A glance at El Bravo's menu is deceptively ho-hum -- beef burros, chicken tacos, chimichangas, combo plates.

Don't be fooled. This food may sound like Taco Bell, but it tastes authentic. Everything is made fresh in the restaurant's open kitchen, and owner Carmen Tafoya isn't shy about sneaking in the spices where appropriate -- her red chile beef packs a mean left hook. The tanker-size tamales are fluffy; the chicken green corn positively floats off the plate, studded with lots of fresh kernels, peppery white-meat chicken and cheese under green chile sauce.

Both sides of the border can rejoice!

We're not morning people. We admit it. If God had meant for people to be awake in the morning, he wouldn't have had to create alarm clocks.

There's little that can convince us to leave our warm bed at the crack of dawn (has anyone else noticed that a mattress never fits so perfectly as it does just before we're forced to leave it?).

Good chorizo is one of those things, though, that rouses our head from the pillow, summons us to our slippers, and gets us to greet the day with a smile.

That's a pretty big accomplishment for just $4.50, but La Cabana pulls it off with its huevos con chorizo meal (to be accurate, the dish should read chorizo con huevos, such is the generous ratio of highly spiced chile-vinegar-garlic sausage to egg). The sausage is a wonderful jump-start to the day -- dry, salty, smoky -- and only gets better when we fold it into a corn tortilla spread with gorgeously runny refried beans.

Sometimes we mix it up, adding thin guacamole from the on-ice salsa bar, alternating munches with bites of cool lettuce, radish, and cucumber drizzled with lime. A cold horchata drink is just the thing, too, tasting comfortingly like wet tapioca and soothing some of the chorizo burn.

The only problem? After finishing the plate, we're so stuffed, we want to go right back to bed.

Who'd have thought that something so simple could be so good?

While other places may fry their fish in batter and pile on the sauces and cheese, chef-owner Rita Aramburo leaves the Mrs. Paul's approach to seafood tacos to others.

The catfish here is remarkably flavorful, sautéed in chunks with tomato, onion and a touch of seasoning. The vegetables are soft, warm, and cooked down so their juices blend with the firm fish -- so savory, and much better than the cold veggie chop we find in other tacos around town.

The uncomplicated mix is wrapped in a grilled corn tortilla, with nothing more to add than a squeeze of lemon and a splash of Rita's killer spicy salsa.

Rita's fish tacos? We're hooked.

Sure, we could tell you that the seafood cocktails here are so fresh that you'll swear you can hear sea gulls overhead.

Or that the Sea of Cortez cookery (try the garlic shrimp with rice and beans) is so authentic that you'll actually think you can smell the salty ocean air.

Or that a visit to San Carlos Seafood is so enjoyable that you'll believe you've been magically transported to a cantina on a south-of-the-border shore.

Instead, we'd just like to steer you to the most delicious Mexican-style seafood the Valley has to offer, served up in a no-frills joint on a seedy stretch of East McDowell. But if you want to pretend that freeway overpass right down the road is an Aztec temple, be our guest. As for us, we'll have another ceviche tostada.

Had Fannie Flagg, author of Fried Green Tomatoes, grown up in south Phoenix and not Alabama, she might have written Green Corn Tamales instead.

And if she had, her inspiration couldn't have come from a more mouth-watering specimen of the titular delicacy than the steamed fluffy packets offered up at Carolina's.

Long famed for her tortillas, Carolina really shows her culinary flair with these heavenly blankets of golden masa wrapped around a few green chile slices, a sprinkle of fresh corn kernels and a molten glob of cheese. The bundles of joy are then wrapped in a corn husk, steamed and served piping hot at $1.20 a pop.

And maybe it's a good thing Fannie never got around to writing the book on green corn tamales. Looks like Carolina already beat her to it.

Chile experts warn us never to touch any sensitive part of our body after handling spicy peppers. The Blue Adobe Grille's carne adovada will remind you why.

Red chiles grown in New Mexico are notorious for their wicked heat -- a fact that the chefs here adroitly exploit in their torrid sauce of this incendiary pork chili.

Dig pain? Drip some of the thick sauce straight onto your tongue. It's so fiery in the back of your throat you'll actually cough.

But even the most masochistic Mexican food buff will probably admit that the potent pork-and-pepper concoction is best enjoyed when wrapped in a flour tortilla, then tamed a bit with whole beans and rice.

But whatever you do, don't rub your eyes. You don't want to go blind, do you? Just eat enough until you need glasses.

When made correctly, a chimichanga is a wicked indulgence of crisp shell and juicy innards. Mangos knows this. It also knows that for a killer chimi, the staples, including the hubcap-size flour tortillas, must be freshly made. Equally important is meticulous deep-frying. The shell must be good enough to eat on its own, and never hidden under buckets of sauces, melted cheese or olives stuck with tiny paper Mexican flags. Scoops of fresh guacamole and cool sour cream are appropriate accouterments, and Mangos serves them alongside its chimichanga.

There can be no compromising on meat, either. Mangos does it well with succulent pork, the hearty chunks swimming in tingly green chile verde sauce; or as chile rojo, with red sauce kicked up to an even higher octave.

The crowning touch to a cherished chimi? Ice-cold chopped greens, tomato and fresh jalapeño. Long live the Mexican-American invasion.

The shrimp here are served in a molcajete, a large bowl carved out of lava rock and sent to the table bubbling hot and furious.

The dish is called Camarón Azteca, and the volcanic container keeps the fresh-from-the-oven meal wickedly warm. It's a good thing, too, because it takes us a long time to work our way through the Vesuvius-size mound of Guaymas shrimp; in any other dish, the shrimp would get cold.

Much of the magic in the bowl comes from its voluptuous sauce, essentially chunky, chile-rich salsa blended with Mexican white cheese. We're told there's no butter involved, but it sure tastes of it -- a reaction of the milky cheese melted at such high temperature, we suppose.

Should soup be served in a wine goblet? Only if it's as special as the cocido crafted by Israel and Lourdes Aviles, owners of Lulu's. For more than a decade now, the Avileses have been tempting us with their authentic, Guadalajara-style cooking, including dreamy cocido, a traditional beef stew.

Thinking Dinty Moore? Don't. Cocido is more like soup -- but soup with an attitude. The clean broth boasts flavor much too intense for its light character. It looks like pale bouillon laced ever so slightly with orange oil, but explodes in beefy force, underpinned with cilantro and just enough salt to tingle our taste buds.

Its body makes it more like stew. Certainly it's as full-figured as the voluptuous señorita mural on Lulu's wall, the broth gorged with soft zucchini, celery, green pepper, fall-apart-tender beef, onion, and corn-on-the-cob halves.

This soup makes a meal. Served with soft, corn-studded rice, smoky refried beans and a tortilla, Lulu's cocido is one awesome comida.

Only a supernatural being would have thought to combine more ingredients than those which make authentic mole.

There are as many recipes for mole as there are regions in Mexico. But our local favorite -- a rich, velvety sauce containing a dozen types of dried chiles, nuts, seeds, vegetables, spices, plantains and chocolate -- can be found at Hacienda.

You'll have to look carefully for the dish -- it's hidden under the à la carte offerings as enmolada de queso con carne o pollo. And don't be misled by the unbelievably low $3.95 price tag -- you can easily make a meal of these two corn tortillas, stuffed with gooey jack cheese and chicken or beef, then covered with a creamy blanket of the dark addictive mole.

Mole? Olé!

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