Restaurante Salvadoreno

The Salvadoran specialty called a pupusa is one of our all-time favorite budget eats, usually ringing up at about two dollars each. But that's hardly the reason we can't resist 'em. Truth is, they're so satisfying to sink our teeth into — thick corn masa patties filled with cheese and other flavorful ingredients, like black beans, pork, or loroco, an edible flower native to El Salvador that tastes sort of like broccoli or dark leafy greens. Restaurante Salvadoreño's pupusas, fresh off the griddle, have a light, toasty crispiness on the outside and just the right amount of gooey melted cheese inside. We dare you to eat only one.

Barrio Cafe

We're pretty convinced that the more ingredients there are in a mole recipe, the quicker you'll be hooked on it once you try it. But of course, we'll never know for sure because the best mole recipes also happen to be the most closely guarded — and for good reason. The flavors are so rich and complex that it takes only one taste to fall under mole's charms. There are numerous styles of the sauce in Mexico, all made with various kinds of chile peppers, herbs, spices, and other ingredients. Luckily for us, Barrio Café cooks up not one but two fantastic versions: a zesty mole rojo and a dark, potent mole negro, which contains chocolate. Slathered on a juicy chicken breast or rolled up in enchiladas, either one is worthy of licking the platter clean.

Gallo Blanco Cafe
Robrt Pela

Awesome tacos on made-to-order tortillas? Top-notch tortas on fluffy telera bread? Thirst-quenching homemade aguas frescas? It's hard to pick just one thing from Gallo Blanco Café to rave about. Still, we think the elote callejero represents everything that's great about this hip but unpretentious eatery inside the Clarendon Hotel. The grilled Mexican street corn is simple, fresh, and ridiculously tasty, a huge cob of juicy kernels kissed with smokiness from the grill. It's covered with a handful of salty cotija cheese, with just a dusting of smoked paprika to enhance the sweetness of the corn. Chef-owner Doug Robson would surely protest that this is humble, everyday fare in Mexico City, and maybe he's right. If anything, though, that's only more reason to love it.

TEG Torta Shop
Chris Malloy

At this point, Tortas El Güero has a cult following. Why? Once you take a bite of one of its enormous Mexican sandwiches — stuffed with meat, thick slices of ripe avocado, pickled jalapeños, lettuce, tomato, and mayo — you can't help but inhale the whole thing with giddy delight. The soft, lightly toasted telera bread gives way to succulent fillings like moist chicken or juicy cochinita (sort of a Mexican pulled pork), which pair well with a cold cup of horchata or a bottle of Mexican Coke. These beauties are plenty filling (and remarkably cheap, too), but if you're feeling extra-hungry, try the extra-hearty Cubana, layered with sliced ham, breaded beef, roasted pork, and cheese. Before you know it, you'll be part of the cult.

El Nopalito

A jaunt to Rocky Point may seem like the quickest route to an authentic Mexican street taco, but it turns out that the real thing can be had a lot closer to home. Of course, you'll still be logging a lot of miles heading to El Nopalito, but only because of the many repeat visits we're sure you'll make once you taste their fantastic tacos. Tucked into tiny, fresh corn tortillas that you can in eat a couple of bites, the homemade fillings range from spicy al pastor and rich carne asada to succulent pollo, and they're all topped with diced onion and fresh cilantro. Served with tiny halved limes just like the ones at streetside taco stands in Mexico, they'll make this spot on 24th Street feel just like south of the border.

America's Taco Shop
Evie Carpenter

America Corrales doesn't mess around. At her adorable little restaurant — tucked into an old house, like so many of CenPho's quirkiest eateries — she's totally up-front about what her kitchen does best, and that's carne asada, pure and simple. The delectable smell coming from the grill will clue you in before you even get a taste of the smoky, perfectly seasoned beef. Step up to the counter and let them know your preferred delivery method. Do you like a sturdy burrito, wrapped in a thick, fresh tortilla? Or how about a few tacos, easy to gobble in a few bites? If sandwiches are your thing, try the carne asada in a torta, or get your cheese fix with some of the chopped meat in a quesadilla. Bottom line: If you're ready to satisfy your primal urges to eat some sizzling beef, you can't go wrong here.

