Horseshoe Restaurant is a small, family-run Mexican restaurant that has a particularly strong breakfast menu. How about a breakfast burrito bulging with saucy machaca, eggs, and verduras (veggies)? Or a big, powdery flour tortilla wrapped around an eggy bundle of chorizo and potatoes, all of it beautifully lubricated with melted cheese? However you like it, the nice folks at El Horseshoe will graciously make you the breakfast burrito of your dreams.
Best Tacos: Ta'Carbon
Ta'Carbon is certainly not the prettiest taco spot in town. But it's nearly always the busiest. At both its west Phoenix and Glendale locations, the restaurant's mesquite grill never seems to get a rest, and the line never stops forming at the counter. The menu is simple yet complete, featuring very good carne asada, lengua, tripas, and even huevos de becerro, also known as calf fries. This is one of the few taquerias in town serving calf-fries tacos, and they are delicious.
Best Pozole: Pozoleria Mexican Food
Formerly known as Pozoleria Guerrero, Pozoleria Mexican Food is one of the city's finest purveyors of pozole. In the wrong hands, pozole can quickly devolve into a greasy, overly spicy jumble. Thankfully, this modest counter-service restaurant continues to deliver fragrant, flavorful pozole, made daily in three pork-laden varieties: white, red, and green.
Best Quesadilla: Tacos Sahuaro
Tacos may be the specialty of the house at Tacos Sahuaro, but this friendly counter-service restaurant also happens to be a destination for terrific quesadillas. The quesadillas at Tacos Sahuaro are extra-cheesy and thickly built on tortillas made from scratch daily. They come stuffed with your choice of meat; the selection includes standards like carne asada, pollo asado, and al pastor, along with harder-to-find offal like buche (pork stomach).
Best Carne Asada: Taqueria Los Yaquis
The menu at Taqueria Los Yaquis, a wildly popular Mexican food truck and Yelp sensation on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Camelback Road, is abbreviated, but it doesn't really matter. Most people line up for one thing: the carne asada, which is dark, griddle-charred, and chopped into bubbly, juicy nubs that are wrapped up in a warm, corn tortilla. It's simple carne asada, yet somehow always divine.
Best Torta: TEG Torta Shop
TEG Torta Shop is the sleek new name of Tortas El Guero, a longtime destination for massive and frequently delicious Mexican tortas. The name may be slightly revised, but the restaurant's expansive menu of sandwiches is as formidable as always. There are more than a dozen tortas on the menu, including harder-to-find specialties like colitas de pavo (turkey tail tortas); pork leg tortas; cochinita pibil; and classic configurations with pounded-thin milanesa steak.
Best Tortas Ahogada: Tortas Ahogadas George
There aren't too many places to find Guadalajaran-style tortas ahogadas in metro Phoenix, but it just happens to be the marquee specialty of Tortas Ahogadas George, a friendly counter-service restaurant situated in a Tolleson strip mall. The sandwiches are true flavor bombs: crusty loaves stuffed with shredded pork and then thoroughly drowned in a deliciously spicy, slightly watery salsa.
Best Enchilada: Presidio Cocina Mexicana
Presidio Cocina Mexicana is quietly earning a reputation as one of the strongest Mexican restaurants in midtown Phoenix. If you want to taste what makes Presidio special, order their enchilada plate. The simple dish is elevated with the restaurant's homemade, bold, bright sauces — beware, the red sauce is even spicier than the green, and both are on the spicier side.
Best Sonoran Hot Dogs: Hot Dogs El Caprichoso
The number of Sonoran hot dog carts has multiplied in metro Phoenix over the years, but El Caprichoso is still the best. The beloved hot dog cart has been in operation for more than 20 years, so it's no surprise that its hot dog has been fine-tuned to near-perfection. The hot dog is squeezed onto a fluffy split-top roll that is beautifully griddle-charred. If you order it with all the toppings, it comes ladled with beans and pico, dusted with cheese, and decorated with a squiggle of mayonnaise.
Best Chimichanga: Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant
One of the most unforgettable chimichangas in the city is on the menu at Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant, a staple of Seventh Avenue in central Phoenix. For a distinctively Mediterranean take on the classic deep-fried burrito, the Baja Spinach & Feta Cheese Chimi is irresistible. It's crammed full of spinach, but the general blandness of the greens is overwhelmed by lavish amounts of melted cheese and the restaurant's signature cream cheese Baja sauce.
