BEST MEXICAN BRUNCH 2007 | Barrio Café | La Vida | Phoenix
Allison Young
A lot's been written about chef-owner Silvana Salcido Esparza's creative, contemporary Mexican fare, from the fresh guacamole with pomegranate seeds, prepared tableside, to her hauntingly delicious cochinita pibil, fork-tender pork that's been slow-cooked for 12 hours.

Indeed, we still think Barrio Café is worthy of every "Best of" we've given it. But brunch here is still — 'til now, anyway — an unsung pleasure, with distinctive dishes you won't find anywhere else in town.

The crepa de chorizo is a dreamy concoction, with spinach, spicy sausage, and queso fresco rolled up in a hollandaise-covered crepe, while the pastel de calabazas con queso, a veggie-stuffed omelet slathered in spicy tomatillo sauce, will wake your taste buds right up. And if that's not enough of a morning boost, try Barrio Café's tequila-soaked version of the bloody Mary, the sangrita. Now that's our kind of eye-opener.



Jackie Mercandetti
When you need to please the kids and the grandparents alike, head to Tradiciones. Heck, you might as well invite your extended family while you're at it, because the colorful dining room has abundant seating for large groups. Ordering appetizers is a snap, thanks to the generous sampler plate, and "La Parillada," the house-specialty platter heaped high with sizzling grilled meat, is perfect for sharing. Besides the accessible Sonoran cuisine, grownups will go for the stiff margaritas, while little ones will love the festive atmosphere — when the restaurant's decorated with bunches of colorful balloons and the singing mariachis stroll past your table, it feels like one big party.


Rosita's Place

Sarah Whitmire
We couldn't dream up a better neighborhood Mexican joint than Rosita's Place. It's got that been-there-forever charm — with rustic décor, and a bubbling water fountain that flows into a tiny fish pond — along with welcoming service from waitresses decked out in ruffled dresses. The prices are old school, too. This is the kind of restaurant where you can feast for less than 10 bucks, and feed yourself well for around five.

As for the food itself, Rosita's Sonoran specialties always hit the spot. The salsas here are great, and definitely worth the extra buck it'll cost you for chips. Machaca is memorable, too, and you can eat it any which way — in a burro or taco, on a chimichanga, or straight-up, with a pile of warm tortillas. Enchiladas topped with red or green chili sauce, top-notch albondigas, mouth-watering mole, and fluffy, cheesy chile rellenos are just a few of the dishes that've kept us coming back here time and time again. The thick, creamy flan is reason enough to stop by, and the place does a fine Mexican-style breakfast as well. Every neighborhood should be lucky enough to have an old faithful like Rosita's Place.


Comedor Guadalajara

Meagan Simmons
The Sanchez family's South Central eatery has been around nearly 40 years, thanks to tasty Sonoran cuisine and a welcoming atmosphere fit for families — the sprawling dining rooms here go on and on, each one painted a more colorful hue than the last.

Comedor Guadalajara's menu is pretty extensive, too, with burritos, tacos, chimichangas, and a nice selection of combination plates. Try the shrimp enchiladas, draped in a creamy sauce of green chile and tomatillo, or the steak picado, with chopped beef, onions, tomatoes, and jalapeños slathered in tangy red sauce. Parrilladas (heaping platters of grilled meats meant to be shared) are the specialty here; the seafood version, piled with fresh shrimp, lobster tail, mussels, squid, calamari, and a whole tilapia, is an impressive spread. It helps to take a friend or two to help you eat it all, but don't feel guilty if you'd rather stuff yourself silly.



From the looks of its plain, brick exterior, it's hard to tell how hoppin' it is inside Pedro's, but once you snag a table and dig in to dinner here, you'll immediately get why this place has become a west-side institution.

The Sonoran-style eats are homey and flavorful, and portions are downright grande — the burros, in particular, are quite a mouthful. We like the spicy homemade chorizo and bean version. Pedro's enchiladas have kick, too, but it's not all hot stuff. The chicken dishes are cooked in a mild sauce of tomatoes, chiles, and onions. And if you're a machaca lover, don't miss the stuffed quesadilla, a house specialty. An oversized flour tortilla filled with shredded beef, cheese, chiles and tomatoes, this grilled beauty will melt in your mouth. With so much food, you might take home leftovers, but we guarantee they won't stay in your fridge for long.


