From roughhewn pine benches to massive armoires covered in wrought-iron spikes that look more like torture devices than entertainment centers, this North Valley warehouse has everything to make su casa exude rustic charm. La Casona specializes in high-end custom rustic furniture, which is hard to find even in most so-called authentic Mexican stores. A custom dining table with mesquite legs and padded leather chairs can set you back $10K, but we think it's worth it for an heirloom piece tailor-made for your space. Don't worry if that's more than you paid for your car, you can still find something that won't break the bank. The affordable stretched leather equipal tables, along with colorful Talavera pottery, tin mirrors and hand-painted folk art, will make your home feel like a permanent fiesta.

BEST PLACE TO GET FURNITURE THAT LOOKS LIKE YOU HAULED IT UP FROM MEXICO

El Paso Import Co.

El Paso Import Co. started out selling authentic vintage Mexican furniture, but soon mixed in some reproductions (always making sure the buyer was aware). That's fine with us; we can actually afford this stuff. We love it, and are considering moving to a larger house since we've filled our own to the limit with armoires, huge tables and small cabinets, all trimmed with wonderful details and painted in funky colors when the natural wood isn't left alone. A repro like this, we'll take anytime!
Tucked behind the Yucca Tap Room on the southwest corner of Mill and Southern avenues in Tempe, this relaxed and friendly community space is the place where Spanish-language champions and students can sharpen their Latin-seasoned tongues. The bright blue, green, red and orange walls shower The Place with a south-of-the-border warmth in two classrooms hosting a variety of beginning, intermediate and advanced instruction, including lunchtime and happy hour conversation, reading, grammar and pronunciation. The library stocks Spanish-language newspapers, magazines and books, while the lounge area has an inviting, hostel-type community-room warmth with a coffee station, comfy chairs, and a television that shows films from a Latin American country of choice on Movie Mondays. The best value is the $50 monthly pass; day passes are available for $15, and there's a free open house every First Friday. Our favorite part? All instructors possess firsthand experience in Spanish-speaking countries and can beef up the vulgar vocab during the dirty words and slang class, offered every Thursday afternoon.
Los Altos Ranch Market
Timur Guseynov
Are you ready to get juiced? Try the aguas frescas at Phoenix Ranch Market. There always seems to be a long line of thirsty people waiting for a drink at this store's festive kiosk, where employees ladle ice-cold beverages out of enormous glass jars. We're partial to the jamaica (pronounced "ha-my-ka," not "Jamaica," mon), a sweet, tart red punch made from dried hibiscus flowers. It's one of almost a dozen different flavors, including pia (pineapple), fresa (strawberry), papaya, and sandia (watermelon). Since the aguas frescas counter is planted right next to a picnic-table-filled dining area, where families slurp down their fruity concoctions along with la carte burritos and tacos, it almost feels like you're at a real Mexican mercado.
Padre's Modern Mexican
When we're drinking a margarita, we'll pass on that name-brand $30 shot; what we really want is lime so tart it stings, salt that flakes on our lips, a blend of the hard stuff that's not too heavy on the orange liqueur. And after tasting hundreds of margaritas across the Valley, we found that very combination at Padre's Modern Mexican Cuisine, the cheerful bar and grill just west of the Biltmore on Camelback Road. The house margarita a mix of Sauza Gold, triple sec, and fresh lime and lemon juice in a tall glass over ice is just $5, and so damn good, we guarantee you'll beg for a pitcher.
Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill
Yes, it's a chain restaurant. But the margaritas are so tasty, we're betting even the folks at Arizona Chain Reaction have a hard time resisting happy hour here. Generously poured, perfectly blended, and with just the right tequila kick, these margaritas would convince even the most ardent food snob to give the blender a chance. Feeling adventurous? Try a flight, with a trio of excellent mini margaritas flavored with your pick of prickly pear, guava, or even Chambord.
Via DeLosantos Mexican Food and Lounge
Courtesy of Via DeLosantos
Perhaps the only clue that this isn't your average Sunnyslope hole-in-the-wall is the cars in the parking lot: On one recent Sunday, we spotted an Audi, a Beamer, and a Lexus side by side. But there's nothing pretentious or upscale inside this homey Mexican restaurant and its smoky blue-tiled bar, just (very) low-key ambiance and a huge selection of tequila. Ask the bartender to suggest a shot or two; from the clean slickness of a blanco to the peatiest of anejo, these women know their stuff.
Barrio Cafe
A craving for Mexican food and a craving for Barrio Cafe's memorable fare are two completely different things. It's almost as if chef Silvana Salcido Esparza intentionally set out to defy diners' expectations, combining her own dazzling ideas with traditional flavors found in southern Mexican cuisine. Looking for chips and salsa to land on your table? Instead, you'll get a basket of soft, fresh bread with garlicky homemade olive spread. Think quesadillas are all about chicken and melted jack cheese? Not at Barrio. Here, try them with garlic and tequila lobster with Oaxacan cheese and queso de cabra. Esparza also creates wonderfully rich black mole, tender and tangy cochinita pibil (Yucatn-style slow-roasted pork), and melt-in-your-mouth pato en tamarindo (seared duck breast with zesty tamarind and chipotle sauce). Huge, beautifully presented tortas are worthy of knife and fork (we're fans of the torta del Barrio, with a Oaxacan-cheese-stuffed roasted poblano), and ethereal desserts like the churros rellenos de cajeta de cabra warm, crisp fritters filled with gooey goat's milk caramel, paired with vanilla ice cream end things on a high note. Dinner at Barrio Cafe just might rock your world.
Old Town Tortilla Factory
What better way to enjoy a margarita (or several), a basket of chips and salsa (or several) and maybe even more, than on the twinkly patio at the Old Town Tortilla Factory? This longtime favorite is a little ritzier than your average Mexican dive, but a little less plastic than some of the neighboring Scottsdale joints. We love to kick back on the patio weather permitting and sample the bar's extensive tequila menu.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, CENTRAL PHOENIX

El Portal

We still think Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox should leave office to do the public service she does best running one of the best Mexican restaurants in town but we've gotta admit, the lady does a pretty good job of multitasking. You'll often see Wilcox along with members of her family, and a rotating selection of politicians, lobbyists and other government types hanging out in the large booths in the corner of this casual restaurant just south of downtown. They're here for the political gossip, but also for the machaca, which is even hotter than the news of the latest mishap at the Legislature. We could make a meal out of the endless chips and hot salsa, but always try to save room for carne asada tacos.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of