Maria Maria Restaurant

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.

La Casa Del Mariachi

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

Oaxaca

Oaxaca Restaurant and Cantina
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.

Bomberos Café & Wine Bar

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.

Taxi Inn

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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