Second Helpings

Safe Mex: As we enter the holiday period, Valley dwellers can count on finding three things in their homes: leftover turkey in the refrigerator, Christmas trees in the living room and visitors in the spare bedroom.

Many of these out-of-towners are curious to try Mexican food. So I've put together a list of places that will appeal to both an assortment of palates and holiday-challenged budgets.

For First-Timers:
El Bravo, 8338 North Seventh Street, Phoenix, 943-9753. This kitchen dishes out the stuff everyone has heard of: tacos, burros, chimichangas, enchiladas, rellenos, tamales. But nobody does it better. The machaca is particularly outstanding.

Los Sombreros, 1849 North Scottsdale Road, Tempe, 994-1799. A festive-looking place, with high-quality fare. Along with the usual suspects, there's posole, grilled skirt steak and red snapper roasted in a corn husk.

Rosa's Mexican Grill, 328 East University, Mesa, 964-5451. Attention, carnivores. Here's some of the best animal protein in the Valley. Beef, chicken and pork are marinated in fruit juices, then grilled. Great fish tacos, too. Family-friendly, and you benefit from Mesa's no-smoking ordinance.

Via Delosantos, 9120 North Central, Phoenix, 997-6239. Potent, 99 cent margaritas, irresistible nachos, hefty burros, fragrant tamales and big-league enchiladas give this neighborhood family operation more than neighborhood appeal.

For Adventurers:
La Guadalupana, 2243 North 16th Street, Phoenix, 254-5114. Brush up on your Spanish, and prepare yourself for some new tastes. Check out the fiery caldo tlalpeno soup and quesadilla de huitlacoche, a south-of-the-border delicacy rarely seen north of the Rio Grande.

Las Cazuelas, 5150 West McDowell, Phoenix, 278-4885. Popular with families. Outstanding Mexican seafood, especially the seven seas stew. First-rate landlubber specialties, too, like tortas, carnitas and chile verde.

San Carlos Bay Seafood Restaurant, 1901 East McDowell, Phoenix, 340-0892. Ocean fare doesn't get much better than this. Drop your line in for pescado Veracruzano, devilishly hot shrimp endiablados, tender octopus cocktails and a marvelous seafood chile relleno.

San Diego Bay Restaurant, 9201 South Avenida del Yaqui, Guadalupe, 839-2991. A real ethnic experience. Start off with the botana fria, an oversize platter brimming with shrimp, octopus, squid, oysters, abalone and ceviche. Then hook the shrimp entrees--you'll think you've gone to camarones heaven.

For the Healthful-Minded:
Blue Burrito Grille, 3118 East Camelback, Phoenix, 955-9596 (also 7318 East Shea, Scottsdale). Hold the lard. Hold the sodium. But don't hold the taste. No need to count calories with Heart Smart dishes like the blue corn vegetarian taco or the machaca chicken burro.

Minga's, 4323 West Cactus, Phoenix, 978-5167. Minga's ultra-lite dishes are a revelation. The sizzling halibut fajitas and oven-baked veggie chimichanga may change the way you think about Mexican food.

--Howard Seftel


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