Richardson's of New Mexico

Different moods call for different kinds of breakfast. Some days, it's a greasy, gut-busting American-style spread with pancakes and bacon and eggs. Other times, we prefer something lighter — and kind of French — like an omelet or some crepes. And then there are times when nothing but savory, spicy Mexican dishes will do. When that last craving kicks in, Richardson's always delivers, with some of the heartiest a.m. eats in town. (Although they serve it 'til 4 p.m. on weekends, so don't worry about sleeping in and missing out.) We're fond of the perfect huevos rancheros, smothered in Richardson's legendary New Mexican-style chile, as well as the outstanding breakfast burrito. And carne adovada, a heaping platter of smoked pork simmered in red chile, is the perfect splurge to start the day. Honestly, we can't think of a time when we're not in the mood for that.

El Zocalo Mexican Grille

What a charmer. We already thought El Zocalo was a neat restaurant with the perfect name (a Mexican zócalo is the town square, and this eatery is situated right on Chandler's own town square, San Marcos Place). But once we discovered the lush outdoor patio tucked out back — something we'd missed when we ate there during the hottest time of year — we were totally enamored. With tables decked out in white linens, red brick pavers, flowering shrubs, and leafy potted plants all around, it's romantic and relaxing, the kind of place that makes us glad to live where the season for patio dining is almost the entire year. And at night, it's lit up with tiny white lights that cast a flattering glow on anybody who's dining out there. If there's any way to look good while greedily snarfing down El Zocalo's insanely tasty mole de pollo, it's in a setting as pretty as this.

Rito's Mexican Food
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Talk about a testament to a restaurant's success: Earlier this year, Rito's streamlined its already compact menu — farewell, tacos and tostadas — and it hardly seems to have put a dent in business. Nope, most days there's still a line here at lunchtime, even though this no-frills eatery keeps a really low profile (so low that there's not even a sign on the front door). Of course, it's worth the wait for excellent burros and chimichangas, served up plain or enchilada-style. Go for the red chili burro, with tender shreds of beef smothered in smooth, lip-smackingly spicy sauce; the green chili burro (Rito's claim to fame), filled with moist chunks of pork; or the great beans and rice. It's all homey, flavorful, and easy on the wallet. And be sure to stake out a spot at one of the picnic tables outside, where you can join other happy customers chowing down on one of the best lunch deals in town. After one whiff of the good stuff cooking back in the kitchen, we promise you'll be too hungry to take your takeout back home.

Carolina's Mexican Food
Sarah Whitmire

Tucked away on a quiet street southeast of downtown Phoenix, the original Carolina's would appear to be off the beaten path. But step through the front door and you'll be surprised at how bustling this place is; there's usually a line at most times of the day. (To be fair, the packed parking lot sort of gives it away.) Indeed, folks come here from well beyond the barrio to get their Mexican food fix, and not just because it's affordable. It's the killer tortillas that keep them coming back — tortillas that truly have no match in this vast Valley of Mexican restaurants. Why's that? Well, the easiest way to find out is just to taste them. They're remarkably thin and light, with just enough stretchiness to contain a burro's worth of fillings, and a moist, soft texture that makes them equally good unadorned. The fact that Carolina's tortillas are so popular is somewhat of a self-perpetuating success, since the high demand means the folks behind the counter are constantly making fresh ones. And once you get a bite of a hot one off the griddle, we're sure you'll be a fan.

Los Sombreros
Courtesy of Los Sombreros

We don't use the word "dreamy" too often, but that's the first description that comes to mind when we think of the mole poblano at Los Sombreros. The first bite makes us feel like we're floating on a cloud, and the last bite gives us a twinge of melancholy, as if we're a little heartbroken to see our meal come to an end. Here, the chocolate-tinged sauce is velvety smooth, with a masterful touch of spice, and it's served over a filling portion of moist, shredded chicken. We're also fond of the mole verde, served with juicy simmered pork. Whereas the mole poblano is seductive, this mole is sassy as all get out, made with pumpkin seeds and tomatillo. Either way, it's mole so good we almost catch ourselves shouting, "Olé!" — although admittedly that's after a couple margaritas.

