BEST VIETNAMESE BAKERY THAT CATERS TO MEXICANS

Bamboo Bakery

David Pham is a classically trained French pastry chef from Vietnam who runs a Phoenix bakery that caters mainly to Mexicans. Don't you just love America? (Okay, don't answer that. We're sick of you bigots out there!)

In any case, Pham has certainly added a dose of sugar to the local melting pot with the Bamboo Bakery. Initially, Pham focused on croissants and pastries, but as his reputation spreads, he's been making more cakes — specifically, brightly hued Mexican tres leches cake and fancy cakes in just about any shape, for quinceañera celebrations. (A favorite: a cake designed to look just like the guest of honor's fancy party dress.) Stop by the store, or check out the bakery's Web site, which will allow you to choose from more than 150 flavors of cakes and fillings. As for designs, the only limit is your imagination, and Pham will do you up right for any holiday.

Realeza Michoacana
Since those popsicle pushcarts are, literally, moving targets, when we get a taste for our favorite paletas, we head to this sweet little shop, where the freezer is always packed with cantaloupe, watermelon, and tamarind popsicles. Realeza Michoacana also sells a wide variety of ice cream and fresh fruit spiked with chile, as well as a bakery case full of fresh cookies and breads. But our favorite part of a stop here is the chance to admire the walls, which are painted our favorite shade of raspberry pink, adorned with large, kitschy paintings of the restaurant's offerings. We love the big ice cream cone and corn on the cob on the window, and the basket of the fruit on the front wall. We are particularly fond of the pile of baked goods under the word Panadera — it's good to have a visual, since, we're embarrassed to admit, we don't speak a word of Spanish. But the language barrier never stops us from walking out of Realeza Michoacana feeling just a little sweeter.
Los Altos Ranch Market
Timur Guseynov
Why is there always a line at the grass-roofed hut next to the open dining area at Phoenix Ranch Market? Because all those hungry shoppers need something thirst-quenching to go with the burritos, tacos, and tortas they're getting at the hot foods counter, and these refreshing, cantina-style drinks (most made with fresh fruit juices) taste good with everything. Not to mention, the aguas frescas bar here has so many craveable flavors, from luscious papaya to tart jamaica (hibiscus) to sweet, milky horchata, which tastes kind of like rice pudding. Nearly a dozen of them are ladled out of big, barrel-shaped glass jars filled with ice, so they're cold enough to revive you from the withering heat outside. We recommend ordering the biggest size they have — you might look goofy holding that huge Styrofoam cup, but it's the only thing that'll last through lunch and a grocery shopping spree.
Christown Spectrum Mall
Hey, have you been to Christown Mall lately? That is one weird mall, dude. You walk inside — and there's a Costco. And a Wal-Mart.

Luckily, in between the two, along with Famous Footwear and Claire's, is La Olla. It's a cubby of a coffee shop, and we would never have found it if a good friend with a taste for all things Latin hadn't mentioned it. The place bills itself as a "Euro Latino Espresso Café," and it was funny to see our lattes and cappuccinos translated into Spanish. We tried the house specialty, La Olla — sweetened espresso smothered in chocolate and accented with cinnamon. Delicious, not quite like any coffee drink we've had. And now we can't wait to go back to Christown.

Mini Mercado Oaxaca
Even though mole shows up on a lot of menus around town, it's usually the token Oaxacan entree in a sea of Sonoran specialties. But at Mini Mercado Oaxaca — located in the heart of Sunnyslope, where the burgeoning Oaxacan community has earned the 'hood the nickname "Little Oaxaca" — the mole isn't just a stand-alone regional item. Here, it's joined by excellent sopes, chilaquiles, tlayudas (pizza-sized tortillas with a variety of toppings), and other hard-to-find dishes.

In other words, this stuff is deliciously authentic, and worth seeking out. Whether you're in the mood for rich mole rojo, chock full of red chiles, or a deep, dark mole negro (a spicy, mysterious concoction made with unsweetened chocolate), they both taste great with the roasted chicken, a whole thigh and leg so plump with meat that you'll have a field day scooping up all that mole. And don't worry — even after you've picked every last bit of meat off the bones, you can clean your plate with warm, soft tortillas. Can't let a good mole go to waste!

