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 Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, Southeast Valley

Si Senor

Si Senor Restaurant
We're so happy that the Castillo family decided to expand its Las Cruces, New Mexico-based business to the Valley, because Si Senor is one of the top spots to try spicy dishes made with our neighboring state's famous Hatch chile peppers. Red chile pork, with moist chunks of meat in an alluring, rich roasted chile sauce, and green chile beef, studded with bits of chile, are two must-tries, as is anything blanketed in Si Senor's beloved sauces — chimichangas, enchiladas, rellenos, and more. Sure, it's hot enough to make your lips catch on fire, but why not go for it when there's a menu full of thirst-quenching margaritas? As an added bonus, complimentary sopaipillas end the meal on a sweet note.

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, Tempe

Moreno's Mexican Grill

Sonoran Hot Dog
Heather Hoch
Sonoran Hot Dog
Moreno's is unexpectedly charming when you set foot in this strip mall spot near the ASU campus — faux stone details, cozy booths, and a fresh salsa bar are just a few of the details that make it better than your average Mexican joint. The menu is broader and more interesting, too, with a variety of sopes, tostadas, cheese crisps, and tortas to round out the list of burros and tacos. Better yet, they offer fillings like lengua (tongue), adobada (grilled pork), and cabeza (head) along with the usual suspects. To drink, there are aguas frescas like jamaica and strawberry, ladled out of huge glass jars. And get this — Moreno's features a bacon-wrapped Sonoran-style hot dog, too, eliminating the need to hunt down the regional treat at a food truck. Why go anywhere else when Moreno's seems to have it all?

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, Scottsdale

Habanero's Mexican Grill

Every neighborhood should be so lucky to have a family-owned Mexican joint like Habanero's, a special little gem in North Scottsdale. Here, owner Arturo Diaz serves up recipes he brought to the states from Jalisco, Mexico, where his parents ran taco stands. And, yes, Habaneros does tacos brilliantly, from carne asada, fish, and excellent carnitas de Jalisco to blackened shrimp with chipotle sauce and pico de gallo. Sink your teeth into a burrito, plump with chorizo, refried beans, and pico, or put some color into your cheeks with fragrant red chile tamales. Or, if you're hankering for straight-up protein, get the parrillada tampiqueña, a meat-lover's fantasy of grilled steak, chicken, chorizo, and carnitas.

Best Mexican Restaurant Decor con Queso

Casa Reynoso

Casa Reynoso
Natalie Miranda
We've lauded Casa Reynoso in the past for its comidas muy auténticas, yummy, old family recipes from the Mexican-cuisine-heavy Globe-Miami area. And, indeed, the tacos filled with beef shredded to near-pâté consistency and not a speck of cheese, the meticulously roasted green chile dishes, and the traditional scorching-hot plates are a dependable comfort in an almost deserted strip mall. But look around a bit, and hope no pickers or dealers will read this section. From hand-tooled leather chairs in the lobby to random macramé fake-plant hangers, serapes, dozens of family photos going waaaaay back (some of those cherubic little girls have got to be cougars by now), and — hey, that's an actual saddle by the cash register — the huge mirror surrounded with incongruous pastel Capodimonte porcelain flowers . . . well, it all makes the original bullfighter painting you'll spy on the way to the restroom seem a little low-key by comparison.
Bill Hutichison won't divulge all the secret ingredients in his Kissed With Fire salsa, but he stands firmly on the belief that roasted green peppers are essential to producing just the right bite. Hutichison traveled throughout the Southwest in pursuit of the perfect pepper until he discovered a New Mexican green variety worthy of his tasty salsa. Loaded with fresh ingredients, this salsa, which comes in both mild and hot, is great on a chip, but its hearty consistency also works well as an accompaniment for eggs, burritos, and even burgers.
Verde
Evie Carpenter
Although we can't prove it unless we start sneaking into some kitchens, it's pretty obvious that a lot of Mexican restaurants get their tortillas straight out of a bag — and some don't even bother to reheat them. What gives, people? There's a lot of competition for good Mexican food in the Valley, and to set yourself apart from the pack, you need to make grand gestures. That's what they do at Verde, a humble little downtown spot serving cheap, casual eats and flour tortillas we're absolutely certain are as fresh as can be. Just take a look in the big front window, where you can see ladies hand-forming and cooking them on a griddle right on the premises. These are a little thicker than the norm, tender, and perfect for scooping up gobs of Verde's fragrant green chile pork — or simply enjoying plain.
Los Sombreros
Courtesy of Los Sombreros
When it comes to names, "corn smut" just doesn't do it for us. "Mexican truffle" sounds a whole lot better. Funny, though, that they're the same thing: huitlacoche, a delicacy that's starting to show up on more local menus as people catch on to its earthy, flavorful allure. At Los Sombreros, it gets a sexy spin in the form of crepes. Here, huitlacoche is wrapped in moist, thin pancakes, and smothered in a sauce of blue and goat cheeses, as well as pomegranate sauce. Los Sombreros serves a lot of killer apps, but this one is don't-miss-it delicious.

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