Best Tamales: The Tamale Store
The Tamale Store is a small, family-run shop in north Phoenix that delivers a killer assortment of homemade tamales. There are few places around town where you can find as diverse a selection of tamales as you will here. Chicken mole, green chile pork, bean and cheese, and even a healthy selection of vegetarian and vegan tamales are all readily available. The tamales are sturdy and thick, half-pound bundles of pure flavor.
Best Chilaquiles: Comedor Guadalajara
There is almost always a line to get into Comedor Guadalajara in south-central Phoenix, including for breakfast. Maybe it has something to do with the irresistible allure of the chilaquiles? They are wonderful — a little soupy, drenched in savory red sauce, and just spicy enough to make them interesting. The mountain of saucy chilaquiles comes topped with a couple of eggs, and the dish only seems to taste better as the minutes tick by.
Best Nachos: Juan's Authentic Mexican Food
If you're a secret (or not-so-secret) aficionado of nachos, consider paying a visit to Juan's Authentic Mexican Food, an old-fashioned and unassuming Mexican restaurant on Thomas Road, where the nachos are made in their full and abundant glory. Get the Supreme Nachos, which are loaded with your choice of beef or chicken (the ground beef seems to work the best), plus generous scatterings of tomatoes, green onions, beans, and of course, small lakes of melty, buttery cheese.
Best Elote: ACR Elotes
ACR Elotes is certainly the best elote cart in metro Phoenix, but it's also one of the most elusive. It's worth chasing down this particular elote cart, though, which does not always keep regular hours but which makes regular appearances on Calle 16. Bring cash, and prepare to delight in the pleasure of a cup of freshly prepared elote. The kernels are tossed in bright, vivid blend of cotija cheese, mayo, butter, lemon juice, and secret spices.
Best Guacamole: Rita's Mexican Food
Rita's Mexican Food is one of the west side's quiet gems, a long-running Mexican restaurant with refined airs and great service. It also happens to have some seriously good guacamole. Order it tableside, which at Rita's feels less like a trite menu cliché and more like a delicious indulgence. The whole avocados are sliced right in front of you, the meat of the fruit smashed against finely sliced onions and tomatoes, and seasoned to your liking.
Best Salsa: El Gallo de Lagos Taqueria
El Gallo de Lagos Taqueria delivers a very strong assortment of tacos and is also known for its birria, tortas, huaraches, flautas, sopes, and quesadillas. Only one thing makes all of these delicious dishes taste even better, and it's the house-made assortment of salsas: a deliciously tangy green salsa, a spicy red salsa, and a heady chile-infused oil salsa that might bring to mind the stuff you find at your favorite Sichuan spot.
Best Tortilla: La Sonorense Tortilla Factory
The hallmark of La Sonorense Tortilla Factory in south Phoenix is the factory's buttery, papery thin flour tortillas, which contain only a handful of ingredients — including flour, shortening, water, and salt — and pressed to a thin yet pliant consistency. They are marvelous, as are the factory's signature yellow corn tortillas. Swing by the friendly storefront early in the morning, when you can pick up a pack of tortillas hot off the conveyor belt.
Best Nopales Dish: El Tlacoyo
Nopalitos remain strangely absent from many Mexican restaurants in the Valley, despite the fact that they are a ubiquitous ingredient in so many strains of Mexican cooking. But you can always find nopales at El Tlacoyo in Tempe. Most people go to feast on specialties like barbecued lamb, but don't overlook a fresh-made huarache smothered in beans, crumbly white cheese, and topped generously with a bright, tangy and oniony salad of nopalitos.
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Best Mexican Seafood: Mariscos Ensenada
Mariscos Ensenada is one of the most reliable sources of fresh Mexican mariscos in the Valley. Whether you're on the hunt for your Sunday morning Michelada or a platter of palate-tingling aguachile, the menu here is expansive. Highlights include botana mixta de camaron y pulpo, an invigorating shrimp and octopus salad. Don't miss Mariscos Ensenada's take on the pineapple-stuffed seafood, a dish you have to see to believe.
Best Beans: Asadero Toro
If you're the kind of Mexican food aficionado who can appreciate a well-made side of beans, it's worth taking note of Asadero Toro. First, there's the bean and cheese burrito, a simple classic that nevertheless has been known to produce feelings of immeasurable joy. Then there's the simple side of beans, which you can order with pretty much anything on the menu. The beans are about as creamy as melted Brie, and lovingly seasoned to extract intense flavor from the humble legume.