Sometimes we wonder if we've gotten boring when, year after year, we award the same "Best of" designation to the same restaurant. But when the category is Mexican seafood, and the restaurant is San Carlos Bay, we know we'll never apologize for the repetition.

How does this tiny, white stucco shop keep in stock such an ocean of riches? Who cares, as long as it keeps enough on hand for us -- the sparkling fresh shrimp, octopus, squid, abalone, oysters, snapper and crab. Such choice of preparation, too -- will our seafood be in a cocktail, in a stew, hot and spicy marinated, baked, machaca with green chiles, in garlic sauce, whole and fried, or breaded? We know our absolute favorite is the buttery garlic octopus, served atop French fries with rice, beans, salad and soft flour tortillas. But it's also the whole fried snapper, torn in fleshy chunks from the bone, wrapped in warm tortillas, spread with creamy beans and rice, then dunked in zingy salsa. Each visit is an adventure.

San Carlos Bay -- no matter how many years go by, you'll always be new and beautiful to us.

So owner Richardson Browne has a sign in his restaurant that reads, in Spanish, "Restaurant critics can kiss my ass." So he celebrated a former New Times Best of Phoenix designation by mounting the plaque on a toilet seat in his rest room. So he bluntly warns diners that his chile policy is: You Order It, You Own It. It's all fair warning that Richardson's isn't about pandering to fussy clientele. Here's a restaurant with food so good it stands on its own merits, take it or leave it.

We'll take it, and gladly, welcoming the foghorn blast of searing Hatch chiles that sounds through almost every dish. Such New Mexican cuisine is painful but addictive, from a glorious fiery green chile stew stocked with beef tenderloin, potatoes, carrots and Cheddar to a classy chimayo chicken, plump with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, poblano chile and Asiago cheese.

Everything is so good that Browne has been known to get in fights with copycat restaurateurs over his trademark touches: green chiles stuffed with mashed potatoes, tomatillo toast with sautéed chicken and ham, and red chile primavera topped with artichoke hearts, portobello mushrooms, spinach and goat cheese in a white wine tomato broth.

There's no argument in our minds. Let others copy away. Our original is always Richardson's.

So owner Richardson Browne has a sign in his restaurant that reads, in Spanish, "Restaurant critics can kiss my ass." So he celebrated a former New Times Best of Phoenix designation by mounting the plaque on a toilet seat in his rest room. So he bluntly warns diners that his chile policy is: You Order It, You Own It. It's all fair warning that Richardson's isn't about pandering to fussy clientele. Here's a restaurant with food so good it stands on its own merits, take it or leave it.

We'll take it, and gladly, welcoming the foghorn blast of searing Hatch chiles that sounds through almost every dish. Such New Mexican cuisine is painful but addictive, from a glorious fiery green chile stew stocked with beef tenderloin, potatoes, carrots and Cheddar to a classy chimayo chicken, plump with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, poblano chile and Asiago cheese.

Everything is so good that Browne has been known to get in fights with copycat restaurateurs over his trademark touches: green chiles stuffed with mashed potatoes, tomatillo toast with sautéed chicken and ham, and red chile primavera topped with artichoke hearts, portobello mushrooms, spinach and goat cheese in a white wine tomato broth.

There's no argument in our minds. Let others copy away. Our original is always Richardson's.

Rito's Mexican Food
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
The first time we went to Rito's, we spent more on gasoline than on our lunch. That's because we drove by a few times before realizing that, yes, this cozy stucco house in a residential neighborhood was what we were seeking. There's no sign outside; the only giveaway is the side yard of primary-color picnic tables packed with people putting away topnotch, rock-bottom-priced red chile burritos, velvety refried beans, Sonoran-style tacos, chimis and whatever the feisty if somewhat unfriendly kitchen staff decides to grace us with on any given day. It's casual and decidedly sweaty in the summer months, as we order at the counter and cart our meal outside. But one taste of the cheese, the chiles, the full-flavored rice -- and a glance at our bill of less than $5 -- and there's no cause for complaints of any kind.
The first time we went to Rito's, we spent more on gasoline than on our lunch. That's because we drove by a few times before realizing that, yes, this cozy stucco house in a residential neighborhood was what we were seeking. There's no sign outside; the only giveaway is the side yard of primary-color picnic tables packed with people putting away topnotch, rock-bottom-priced red chile burritos, velvety refried beans, Sonoran-style tacos, chimis and whatever the feisty if somewhat unfriendly kitchen staff decides to grace us with on any given day. It's casual and decidedly sweaty in the summer months, as we order at the counter and cart our meal outside. But one taste of the cheese, the chiles, the full-flavored rice -- and a glance at our bill of less than $5 -- and there's no cause for complaints of any kind.
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.

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