Mariscos Sinaloa
Jackie Mercandetti

We have no illusions. Mariscos Sinaloa's blue vinyl booths and colorful, whimsical mural of sea creatures are not enough to fool us into thinking we're anywhere near the ocean. The seafood dishes, however, are beyond convincing. Not only do they look freshly caught — whole cooked snapper seems as though it was just plucked from the deep, and you half expect the pair of shrimp garnishing the seafood cocktail to wriggle their shiny tails — they taste that way, too. Camarones aguachile (raw shrimp bathed in chile-spiked lime juice) are tender and sweet, while the filete especial del chef (tilapia slathered in cream sauce with bacon, banana pepper, and shrimp) is moist and perfectly cooked. Sure, a trip to the shore would be nice, but in the meantime, eating at Mariscos Sinaloa is a beach vacation for our taste buds.

TEG Torta Shop
Chris Malloy

Ever since we discovered the joys of eating at Tortas El Güero, we can hardly bring ourselves to eat at fast-food joints anymore. What, you've never had a torta? Friend, let us introduce you to the glory of the Mexican sandwich: It's a ginormous, filling thing, stuffed with meat, lettuce, tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, mayo, and thick slices of avocado, served on a soft, lightly toasted telera roll. Really, it's enough food for two people, but it's so tasty that we usually end up snarfing down the whole torta ourselves. There are 20-some choices on the menu here, so we could practically eat a different one every day for weeks on end, although we do have a few favorites. The oversized Cubana is a carnivore's dream, layered with ham, cheese, breaded beef, and sliced pork, and the Pastor is a total eye-opener, with tender chunks of pork in a fiery red chile sauce. And the Hawaiiana, jazzed up with queso fresco and pineapple, is a refreshing take on a ham sandwich. With an ice-cold Mexican Coke or a big cup of horchata, these tortas make for a cheap and tasty feast that beats a Big Mac any day. 

El Nopalito

It's probably a cliché, but it's true: Some of the best tacos we've ever had were at a ramshackle roadside stand in Mexico, cooked right up in front of us and served with halved limes the size of large gumdrops. We thought we'd have to swing a return trip to eat tacos that good again, but thankfully, we've found a delicious substitute — and amazingly, it's in central Phoenix. Like so many local finds, El Nopalito resides in an inconspicuous strip mall and is easy to zoom past unless you're seeking it out. In other words, don't expect to stumble on this place. But hey, if you're craving tacos the way we were, you'll head straight to it. No bigger than two or three bites, El Nopalito's tiny tacos are easy to love, served on fresh corn tortillas and topped with diced onion and fresh cilantro. They even serve them with those miniature limes. You'll want to try them all, from al pastor (spicy pork) to carne asada. And considering that they're only 99 cents apiece, trying them all really isn't out of the question.

Los Dos Molinos
Lauren Saria

Do you ever find yourself ordering one particular thing whenever you see it on a menu? We're that way with machaca. And ever since we discovered the outrageously good machaca at Los Dos Molinos — where there's a whole menu full of memorable dishes — we've had to keep returning just to satisfy our cravings. Here, the classic shredded beef dish is impressively tender, with a rich, meaty flavor that stands up to Los Dos' signature spices. This is kicky stuff, for sure, but it's heat we can handle. Better yet, there are three different machaca dishes. You can get it wrapped in a burro slathered in enchilada sauce, tucked into a crisp, golden chimichanga, or spooned onto the machaca pizza, a huge, crispy tortilla topped with tomatoes, red chili, and gooey melted cheese. That last one is our favorite, an entrée-sized appetizer that we'd be happy to devour alone. Sorry, but if you want to eat machaca this good, you're on your own.

Sabor Cubano
Jackie Mercandetti

At this family-owned buffet — brimming with home-style Cuban dishes like arroz con pollo, ropa vieja (shredded beef), fricasé de puerco (super-tender pork), and apporeado de pescado (shredded fish with vegetables) — it seems kind of indulgent to order an extra dessert, especially since there are puddings, fresh fruits, and pastries included in the all-you-can-eat spread. But seriously, who can say no to flan this good? Not us, now that we crave this creamy dessert all the time. Sabor Cubano has spoiled us with its superb rendition of a classic. Some places serve flan that's as light and wiggly as a blob of Jell-O (to be fair, we like that stuff too), while this flan is denser and silkier, with a deep golden glaze of delicious caramel sauce. It's sweet, but not cloyingly so, which makes it that much easier to scarf down a whole serving by ourselves. You could argue that this portion is really meant for two, but we prefer to think of it, simply, as more to love.

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