BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, TEMPE

Casa Reynoso

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.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT, SCOTTSDALE

Los Olivos Mexican Patio

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.

BEST MEXICAN CHAIN WE HOPE GROWS HERE

Costa Vida

Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill
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!

BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT CHAIN WE'RE GLAD IS A CHAIN

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.
Sanchez and Sons
Living so close to the border, we don't have much trouble finding a run-of-the-mill piñata. Even gringo-friendly markets like Safeway carry piñatas shaped like SpongeBob and Disney princesses. But if you want the real deal, not just some assembly-line rip-off, Sanchez and Sons is the place to go. Each piñata here is handmade, and owner Amador Sanchez says his crew can make one in any shape — just give them four days' notice.

The shop used to import their piñatas from Mexico until the Border Patrol became worried about drugs and started busting them open looking for a kind of sugar not usually found at children's birthday parties. Like so many other south-of-the-border traditions, a real piñata is a mix of both secular tradition (hence, the plethora of papier-mâché Minnie Mice and ninjas for sale at Sanchez) and Catholic symbolism.

The seven-pointed star piñata, Sanchez's specialty, is actually a part of the Mexi-Catholic Christmas celebration. The points on the star represent the devil and the seven deadly sins, the goodies inside are blessings El Diablo is hiding, and busting it open releases them. Not into Catholic guilt? Here's another tradition we can all get behind here in the desert: The Aztecs used to fill clay piñatas with water.

Party City
You'd think, here in Phoenix, a really good piñata would be easy to come by. Think again. It took us months to land our "Best Piñata" winner, and at that, the kind gentleman who sold us our red, blue and orange burro admitted he doesn't carry the "pull piñata" model. The pull piñata is popular among the toddler set — kids old enough to enjoy the pleasures of the piñata, but not big enough to wield a bat or even the sturdy wooden sticks most piñatas come with.

We must have been looking in the wrong places, because not long ago, at a joint birthday party for sisters, ages 4 and 6, we spied a super-cute pull piñata out the window, and asked the hostess (a collector of all things vintage, as well as some amazing Day of the Dead art) where she landed the pastel-trimmed piñata, complete with several telltale magenta strings hanging from the bottom.

"Party City," came the blunt reply. "Duh," we thought to ourselves. No need to traipse through Guadalupe when a perfectly good (although not particularly ethnic) pull piñata is right there — in a variety of shapes, sizes and characters — at one of the Valley's largest party store chains.

"Yeah," said the hostess, laughing, as confetti and candy rained down on the kids, who immediately began brawling over the gummy bears. "They call these the non-aggressive piñatas."

At least no one got whacked in the head with a baseball bat.

BEST PLACE TO BUY A QUINCEAÑERA DRESS

Bridals by Ofelia

In Latin American culture, a young girl's quinceañera (her 15th birthday) marks her movement from child to woman. The first thing that delighted us about this dress shop was the coincidental (and, yes, alternately spelled) name Ofelia, which brings to mind one of Shakespeare's most tragic teenagers — Ophelia, who drowned herself for love before she was even allowed to properly date. Of course, the quinceañera is a much happier event, and Bridals by Ofelia specializes in helping teenagers make their coming-out day special.

The shop has row after row of dresses to choose from, ranging in color from the traditional pink quince dress, to bright blues, to white, another common choice. A seamstress is on-site to provide alterations in case your dream dress doesn't fit exactly how you want it to. And if you're on a budget, layaway is available. The shop can also provide help with floral arrangements and invitations. Bridals by Ofelia also provides tuxedos and less-fancy dresses to make sure all the damas and chambelanes in your quince party look (almost) as good as you do.

BEST ONE-STOP SHOPPING FOR QUINCEAÑERA NEEDS

Quince Girl Expo

Arizona State Fairgrounds
Planning a quinceañera is as complicated and stressful as planning a wedding. You need the dress, the venue, the flowers, the photographer — the list goes on. Fortunately for young Latinas planning their sweet 15, there's Quince Girl magazine, a sort of one-stop advice shop to guide the girls, and their stressed-out moms, through the planning process. Once a year, the mag sponsors Quince Girl Expo, where for $5, you can gain access to 75 vendors peddling gowns, tuxedos, invitations, and even pillows to help plan the perfect party. Consultants — like wedding planners for the teen girl population — are on hand to offer advice to make sure the ceremony is put together perfectly. Even more helpful, all presentations and events, including the annual fashion shows, are presented in both Spanish and English.

BEST WAY TO DRESS FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM

Ch.A.L.E. Clothing

Ch.A.L.E. stands for Chicanos Achieving Latino Equality, and founder Leticia Almezaga certainly gets the point across with the sloganized T-shirts and accessories for sale on her Web site. The online clothing shop based in Phoenix was born around the same time as Almezaga's daughter, when she needed a way to support herself. The shop is bursting with pride por la raza — one shirt reads "Planet of the Aztecs" (in Planet of the Apes lettering) and another simply says "Decolonize." Other slogans are a little more light-hearted, like: "powered by frijoles." There's a special section for the Chicana mama and her mijos — for $14, your "little brown babes" can show their pride in a "Latina" romper or a "chula" bib.

But Ch.A.L.E. is more than just an online retailer. An entire community of Phoenix Latinos has sprung up around it — especially women. The site's message boards are full of dichos (advice, gringos, advice) for new Chicana mothers, and the small company sponsors events in support of the Mexican and Mexican-American community. Almezaga is one mujer revolucionaria, and we love it.

Metrocenter Mall
Sorry for the unoriginal award title, but we figured the name of this fashion outpost says it all. Chicano Style comes highly recommended by none other than our own "¡Ask A Mexican!," Gustavo Arellano. "The Mexican" hails from Orange County, and, as it turns out, so do the Chicano Style peeps, who've set up their first shop outside California at our own Metrocenter. From low-rider brim hats to "Brown is Beautiful" T's to Cheech and Chong bobbleheads for the less discerning customer, you can find it in style at Chicano Style.

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