Best Red Chili 2009 | Si Señor Restaurant | La Vida | Phoenix

Si Señor really brings the heat. An Arizona spin-off of the Castillo family's restaurant in New Mexico, this place specializes in tantalizingly tongue-searing dishes that put our neighboring state's famed Hatch chiles to good use. Free chips and homemade salsas get your taste buds primed, but prepare to rev things up even more with the spicy, luscious red chili con carne. Sure, it's hot, but it's got a complex, roasted chile flavor that shines, accented by chunks of melt-in-your-mouth pork. (If you want to go nuclear, order the chunky green chili con carne; it's just as addicting.) Cool off between bites with a refreshing, unusual sangria margarita (a house specialty), and you could ride the heat wave all day.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

There's something about Rito's that feels like an insiders' club — maybe it's the lunchtime line snaking out the door or the complete lack of signage on the building, which is off the beaten path in a central Phoenix neighborhood. And, indeed, there is a very special secret about this place, although it's one we share with everyone who loves good Mexican food. It's the unforgettable green chili burro, packed with tender chunks of pork. Wrapped in a fresh tortilla, it's comfort food at its best. But there's something else you should know about it: Be careful when you take your first bite, or you'll wind up with green chili all over your shirt. And then you definitely won't look like an insider.

The unforgettable carne adovada at Los Dos Molinos is doubly seductive — slow-cooked, melt-in-your-mouth pork combined with the heat of red chile marinade. What's the kitchen's secret? It uses New Mexico red chiles, whose distinctively rich flavor takes the dish to a whole new level. If you're impatient to get a taste of it, the easiest plate-to-mouth delivery method is a Los Dos burro, neatly wrapped in a fresh flour tortilla. But if you have the time and appetite to splurge on a mountain of fork-tender pork, order the adovada ribs. They're a house specialty here, and they're so good that we can hardly shut up about them (unless we're in the middle of eating them, of course).

Jackie Mercandetti

Thanks to La Barquita's lengthy, covers-all-the-bases menu, there are plenty of reasons to stop by this affordable, no-frills neighborhood joint on McDowell. From crispy chicken-stuffed flautas to chile verde with pork to mouth-searing camarones rancheros (shrimp in spicy ranchero sauce), there's a dish for just about any craving. The real reason we come here, though, is to eat a dish you just can't find anywhere: birria. To put it less eloquently, in English, it's goat meat. The way La Barquita serves it up is al estilo La Barca, Jalisco — that is, Jalisco-style. Cooked until it's falling off the bone and served in its own lightly spiced juices, the meat comes with steaming tortillas, diced onion, fresh cilantro, lime wedges, and hot sauce. No rice, no beans, no distractions. Just how we like it.

We doubt many folks would drool over any menu description that mentions corn smut, because it sounds like something gnarly that Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern would seek out on his Travel Channel show. But call this fungus by its Nahuatl name, as they do in Mexico, and it has quite an appetizing ring to it: huitlacoche. This is the magic ingredient in Sierra Bonita Grill's scrumptious mini-quesadillas, with menonita cheese, spinach, and huitlacoche wrapped in fragrant corn tortillas. Pico de gallo and black bean and hominy relish make tasty embellishments, but we prefer them plain — the better to savor the mushroom-y taste of these "Mexican truffles."

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.

Allison Young

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.

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.

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.

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.

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