For the wickedest, wildest, put-hair-on-your-chest hot sauce you can get, look no farther than right here in the Valley, where Gunslinger is made using all-natural ingredients. Gunslinger habanero pepper sauce does the job and then some, boiling over with the potent chile, a hundred times hotter than the jalapeo. A few drops of this on your morning eggs and you'll start the day with a bang. Splashed on chicken wings, rubbed with Gunslinger's Intensi-Fire spice mix, the concoction has been known to bring grown men to their knees. Put that in your holster and smoke it.

Best Top-secret Hideaway Mexican Restaurant

Mini Mercado Oaxaca

Mini Mercado Oaxaca
Now this is a jewel of a secret, deserving of only our closest friends. Virtually nobody except Oaxacan transplants knows about this charming mini market, restaurant and takeout station, but it stocks everything we need, including the elusive chapulines -- real grasshoppers roasted with garlic, lemon and lots of salt. We can buy the basics for our kitchen, including oversize tortillas called tlayudas, paste to make mole (black or red) and quesillo, Oaxacan cheese in long strips wound into a ball.

We prefer to let the Lopez family cook for us, however, in their little cafe. They're masters of the Oaxacan tamal -- a delicious version of chicken steamed in a banana leaf and dressed with mole oaxaqueno (a sweeter mole containing almonds as well as red chiles, spices, chocolate, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds). Chase it with champurrado, a luxurious chocolate atole (a thick drink made with masa, milk and vanilla).

We're a little sorry to be sharing Mini Mercado Oaxaca with the masses. But then, we never could keep a secret this delicious.

Rosa's Mexican Grill
Kyle Lamb
Rosa's prides itself on its authentic, Baja-style Mexican food, and one of its best-selling dishes is a gift from the heavens called Flying Saucers. An eight-inch crisped flour tortilla is buried under mounds of beans, lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, salsa fresca, cheeses and our choice of beef, pork or chicken. These saucers soar because of their top-quality ingredients. Salsas are made fresh from scratch every day. Beef and pork are marinated in fruit juices, herbs and spices, slowly oven-roasted, then finished on a charbroiler while being basted in their own juices. Chicken, too, is moistened with mild red chile sauce, then baked for hours. Go ahead. Take us to your leader. As long as Rosa's in charge.
The recent boom in these small Mexican meat markets has filled the Valley with scores of places to get your adobada and ranchera. Yet we prefer the sizzling variety of this bright place. The smiles behind the counter take you back to butcher stores you probably knew, when Joe -- now Jose -- could prepare your cut before you could utter a word. The meat is always fresh. The marinated beef and pollo are dripping with marinade, ready for the grill. And if you've got a hankering for something surf and turf, El Tarachi's marine section covers the basics, from ceviche to oysters and a few fish with scales.
Tilted Kilt Pub and Eatery
Gone are the days of binge-drinking whatever rotgut tequila could be thrown back with a lick of salt and a suck of lime. Now, we like to taste our tequila -- sipping it like cognac, even. And the best place to savor tequila is Coyote Grill, with an impressive list of 110 varieties, including blanco and plata (not aged), reposado (aged in oak for up to a year), anejo (monitored by the Mexican government to ensure its superior quality), and mescal, a harsh-tempered beast that's not for beginners.

While other restaurants may boast long tequila lists, the Coyote's also got that $145-a-shot super-premium star, José Cuervo 1800 Colección, of which Cuervo releases only a few hundred bottles a year. We can make do with the equally good Herradura's Seleccion Suprema, at an easier-to-swallow $35. And for dessert, the Grill has flavored tequilas -- coquila (coffee, chocolate and cream), rose (strawberry and cream), and almendrado (almond). Now that's tequila worth toasting.

Arriba Mexican Grill
Jamie Peachey
Arriba Mexican Grill has been serving up New Mexico cuisine at its Phoenix cantina for years. This year, its owner took a bold move and expanded to two other Valley locations. They're as packed as the original.

One reason, we suspect, is word of mouth about Arriba's breathtaking carnitas. The grilled piggy pieces come two ways, traditional style with fajita fixings and flour tortillas for wrapping, and spiced with gutsy adobada, tucked in a massive burrito and paired with black beans and rice.

Either presentation, crispy-edged and juicy, makes us smile. Arriba, your carnitas carry us away.

Wright's at the Biltmore
Okay, so we didn't conduct a personal count, but we're taking Wright's word that its wine cellar/private dining room boasts 10,000 bottles. Certainly it looks to be true, with a sea of shimmering bottles just begging to be opened and sampled.

While the wine -- and the resort, built in 1929 and inspired by the desert-design concepts of Frank Lloyd Wright -- may be old, the cuisine is entirely fresh. Chef Rick Boyer's contemporary, lavish style tempts with treasures like grilled veal and sweetbreads with pickled cabbage, pan-roasted sea scallops with celery root risotto and Sevruga caviar, and a chef's five-course tasting menu paired with -- what else? -- wines.

Now that's the Wright way to celebrate wines.

Pepe's Taco Villa
Natalie Miranda
Best Mexican restaurant in Phoenix? Them's fightin' words to most folks. And people here cling to their favorite joints as if they were family members. We've got no problem proclaiming a winner, though. While many Mexican restaurants have a few remarkable specialties, at Pepe's everything on the menu is worthy of award. The place isn't fancy -- just two small rooms behind a nondescript storefront -- but the meals are brilliant.

Silky green chile Colorado is packed with tender beef. Chicken enchiladas are draped in mole, a sensuous sauce deep-toned with chiles and chocolate. Pork tamales are moist and bursting with good piggy flavor. And the tacos rancheros, three tiny corn tortillas stuffed with spicy shredded pork, onion and cilantro, soar when doused with splashes of Pepe's incendiary hot sauce.

Breakfast is served all day, and we love to stop in for the daily specials, too. Pepe's is the best. And anyone who disagrees can just take it outside.

Fine dining has landed at the Scottsdale Municipal Airport, thanks to the Valley's own Channel 3 celebrity Jan D'Atri. This joint's home-style Italian food is so delicious that you'll find us there, even if the only baggage we've got is our childhood. The location's a surprise, until you remember that Scottsdale Airport is frequented by folks who don't want corn dogs, but a maitre d', votive candles, white tablecloths and niceties such as rack of lamb, shrimp and scallop skewers and filet mignon. There's great stuff for us working-class folk, too: terrific panini sandwiches, pasta and sausage. We love the fresh-off-the-bird turkey breast sandwich, grilled with provolone, mozzarella, feta, mushrooms and caramelized onion. D'Atri's pastas fly high, anchored by homemade noodles and stunning sauces. Thanks, D'Atri's, for a fuel bill that's a delight to pay.

San Carlos Bay Seafood Restaurant
How the Sea of Cortez came to splash onto the shores of McDowell Road and the Squaw Peak Parkway, we'll never know. We're just glad that it did, bringing with it the magical cookery at San Carlos Bay. The oceanscape-painted building is deceptively small, yet the kitchen cranks out an impressive variety of seafood specialties, ranging from simple (shrimp cocktail) to sophisticated (crab-stuffed chile rellenos). Whatever the choice, it's all sumptuous and served in authentic Mexican style. For south-of-the-border satisfaction, we always steer toward gorgeous, buttery garlic octopus, shrimp endiablados (very hot and spicy), and whole fried snapper. Wrap the fish in warm tortillas spread with creamy beans and rice, dunk the bundles in zingy salsa, and pretend you're on a seaside vacation.

Best Of Phoenix®

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