Cien Agaves Tacos & Tequila
Jamie Peachey

With a name that translates as "100 agaves," this Scottsdale restaurant's specialty is crystal-clear. Approximately 100 tequilas, including almond- and pomegranate-tinged varieties and Gran Centenario Rosangel hibiscus tequila, are available by the shot or in margaritas with flavors such as cucumber and prickly pear. Guests can even sign up for a Tequila Club and receive drink specials and event news in their e-mail in-boxes. Tequilas are available in four varieties — blanco, reposado, anejo, and extra anejo — in order of aging, with blanco being fresh out of the plant and extra anejo being oak-aged for three years. If you're not sure which variety suits your palate, sample a tequila flight, offered for $18. Lightweights, just be sure to grab a few of Cien Agaves' tacos and tostadas while taking this flight, or you'll soon learn the true meaning of "one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!"

Listen closely: There's this drink in town. It's a drink you must try. It's a drink we hear calling our name in the summer months. We'll catch a whisper of the word, "Sangriaaaa" in the winds of the monsoon. In this heat, a boozy iced beverage is just what we all need to make life manageable. And we've found the best white version of it in the Valley. It's at the quaint Lola Tapas restaurant in the Camelback Corridor. Once the thermometer reaches 100, you may well see us parked at the family-style tables, gnawing on traditional Spanish tapas of shaved jamón or a slice of tortilla as the ice melts in our pitcher of white sangria. The folks at Lola keep it simple (white wine, lemon juice, and Triple Sec), then spice it up with sliced peaches and whole sticks of cinnamon for an aromatic teaser. Be sure to ask your server for an extra fork to fish out the peach slices if you really want a healthy buzz to set in. And if you're with a companion, go ahead and shell out for the $28 pitcher because one glass each will just leave you panting for more.

Ticoz Resto-Bar

Wine-lovers are the first to line up for good sangria, but getting a beer drinker to try the fruity wine cocktail is like getting a child to eat foie gras instead of chicken strips. That's why we're sold on Ticoz's passion fruit sangria. Everyone we've cajoled into drinking the stuff — from our beer-swilling husbands to Harley-riding, whiskey-drinking Cousin Lou — can't get enough. Cloudy magenta in color, Ticoz's red sangria is made with Oak Creek Cabernet and a splash of real passion fruit, pineapple, and orange juices. The citrus notes are the highlight, masking the bitter taste some wine-haters complain about. It's also light and refreshing enough to accompany Ticoz's awesome weekend brunch. But don't be fooled. It's way too easy to down a couple or three of these before you even notice the buzz, so take your time and feel free to load up on Ticoz's massive taco salads or a hearty gringo breakfast of chicken-apple sausage and farm eggs before driving home.

Trader Vic's

We've consumed many a silly mojito in our day — including, heretically, one with an umbrella in it — and we held out no great hopes for the interpretation of the national drink of Cuba served up by tiki-couture chain Trader Vic's. But this Trader Vic's ain't your mom and dad's kitschy '70s version of the island restaurant. The new-millennial Trader Vic's, while still plenty of fun, is damned serious about its high-end surf-and-turf and its extensive repertoire of tropical drinks.

The Vic's mojito is an unadorned but perfectly crafted blend of the five sacred ingredients (white rum, sugar, lime, carbonated water, and mint leaves), served in a plain, tall highball glass. It's lip-smacking good and as deadly as a voodoo snake. We downed a pair of the blessed vipers in the sublime open-air lounge. The first knocked us loopy. The second had us dancing in the fire pit. Ah, Polynesian paradise.

We usually go to this ravishing canal-side eatery to see and be seen — not to drown our sorrows. But then we stumbled onto a gorgeous new twist on the classic margarita that has us second-guessing our sobriety. The white peach and hibiscus margarita is a lovely soft pink, served on ice in a tall glass. But don't let its pink-lemonade looks fool you: This drink packs a tasty punch, with subtle tequila blanco, hibiscus syrup, and such an authentically delicate white peach flavor that you could never mistake it for the cloying nectar you get in a can. It's the perfect drink for a special occasion — but down too many, and it'll be an occasion you won't want to remember (not that you'd be able to).

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