Best Latin Dance Night 2008 | Caliente Chica Fridays | La Vida | Phoenix

At this point, we don't know who's been around longer: AL3, Phoenix's Turntable Patriarch and international DJ all-star, or The Matador — the iconic downtown Mexican food joint that's been busting out burritos for almost three decades. All we know for sure is that magic happened when these two joined forces. Freakin' good clubbin' in a restaurant? Are we serious? We sure are. The tables are cleared, and the dance floors are filled by some of the most muy sabrosa clubbers around. Not sure yet? Don't just trust us, ask the nearly 1,000 people who line up outside along Adams on a Friday night waiting to get in and shake that thang to the best booty-rockin' reggaeton, old-school beats, hip-hop hits, and cumbia 'round back. Be advised — there's no room for chillin'; the dance floor's packed with caliente chicas aplenty who come here to dance.


Karamba Nightclub is the overachieving bar that could. While they rack up international accolades as one of the planet's best gay bars, they're still workin' on workin' it out on the dance floor for all their fans. Like the unmatched Vaquero Thursdays. This night brings the best beats from DJ Miguel, who we think is just about the best DJ in the 'Nix, spinning pop en español, cumbia, norteño, and banda. Wear your boots that are made for dancin' and join a merry mix of cowboys, clubbers, and cuties on the dance floor, while a world-class sound system blasts the bomb beats. Sure, if you need a break, there are $3 pitchers of beer. Who's paying attention to that while The Susana Show, hosted by the lovely reina Susana, delivers delicious impersonations of Gloria Trevi, Thalia, and our hero — Shakira? Her hips don't lie! Forget about staying en su casa; Thursday nights are all about Karamba's Vaquero Thursdays.

Carlos Santana appears to be supernaturally gifted at stuff other than playing guitar. Take his shoe line, for example — festive, affordable heels that are sexy rather than sleazy. The same adjectives apply to Maria Maria, his restaurant concept: festive, affordable, sexy-not-sleazy. Either the man's a wizard at creating ambiance, or he knows enough to pick the right partners. The result is that the new Maria Maria in Tempe Marketplace feels less like a chain and more like a trip. The food is pretty good — sort of South American/Mexican, a little pricey, a little fussy, but fresh and flavorful — but the real reason to drop by on a Saturday night is the scene. Perch on a bar stool, sip on a caipirinha or a mojito, and groove to the sounds of Habana Soul, one of the live bands the restaurant showcases on weekends. And watch yourself: Under the Santana spell, you just might find yourself on the tiny dance floor, alongside the Latin lovelies who really know what they're doing.

No quinceañera or boda (Mexican wedding) in sight to satisfy your thirst for the joyous blare of mariachis? There's always La Casa del Mariachi, where the excellent Mexican fare, the Crayola-bright interior, and the music makes it the place to be. On weekends, the adjacent dancehall hosts quite the fiesta with a full mariachi band, brass and all.

Best Place to Hear Sad Mariachi Music


Courtesy of Oaxaca

Heartbroken? The remedy is Oaxaca. Three grandfatherly gentlemen on guitar, vihuela, and guitarrón post up on Friday and Saturday nights in the cozy, zarape-wrapped lounge. Their soulful croonings of love — whether fulfilled, unrequited, or lost — always ring true, especially when you're wistfully nursing a beer.

We swear we're not trying to be trendy by saying we like South American wines. Scout's honor, we've long thought they were a great bang for the buck, and often stocked our depleted wine rack with South American labels when we couldn't afford the stuff from California. But ever since our pal came back from a trip to Buenos Aires — move over, Prague, it's the new bohemian jetset destination — we've heard way too much about how great the wines are in Argentina. So what a blessing that Bomberos Café & Wine Bar opened its doors in a funky renovated firehouse building in Sunnyslope, serving fantastic wines from Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Uruguay. We're fans of the berry-rich Susana Balbo Malbec, but alas, that's one of the few choices not available by the glass. Which means we're usually looking for a friend or two to join us in the sleek, candlelit bar, or out on the inviting back patio. If you're not busy later on, you'll know where to find us.

On a recent bar crawl, we were surprised when we stumbled into the Taxi Inn, asked for the house specialty, and were told there was no hard liquor on the menu. No hard liquor? What's the point? Ah, but we had no further questions after consuming the mi/chelada. Let us elaborate.

We watched as the weathered bartender rimmed a beer mug with salt. The old guy then added beer, some Clamato, a couple of freshly squeezed limes, and topped the whole thing off with a couple of big squirts from a rusty-topped V8 can filled with N.Y.-style Frank's Hot Sauce. We've gotta say, the spicy, Bloody Mary-style beer concoction really hit the spot.

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