MexAmigo
Don't know where to find "country Mexican" furniture and accessories for that autentico rancho look? MexAmigo has crammed an entire building with reasonably priced rustic Mexican furniture just waiting to go home to your hacienda. It's right here you'll find table and chair sets of pigskin-and-estaca wood equipales (historically speaking, they're said to date back to pre-Conquest times in Mexico -- even Moctezuma had one of these pigskin chairs), chip-carved bales (chests), trasteros (traditional dish shelves), end tables, and large armoires for hiding your post-Conquest TV. We were especially taken with an all-wood bar emblazoned with the words "cantina" and "cerveza fria." The best part of MexAmigo's stock is that it comes with different finishes ready to roll -- or unfinished and just waiting to be stained, waxed or oiled or, if you're the adventurous artsy type, painted with abandon in wild colors of hot pink, colonial blue, buttery yellow, royal purple, rust red and turquoise.
Casa del Encanto
We thought we had stumbled into 18th-century Mexico through a rip in some time dimension when we pulled up to Casa del Encanto, which literally means "the enchanting or bewitching house." Built in a classic Spanish colonial U-shaped configuration with rust-colored walls, arched windows and cantera stone trim, Casa del Encanto is a perfect re-creation of an elegant, upscale Mexican residence built several centuries ago. If you can get past the store's lush courtyard adorned with a water-lily-filled fountain and carved stone sculptures (all of which are for sale), huge doors open onto the Casa's display floor, crowned with soaring vaulted and hand-painted ceilings and artfully jammed with high-end colonial-style accessories and furniture. Better plan on winning PowerBall if you hope to do major shopping here, as the prices match the high quality of Casa del Encanto's spectacular inventory. Or heck, why not get out the credit card? Floating through a forest of one-of-a-kind merchandise, we spotted a six-foot-high carved and gilded candlestick that would not look out of place in a cathedral, wooden religious wall sculptures done in estofado, exquisitely decorated talavera pieces, and masterfully executed architectural elements that would make any museum curator do a double take.
The Phoenix branch of Radio Campesina (there are also stations in Parker, Fresno, and Salinas) boasts the hottest Mex-mixes in the Valley, airing tunes by renowned Latin pop artists such as Juan Gabriel and Los Tigres del Norte, as well as pioneers like norteño innovator Marco Antonio Solis and ranchero legend Vicente Fernandez. The latter artist is also a DJ for the station, spinning artists like Sin Bandera, José José, and Cristian Castro during his show from 9 a.m. to noon on Sundays. In addition to the caliente on-air personalities, Campesina also features talk-radio programs geared toward the issues facing immigrant families, the most popular of which is "Punte De Vista" with Carlos Ortiz, airing from 10 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. Whether listeners are looking for hot Tejano tunes or want to sound off on politics, Radio Campesina's got 'em covered.
It seems that if it's Mexican and it even remotely involves music on tape or CD, El Idolo de Oro has it. This tuneful stop stocks just about every regional group living, breathing and harmonizing in Mexico, including oompah bands from Michoacán; norteño/Tex-Mex groups from Sonora, Chihuahua and Sinaloa; the exitos (hits) of wailing mariachi ensembles from Jalisco -- even reggaeton, a salsita of hip-hop, rap and Jamaican reggae from Puerto Rico, and Mexican rap by Control Machete. El Idolo's strong suit, however, is an incredible selection of narcocorrido music, a recent twist on the romantic Mexican folk ballads, or corridos, blaring in every Mexican restaurant and cantina from here to Culiacán. Think of the narcocorrido as the Mexican equivalent of American folk tunes about Western gunslingers, desperadoes and bank robbers (or maybe the theme song from The Sopranos) -- except that these ballads chronicle the joys and derring-do involved in drug trafficking (narcocorrido expert Elijah Wald says, "They're an anachronistic link between the earliest European poetic traditions and the world of crack cocaine and gangsta rap"). Ain't nothing new here, since more than a century ago, the corridos were about crafty Robin Hood types, revolutionary guerrillas like Pancho Villa and campesinos who pulled fast ones on evil Texas Rangers. Wildly popular both south and north of the border, narcocorridos are set to polka or waltz rhythms and usually backed by accordions and often brass sections. El Idolo carries the latest by groups famous for these drug ditties, like Los Tigres del Norte, Los Tucanes de Tijuana, Grupo Exterminador (you gotta love a group that's titled one of its albums Contrabando en los Huevos), Los Pajaritos del Sur, and the notorious Sinaloan legend Chalino Sanchez. With titles like Los Tigres' Pacto de Sangre (Blood Covenant), it makes you wanna run to the nearest Berlitz for a crash course in Spanish so you can figure out all the lyrics.