Guedo's Cantina Grille

Who knew that a couple of tacos and some cerveza is all it takes to feel like you're on vacation? The beachy vibe at Guedo's is so true to the laid-back spirit of Baja that the only thing missing is the smell of the ocean breeze. Outside, the patio is decked out with palapas, palm trees, and plenty of misters. Walk through the front door, and you're in a happy wonderland of kitsch — there are photos everywhere, colorful painted parrots and bunches of chiles hanging in the front dining room, and Mexican beer signs on the walls.

It's all enough to make you smile, but the food will make you downright giddy. The tortillas here are delicious, the tomatillo and red chile salsas are mouth-watering, and the meat fillings for the huge selection of tacos, burritos, tostadas and cheese crisps are completely addicting. As you'd expect from such a seaside-inspired spot, Guedo's does a great fish taco. A less obvious hit is the chicken taco, with moist chunks of meat in a spicy red sauce. Next time you're antsy for a south-of-the-border road trip, Guedo's will help tide you over.


Casa Reynoso

Natalie Miranda
Tucked into the corner of a strip mall where Fry's is the main attraction, Casa Reynoso doesn't look like much from the parking lot. Inside, though, it's cozy, with lots of archways, wrought iron, hanging plants, and pottery. Grab one of the booths and take your time with the menu, which showcases recipes handed down through generations of the Reynoso family, based in Globe. Roasted green chiles are the foundation of several star dishes here; go for the green chile enchiladas, a gooey, eggy chile relleno, or the gollo burro, filled with green chile, pork, beans, cheese, and onions. The awesome house salsa is hot but addicting, and the homemade tortillas are prepared daily. Dinner at Casa Reynoso is also easy on the wallet, so go ahead and order another margarita — you can justify this one.


Los Olivos Mexican Patio

Jamie Peachey
Los Olivos' original Scottsdale location has been around for decades, and it's one of the funkiest Mexican restaurants in the Valley. The quirky blue room, just a step past the lobby, looks like a psychedelic underwater scene, with a big fish tank and a cluster of bubble-shaped skylights that cast a cool glow on tables full of diners. Meanwhile, the main dining room feels more traditional, with the exception of oversized sculptures and planters that add a surreal touch.

If the atmosphere puts you in a whimsical mood, try the Mexican Flag, an eye-catching trio of enchiladas topped with red chile sauce, sour cream, and green chile. Fajitas are another house specialty, served with a heap of colorful vegetables, guacamole, beans, and sour cream. And instead of the usual side of refried beans, go with the frijoles charros — spicy pinto beans flecked with cilantro. At Los Olivos, primo Mexican comfort food plus a fun vibe equals a neighborhood favorite that Scottsdale can be proud of.


Costa Vida

A good friend led us to Costa Vida because it's become her favorite lunch spot, not only because of the salads on a tortilla (not in a tortilla — these aren't fried; instead, they're layered with beans, your choice of meat, veggies, and cheese) but also because of the free cheese crisps for kids 5 and under. Very tasty — we loved the shredded chicken with black beans. We told the guy at the counter how good it was and that we'd be back, and he said, "Oh, well, we'd be happy to deliver lunch to you at work any time. Just call.

"Um, we work in downtown Phoenix, we told him.

"Oh, is that far?"

Turns out the guy had just hit town, fresh from Utah, where Costa Vida is HQ'd. Here's hoping Costa Vida expands its vision in metro Phoenix, and that someday soon we can take that nice guy up on his offer!


3 Margaritas

There's nothing fancy about 3 Margaritas, a lesser-known, smaller chain than the big guns in town. We stumbled upon it only recently, and were so happy to find it. From the chips to the fajitas, everything was fresh and tasty, with no big surprises, except that we hadn't discovered it earlier. It's a great family restaurant with enough fire on the menu to satisfy a hot-sauce hound, and enough milder items to tempt the toddlers.

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