Gecko Grill
Meagan Simmons
Gringo-friendly Sonoran-style Mexican food -- isn't that an oxymoron? Not if it's in the hands of the Moreno family. Then it becomes reliably safe even for the most timid taste buds, yet still so well-prepared it gets a rise even out of us.

We're in for standard tacos, tamales, enchiladas, burros, tostadas and such, minus too much spicing or surprises. But we're also in for honest, well-flavored dishes that rely on fresh ingredients instead of gussied-up presentation or overpowering heat to wake us up.

The meals start with a freebie ramekin of bean dip, all creamy and deep with a vibrant chile punch. Then we head to the specialties, like an appealingly offbeat shrimp quesadilla, folded and stuffed with healthy portions of shrimp, cheese, silky seafood sauce and the unexpected spark of fresh mango cubes. Rellenos are superb, too, the roasted chiles plump with crab and creamy white sauce or bloated with cheese under a mild-mannered green sauce. And we're smitten with the spinach enchiladas, two slender bundles tucked with juicy leaves and draped in a delightful jalapeo cream cheese sauce.

For soul-satisfying Sonoran-style comfort food, we just call the Gecko: "Here, lizard, lizard . . ."

Gringo-friendly Sonoran-style Mexican food -- isn't that an oxymoron? Not if it's in the hands of the Moreno family. Then it becomes reliably safe even for the most timid taste buds, yet still so well-prepared it gets a rise even out of us.

We're in for standard tacos, tamales, enchiladas, burros, tostadas and such, minus too much spicing or surprises. But we're also in for honest, well-flavored dishes that rely on fresh ingredients instead of gussied-up presentation or overpowering heat to wake us up.

The meals start with a freebie ramekin of bean dip, all creamy and deep with a vibrant chile punch. Then we head to the specialties, like an appealingly offbeat shrimp quesadilla, folded and stuffed with healthy portions of shrimp, cheese, silky seafood sauce and the unexpected spark of fresh mango cubes. Rellenos are superb, too, the roasted chiles plump with crab and creamy white sauce or bloated with cheese under a mild-mannered green sauce. And we're smitten with the spinach enchiladas, two slender bundles tucked with juicy leaves and draped in a delightful jalapeño cream cheese sauce.

For soul-satisfying Sonoran-style comfort food, we just call the Gecko: "Here, lizard, lizard . . ."

Mezcal's mole is, in a word, magnificent. It's hard to choose among the distinctive varieties -- mole rojo, mole amarillo, or mole verde -- each served over chicken and paired with fresh vegetables plus sweet potato purée, Swiss chard, rice or chochoyotes (masa dumplings).

So we do the smartest thing and get them all in the appetizer tamale combo: three moist, chicken-stuffed masa bundles steamed in banana leaves and each topped with a different mole. Rather than chocolate-heavy, Mezcal's blends are celebrations of dozens of herbs and chiles. Mole rojo is complex and sweet, mole amarillo is light and aromatic, and mole verde exudes fragrant notes of tomatillo. They're all distinct, like fine, cocoa-hued wines.

Mezcal's mole is, in a word, magnificent. It's hard to choose among the distinctive varieties -- mole rojo, mole amarillo, or mole verde -- each served over chicken and paired with fresh vegetables plus sweet potato purée, Swiss chard, rice or chochoyotes (masa dumplings).

So we do the smartest thing and get them all in the appetizer tamale combo: three moist, chicken-stuffed masa bundles steamed in banana leaves and each topped with a different mole. Rather than chocolate-heavy, Mezcal's blends are celebrations of dozens of herbs and chiles. Mole rojo is complex and sweet, mole amarillo is light and aromatic, and mole verde exudes fragrant notes of tomatillo. They're all distinct, like fine, cocoa-hued wines.

Carolina's Mexican Food
Sarah Whitmire
When we're in Rocky Point, we start most of our days with a steaming hot cup of coffee and a handful of made-that-morning flour tortillas. We pull them one by one, still warm in their plastic bag, delivered right to our doorstep.

