Mercado Mexico
We'll admit it: There was a time we thought that the aesthetic sold at places like Pier 1 Imports and Cost Plus World Market was charming. Decking out our homes in overpriced crap from Third World countries is our right as Americans and a hell of a way to look as though we're cultured and sympathetic to the poor souls who live in those places. Then we realized something. We live in Phoenix, home to one of the greatest import stores we've seen: Mercado Mexico. Unlike the aforementioned retailers, Mercado Mexico is the real deal. And the wares they sell are far from what we would call cheap crap. Did you know that Mexican ceramics are regarded as some of the best in the world? This fact is plainly apparent at Mercado Mexico, where the indoor/outdoor store explodes with garden pots, glazed ceramic figurines, Dia de los Muertos skeletons, bull skulls, chile pepper bundles, furniture, blankets, and, well, you get the idea. The locally owned store offers everything at low prices (they'll haggle with you if habla un poquito español) and their selection is fantastico.
The Purple Lizard
Marguerite Tram, the owner of this funky boutique across the breezeway from a garden shop and a hamburger joint in a cute strip mall near Phoenix College, has the best taste. She stuffs her little shop with linen dresses, comfortable shoes, cute purses, and a lovely collection of the best Mexican-inspired gifts and wares we've seen in town. From oilcloth to Day of the Dead figures to tissue paper banners and pricier (but worth it) antiques, each piece is prettier than the one before — and we want it all! Gracias, Marguerite!
What?! You didn't know there was a such a thing as Mexican embroidery thread?! Okay, neither did we — 'til our friend Kathy "Crafty Chica" Cano-Murillo let slip that Mario Ramos is her favorite local Mexican craft store. We jumped in the car immediately. Mario Ramos himself is a doll, custom-making piñatas in the parking lot of his tiny shop. Inside there isn't much, to be honest, but we did find the promised selection of Mexican embroidery thread and other supplies. Turns out, this thread is thick and waxy, more like cord than thread, and it really pops on the fabric. The shop stocks a wide variety of colors, as well as pillowcases, placemats and other fabrics stamped with whimsical, Mexican-art inspired patterns. Loaded with a pile of the affordable wares, we're feeling crafty, indeed!

Best Place to Take a Tourist Looking for Mexican Tchotchkes

Mexican Import

Mexican Import
Let's be honest. The days of a dawdle down to Nogales are over. We miss the pretty drive through the desert to the sweet little town, where we used to spend hours hunting for punched-tin frames and Dia de los Muertos figures (and maybe a bit of time hunting for perfectly legal Xanax). But now, Nogales is war-torn, the victim of drug cartels, and we can't convince Aunt Dorothy that crossing the border is a good idea. But she wants a souvenir of her trip to Arizona, so we take her to Scottsdale — specifically, to Mexican Import. This store is packed with the embroidered dresses, painted terra cotta figures, piñatas, and other tchotchkes you'll find in the border town shops, but there's none of the drama, and you'll spend a lot less on gas. When you're done shopping, blow your savings on a margarita down the block at The Mission.
Food City
This El Mirage Food City offers an authentic taste of Mexico in its little snack bar, tortillería, and throughout its grocery aisles. Stop by early any day of the week for a bag of fresh roasted whole green chilies, the perfect ingredient for homemade green chile. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a bag of fresh pan dulce to enjoy with your morning cup of cafe. You can also find cooking essentials, such as large pots suitable for cooking menudo or steaming tamales, and nearly any ingredient for a Mexican meal that is simply delicioso!
The Mission
Jackie Mercandetti
Everybody already knows that The Mission is one of Old Town's sexiest dinner destinations — those chandeliers and candles everywhere create a moody, decadent kind of glamour — but it's just as cool a hangout during the day. We're huge fans of the weekend brunch menu, which has some unique and unforgettable dishes. Crave savory in the a.m.? Go for the delicious scrambled eggs with chorizo, grilled flour tortillas, and chipotle grits, red chile chilaquiles topped with a gooey fried egg, or delicate corn pancakes topped with Dungeness crab, fresh cilantro, and lip-smacking smoked Oaxacan pasilla crema. Or, if you like to start your day with a little sugar, try the dessert-like cinnamon pecan waffles with dulce de leche crema. Expertly crafted brunch cocktails like mimosas and the "Mission Mary," as well as French press coffee, are worth lingering over.
La Hacienda at the Fairmont
A lot of hearts were broken when La Hacienda, the iconic fine-dining spot at the Fairmont, closed in 2008. But in January, the grand dame returned to the Valley scene looking refreshed and ready for another turn in the spotlight. This time, the restaurant has acclaimed executive chef Richard Sandoval — a Mexico City native who's famous for his modern Mexican cuisine, with more than a dozen eateries around the world — as well as chef de cuisine Forest Hamrick, who was with the restaurant when it previously earned the elite AAA Four Diamond award for three years running. They've crafted a menu that interprets traditional dishes for a sophisticated contemporary palate. Here, the classic red snapper dish, Huachinango a la Veracruzana, comes with smoked bacon fufu and tomato olive caper sauce, while crispy corn sopes topped with carnitas are embellished with black bean puree, Napa cabbage, and pickled onion.

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, Central Phoenix

La Tolteca

La Tolteca
Jackie Mercandetti
Ambitious is the word that comes to mind when we think of La Tolteca, an affordable spot close to downtown that goes the extra mile to give customers the Mexican food they crave. Love tacos and burritos? Sure, they've got 'em, from basics like carne asada and shredded chicken to more exotic fillings like tripa (tripe), lengua (tongue) and cabeza (head). La Tolteca does huge tortas on fresh telera (there's an in-house bakery here, natch), sopes, quesadillas, tamales, and a slew of combo platters, too. They do a killer Mexican breakfast, as well. We're sure we're forgetting to mention something because La Tolteca just has so much — but that's the beauty of it.

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, South Phoenix

Los Dos Molinos

Los Dos Molinos
Lauren Saria
Here's a place that's got the laid-back, fun vibe of a great neighborhood spot with all the pizzazz and unforgettable food of a destination restaurant. Whether you live nearby or just feel like heading south, Los Dos Molinos will feed you well and send you home with a proper food coma, thanks to fiery New Mexican-style cuisine and huge margaritas to quell the heat. Sure, you can find a few mild things on the menu, but why not go wild with spicy machaca or lip-smacking carne adovada, tender chunks of pork marinated in red chile? Even the chips and salsa will put some color into your cheeks. We'd like to tell you more, but we're making ourselves hungry. Just hit up Los Dos and you'll understand our obsession.

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, West Valley

Pepe's Taco Villa

Pepe's Taco Villa
Natalie Miranda
Oh, Pepe, you know what we like. Amazing chicken enchiladas with deep, dark mole negro, tender pork carnitas, heaping plates of green chile beef with rice and beans, and spicy, filling breakfast dishes (like kicky huevos rancheros) that've never done us wrong. We're especially fans of the unique Taco Monterrey, with dried beef, scrambled eggs, chiles, tomatoes, and onions wrapped up in a soft flour tortilla — that hits the spot no matter what time of day it is (although it always makes us ready for a siesta after we've filled our bellies).

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of