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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.
The Mercado's side yard also holds hundreds of outdoor necessities, from tin fountains to terra cotta planters. Our favorite details are always the small ones, though, which is why we were excited to find a collection of tiny Dia de los Muertos skeletons next to a bin of child-size maracas, and a great selection of those tiny bobblehead turtles that little kids sell on the street in Nogales.
Real treasure-hunters will be excited about the selection of tree bark paintings and authentically painted Casas Grandes pottery, which originated thousands of years ago in the northern Mexico region of Paquime.
Not so at El Pueblito. You can run your hands over the huge pine and mahogany tables here and still feel the grainy imperfection that comes from a piece of furniture that's been carved by hand and shipped over hundreds of miles from Guadalajara to Phoenix. You can find similarly rustic Caballero trunks and unfinished clay pots here, where the pieces reflect the rich mix of Aztec and Spanish craftsmanship that defines Mexican furniture-making. The store is small but literally packed with some of the best and most authentic furniture, not to mention accessories what casa is complete without a carved pine cross to hang over the fireplace? Owners Cesar Serrano and Mario Joya are also willing to accommodate special orders and have the connections south of the border to bring you exactly what you want.
Okay, happy now, Mom?
True story: We were out and about in Scottsdale, doing deep undercover research for this year's "Best of." (Hey, it's a nasty job, but someone's gotta do it.) And we wanted to round out the "La Vida" section with a place that offers Mexican-style furnishings at affordable prices. We racked our brain and listened to that voice in our head: "Go to Razmataz." For years, Mom had been saying it. For years, we'd said, "Yeah, yeah." It's not that Mom doesn't have great taste and a well-appointed home (two, in fact), but well, you know, she's Mom. So we tend to not listen so well. Bad habit carried over from childhood.
But we're trying to be better, in our middle age, so we called the old gal up (she'll love that line) and asked her on a date to her favorite spot. She practically glided through the aisles, gloating all the way, and we had to admit she's right. We managed to leave without anything but a long list of items we'd like for our birthday, Christmas, and Hanukkah like the adorable, rustic, pale green bins, the red dining-room chairs (only $69 each on sale!), the huge black armoire and the gorgeous wrought-iron chandelier. You'd better get over there before Mom goes back and buys us the lot she's that happy to have been proved right.
Actually, as she pointed out, there are several Razmataz outposts throughout the Valley, which makes the bargain-hunting that much more fun. Every store has different inventory, so you can take yourself on a scavenger hunt all over town. And when we're finally done with our "Best of" research, that's just what we intend to do. With Mom in tow.
Grab some agua fresca and carne asada for sustenance before heading back to the parking lot. Cowboy hats, boots, and colorful clothes abound in an ever-changing sea of people that will make you forget you've never left AZ. Pick up a piñata for a souvenir, and no one will believe you didn't day-trip south of the border.
We asked her to share some Mexican favorites in Phoenix, and among her suggestions was this one, for "Best Mexican Neighborhood."
"All you have to do is look around to see that this little corner of Phoenix is a mecca of Mexico City and Oaxaca transplants," Silvana tells us. She points to Mini Mercado Oaxaca, and Los Reyes de la Torta as great stops for authentic Oaxacan specialties and Mexican sandwiches, respectively, and also points to the local Food City's tortilla factory and bakery as must-dos. Beyond that, parts of Sunnyslope (particularly Hatcher) are, indeed, a mini-Mexico, featuring strip malls packed with doctors, dentists, discotecas, and botas de vaquero.
Another of Silvana's Sunnyslope favorites is the Mexican hot dog vendors situated most evenings at Cave Creek and Mountain View, and also at Dunlap and Second Street.
"Forget south Central," she says. "For a greater sense of community, head towards the Slope. The meth-head zombies are gone and replaced by the little Oaxacans on bikes."
The little shop is also packed with clothing everything from basic floral embroidered linen to floor-length silk skirts, including hard-to-find brands like CP Shades, Flax, and the amazing Krista Larson. Another favorite find was the skull-themed jewelry all silver worked in Mexico and imported to the store.
These chicks love Frida to the point that they've even given each other nicknames: Smoker Frida, Tia Frida, Dead Frida, Crafty Frida, Beader Frida, Paper Frida, Frida Bill and, well, you get the point. Like a Latin-flavored sewing circle, the women share ideas, support each other and promote their art. They show occasionally at Paper Heart and their works can also be purchased through their MySpace page. In spite of the slightly misleading title, you don't have to be a Latina to join. You just have to love art and, of course, all things Frida.