Since 1968, Arizona's closest contender for a Rocky Point tortilla experience has been Carolina's. And to this day, it still is. Carolina's delicate wraps are made on an endless line of hot griddles, hand-tossed until paper thin and stretchy. We can get them by the dozen, by the half-dozen, or individually. We can get them plain, topped with cheese, with red, green or machaca meat, or slathered with butter.

Carolina's, mother of all tortillas, you've turned us into your very own flour children.

When we're in Rocky Point, we start most of our days with a steaming hot cup of coffee and a handful of made-that-morning flour tortillas. We pull them one by one, still warm in their plastic bag, delivered right to our doorstep.

Since 1968, Arizona's closest contender for a Rocky Point tortilla experience has been Carolina's. And to this day, it still is. Carolina's delicate wraps are made on an endless line of hot griddles, hand-tossed until paper thin and stretchy. We can get them by the dozen, by the half-dozen, or individually. We can get them plain, topped with cheese, with red, green or machaca meat, or slathered with butter.

Carolina's, mother of all tortillas, you've turned us into your very own flour children.

Arriba Mexican Grill
Jamie Peachey
We have a friend who drove in all the way from far southeast Gilbert to our neighborhood Arriba in north Scottsdale. It took them about an hour, but they'd been told there was something really special going on at this New Mexican cantina. They're right. Chalk it up to generous portions, fresh ingredients and lots and lots of Hatch green chiles, those fiery peppers found only in New Mexico.

We turned them on to the pozole, a hearty stew with some fire, but not enough to scare these first-timers away (they got it mild; we order it extra hot, since every dish on this menu can be adjusted). It's a simple but substantial dish, uniting tender pork loin, hominy, chile, onion and garlic. It's slow-simmered, served topped with red onions, cabbage and cilantro, and paired with warm flour tortillas and lime. Paired with an ice cold margarita, it's bliss for our bellies.

We have a friend who drove in all the way from far southeast Gilbert to our neighborhood Arriba in north Scottsdale. It took them about an hour, but they'd been told there was something really special going on at this New Mexican cantina. They're right. Chalk it up to generous portions, fresh ingredients and lots and lots of Hatch green chiles, those fiery peppers found only in New Mexico.

We turned them on to the pozole, a hearty stew with some fire, but not enough to scare these first-timers away (they got it mild; we order it extra hot, since every dish on this menu can be adjusted). It's a simple but substantial dish, uniting tender pork loin, hominy, chile, onion and garlic. It's slow-simmered, served topped with red onions, cabbage and cilantro, and paired with warm flour tortillas and lime. Paired with an ice cold margarita, it's bliss for our bellies.

What is it that makes a quesadilla so compelling? There's not much to it -- a flour tortilla smothered in cheese, maybe some meat, maybe some vegetables, folded and grilled. But when a chef gets creative with those fillings, a quesadilla can be a real creation.

And in the case of Tequila Grill, that chef is us. It's like building our own pizza, with a stunning list of custom ingredients. Start with the tortillas: spinach and herb, sun-dried tomato, Southwest chile pepper or flour. Then the meats: marinated beef or chicken, ancho pork or shrimp. Veggies are next: spinach, red onion, jalapeos, portobello mushroom, corn, roasted garlic, roasted peppers, green chiles or tomatoes. Finally, there's the cheese to bind it all together: Monterey Jack, smoked Gouda, Cheddar, or jalapeo havarti. Delicious work, if we do say so ourselves.

What is it that makes a quesadilla so compelling? There's not much to it -- a flour tortilla smothered in cheese, maybe some meat, maybe some vegetables, folded and grilled. But when a chef gets creative with those fillings, a quesadilla can be a real creation.

And in the case of Tequila Grill, that chef is us. It's like building our own pizza, with a stunning list of custom ingredients. Start with the tortillas: spinach and herb, sun-dried tomato, Southwest chile pepper or flour. Then the meats: marinated beef or chicken, ancho pork or shrimp. Veggies are next: spinach, red onion, jalapeños, portobello mushroom, corn, roasted garlic, roasted peppers, green chiles or tomatoes. Finally, there's the cheese to bind it all together: Monterey Jack, smoked Gouda, Cheddar, or jalapeño havarti. Delicious work, if we do say so ourselves.

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