La Casa Del Mariachi
The takeout menu for this great place announces in Spanish that it's "the place where you will find good ambiance, good music and good food." And the restaurant's proud claim is no lie, especially on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. On those nights, beginning at about 6:30, mas o menos, La Casa del Mariachi serves up bueno grub (its specialty is authentic Mexican seafood) and a free mini-floor show featuring live singing, often with live mariachi musicos such as Mariachi Tierra del Sol (who performed last May with the Phoenix Symphony at the Dodge Theatre). The night we went, we were regaled by a good-looking norteño cowboy dude in suit and hat who looked a little like a svelte Garth Brooks doing Mexican karaoke. Garthcito ended up doing a singing lap dance for a gaggle of señoritas, and later in the evening, as they so often do, the folks at La Casa broke out with live mariachi music in the spacious Salon Guadalajara. It'll cost you a cover charge to get in, but it's worth it to enjoy the raucous sights and sounds of a real-deal, full-liveried mariachi ensemble -- not to mention the enthusiastic patrons who play and dance until they shut the place down at 2 a.m.
El Capri
You might feel a bit intimidated when approaching this popular discoteca, which is situated alongside a freeway overpass. But don't be put off by the parking lot crammed with Cadillac Escalades and Audis, the squad of Phoenix cops gathered outside keeping the peace, or the lengthy line out the front door. Really: Don't let it get to you, cabrón. Just get your ass past security and onto this hot club's expansive dance floor. Shake your culo until the wee hours of the weekend to such musical styles as cumbia, norteño, mariachi and banda, provided by either a DJ or a live band, depending on what night you're there. Expect to get down alongside vatas in tight-fitting dresses, caballeros in crisp new cowboy hats and matching snakeskin boots and belts, or jersey-clad sportos wearing plenty of bling. If refreshment is required, grab a Dos Equis, Negra Modelo, or a shot of Cuervo from the bar before heading back into the crowd to stage a dance revolution. ¿Desea bailar? You will after coming to El Capri.
DWNTWN
Benjamin Leatherman
You'll find the hottest Latin club in these parts is wedged amongst the high-rises of downtown Phoenix. Without fail, Club Dwntwn draws an enormous crowd -- 1,500 people on a Saturday! -- and in just three years has expanded from two rooms to three. Even then you can barely walk through without bumping into someone. In the main room, DJs Mixxman and Czr3ro energize a crowd of well-dressed partyers with a hybrid of Spanish pop, Top 40, and tribal tunes. Elsewhere, DJs Joey and Ponk spin pure reggaeton, where, in the back room, dancers writhe under a gorgeous chandelier to salsa, merengue, bachata, and cumbia played by DJ Roberto or the occasional live band. This hopping hot spot has even drawn big-name producers and DJs from Mexico like Pelos, Mijangos, Macsi, and Bolillo. And partygoers can keep shaking their cans until the sun comes up, because the music pumps 'til 5 a.m.
Karamba
Club Karamba steams up its own windows every weekend with Kaliente Saturdays, a party packed wall-to-wall with queer Latin lovers dancing to the beat of DJs Tranz and Melo. The jockeys throw salsa, merengue, cumbia, rock and pop en español into the mix while Latin music videos project onto an enormous screen. It's a sexy backdrop for a high-energy crowd that's there to party 'til 4 a.m. And if you get there before 10 p.m., it's all free, mica!
Every month, on the night of the full moon, Nancy Lewis and her crew of Spanish-language champions convene at South Mountain's Javelina Trail to sweat out basic grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary under a glowing light other than a fluorescent one. Fluent speakers and Spanish-language newbies meet monthly to participate in a physical and linguistic workout en español. The sociable atmosphere is led by a number of hiking guides, including natives of Mexico and Ecuador as well as locals who teach the language professionally. Participants meet monthly at sundown in the Beverly Canyon parking lot, 46th Street south of Baseline Road, for the moderately challenging two-hour jaunt that is a longer yet less grueling version of Piestewa Peak. The events are English-friendly, so if you can't quite roll your tongue rapidly enough while screaming soy perdido! ("I'm lost!"), somebody will be there to guide you. The hike is free; just show up and glow.

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