Carolina's Mexican Food
Sarah Whitmire
We've given Carolina's "Best Tortillas" more times than we can count, but don't assume we're being lazy just because we're giving them the honor again. Seriously, we spend all year thinking about tortillas, comparing the offerings at every Mexican place we visit to the hot, homemade beauties we find here.

Indeed, there are lots of tasty tortillas in these parts, but Carolina's are still the gold standard. They're thin and stretchy and almost delicate, but big and firm enough to hold a gut-busting amount of machaca or chorizo and beans without exploding after one bite. Beyond that, they're irresistible on their own. While hundreds of Mexican joints in the Valley look for new ways to dress up their tortillas, Carolina's is doing just fine, thank you, selling them plain. When they're fresh off the griddle, you'll want to eat them by the bagful.

Restaurant Mexico
The first time we ordered a quesadilla at this downtown Tempe eatery, we had to do a double-take when it arrived with our meal — it was unlike any we'd ever seen. Usually, we have some kind of melted cheese-and-tortilla thing in mind.

But at Restaurant Mexico, where the menu focuses on Mexico City-style dishes, the kitchen has a lighter touch with everything. As for the quesadillas, they're made with fresh masa (corn dough) that's deep-fried and filled with spicy chorizo or beef picadillo, a far cry from the typical rendition you see in these parts.

Nowadays, Restaurant Mexico is the only place we can really get our quesadilla fix. Shame to think the place almost went under with all the development going on in Tempe. But earlier this year, it moved into new digs on Mill, its fourth location in more than 30 years of business. We couldn't be happier to see this institution stick around — and from the looks of all the hungry patrons chowing down there at lunchtime, we know we have plenty of company.

What makes the green corn tamales at El Bravo so addicting? Is it the moist, sweet masa, or the creamy, tangy green sauce? We're not sure, but we know that every time we visit this cheerful, family-run nook, we can't resist ordering one. The menu's filled with other temptations, too — like burros made with thin, homemade tortillas, and a unique, house-specialty machaca made with dried beef and eggs — but we can always save room for a tamale. And now that El Bravo has a second location in Sky Harbor's Terminal 4, we're psyched that we can stuff our faces before boarding our next flight.
Los Reyes De La Torta
Sooner or later, you're going to blow your diet, so you might as well come to Los Reyes de la Torta and enjoy every guilt-inducing bite of their gargantuan Mexican sandwiches. There's hardly anything here for vegetarians, but if you're a meat lover, you'll get a week's worth of protein (not to mention calories) stuffed into one big bun. Can't decide between breaded beef, pork sirloin, ham, or chorizo? Well, let the namesake torta del rey make things easy for you. The thing's layered with all that and more: refried beans, melted cheese, eggs, avocado, jalapeño, tomato, and onion. It sounds like a lot to bite into — and it is — but what's shocking is how easily you can sink your teeth into one. The lightly grilled bread is fluffy and moist, and the thinly sliced meats are remarkably tender. You'll scoff at how big these tortas are, until you find yourself polishing one off, slurping on some pineapple juice, and rubbing your belly like one happy Buddha — or the Latin equivalent.
Mi Comida
Katie Walter
Okay, we know what you're thinking. "How much can a restaurant improve on the time-honored taco, enchilada, and chile relleno platter?" Our answer: When it doesn't include any of the above.

We're used to getting variety at Mexican restaurants, but Mi Cocina Mi Pais has won us over by sheer novelty, with a tasty culinary repertoire that ventures much farther south of the border, to Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia. In particular, we're enthralled with La Bandeja Paisa, a combination plate with more variety than anywhere in town, aside from all-you-can-eat buffets. This incredible combo includes marinated steak, chorizo, a fried pork rib chicharron, a pile of patacones (unripened plantain fritters), fried plantains, arepas (fluffy corn cakes), rice, warm pepper relish, red beans, avocado, and a fried egg. No wonder it's unofficially considered the national dish of Colombia — La Bandeja Paisa is the kind of homey, filling meal that could lull an entire country into a sweet, patriotic food coma. We pledge our allegiance to Mi Cocina Mi Pais.

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