The heck with healthful eating. As long as there are Sonoran hot dogs in the world, we must eat them. Any dog served in a piping hot, freshly baked sweet bun and wrapped in bacon, then smothered in diced tomato, guacamole, chopped onion, and beans is one worth eating. And the best of these can be found at Nogales Hot Dogs, a humble roadside stand with wieners so good we've forgotten all about Coney Island dogs and Chicago dogs and chili-cheese dogs and pretty much every other kind of hot dog we've ever tried.
The Tamale Store
With 23 flavors of tamales, The Tamale Store offers everything you can think of — and if you don't find what you're looking for on the menu, just ask. The Tamale Store will custom-make specialty batches for events. It also offers a special flavor of the month. What is even more fantastic is that it sells and delivers to most of the farmers markets in Central Phoenix.Taste-wise, these tamales really are the best. The Tamale Store does not use lard, so if you order a vegan variety, it really will be delivered vegan. Nothing beats a green chile and corn tamale — well, except maybe a chicken mole tamale or maybe a blueberry cream cheese tamale. Oh, just get over there and discover your own favorite.
Sometimes the urge to seek out good carne asada hits us so hard that we'll drop whatever we're doing to go devour a plate of meat. But things have gotten a lot easier since we discovered Sonora Mesquite Grill, a tiny, super-friendly spot that specializes in the stuff. What's the secret to such juicy, flavorful carne asada? We wish we knew the answer to that, but in the meantime, we'll keep doing our "research" by testing out as many burritos, tacos, and combo platters as we can. Top-notch homemade salsas make it even more appealing.
Dick's Hideaway
Patricia Escarcega
The unforgettable carne adovada at Dick's Hideaway is the same recipe that used to be served at the late, great (and soon-to-reopen, in a different location) Richardson's. When that restaurant succumbed to fire last year, we were beyond relieved that our favorite dish could still be had at the Hideaway. Why? It's the kind of food that revives you when you're hungover or fills your belly when you're ready for a night of drinking or simply puts a smile on your face on any otherwise uneventful day. The pork is smoky and tender, simmered in a complex red chile sauce that's blazingly hot but too flavorful to stop eating. To taste it is to become addicted to it.
Barrio Cafe
There are few greater tributes to the glory of pork than how chef Silvana Salcido Esparza does it at Barrio Cafe. Yes, her cochinita pibil is one of her most famous dishes and, no, it can't be bested by anyone around. Slow-roasted for 12 hours — until it's falling apart and truly does melt in your mouth — the pork is smothered in achiote rojo and sour orange, just the way they make it in the Yucatán. If you have the time and appetite, we recommend just ordering the cochinita platter, which is piled with enticing meat. Trust us, you'll go overboard and enjoy every bite. We also like it tucked into small, street-style tacos for a satisfying lunch. Pig out!
La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop
We figured we were in for some good tacos as soon as we spotted the salsa bar at this hip little 16th Street hangout. Freshly made pico de gallo, smoky chipotle salsa, luscious cilantro crema, strawberry salsa, and kicky tomatillo salsa were just a few of the offerings, all intended to dress up tacos so good they hardly need any embellishment. Zesty chicken tinga, carne asada, deep-fried dogfish shark, savory Oaxacan black mole, and juicy, slow-roasted cochinita pibil are among the stellar fillings available, tucked into freshly griddled tortillas that you can inhale in just a few bites. Mix and match for maximum enjoyment.
Rito's Mexican Food
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
This teeny neighborhood joint has been around for more than 30 years, which may come as a surprise to the uninitiated. How can owner Rosemary Salinas get a line of people out the door when her restaurant has no seating (except for a few picnic tables outside), no sign, and a limited menu? The answer's simple if you've ever eaten her food: These burros just rock. It doesn't matter whether you're obsessed with the spicy red chile burro, plump with moist shredded beef, or the amazing green chile version, packed with chunks of pork so tender you hardly need teeth. They're made with excellent tortillas, they're made with love, and they've gained enough word-of-mouth fame locally that we're sure we'll be writing about them forever. (We can only hope.)
Mariscos Playa Hermosa
Lauren Cusimano
Anyone who complains about the lack of good seafood spots in the middle of the desert has obviously never frequented our city's many fine mariscos joints, where a bite of cool ceviche can transport you straight to the ocean. Mariscos Playa Hermosa feels beachy even in its colorful décor, and the way folks here know how to keep the cold Corona flowing. Seven seas soup (brimming with clams, mussels, shrimp, fish, crab, and octopus), refreshing, cilantro-tinged seafood cocktails, grilled or fried fish, and entrées like octopus and shrimp in garlic sauce make us forget all about living in a landlocked city. Eating here is like vacation at the shore, if only for our taste buds.
Iruna
We were heartbroken when chef Aaron May closed Sol y Sombra, his swanky tapas spot at North Scottsdale's DC Ranch, but May's Iruña swooped in this summer to ease the pain with a lot of old favorites and just as many delectable new dishes. Stop by this stylin' eatery for a lively scene and a slew of mouthwatering small plates meant for sharing. Go light, with garlic-and-tomato-rubbed pan con tomate, refreshing gazpacho, chilled rice salad with tuna, and a Bibb lettuce salad with Manchego, spiced almonds, and Rioja vinaigrette, or go naughty with savory-sweet pollo colonia (chicken in a spicy glaze), lamb chops with whole grain mustard vinaigrette and fresh mint, and sliced filet mignon with chunky salbitxada sauce, made with tomatoes and Marcona almonds. Whatever you get, be sure there's a glass of sangria in your hand.
Secreto
Jackie Mercandetti
After digging in to lusty plates of stuffed poblanos and chorizo-stuffed pork chops and green chile stew, we're aching for mercy at this charming New Mexican spot in Ahwatukee. The spicy, flavorful fare shifts our taste buds into overdrive. But we always need to rein it in with something sweet, something delicate to soothe our palate at the end of the meal, and that's why we love Secreto's incredible flan. Smooth as velvet, cool on the tongue, and oozing sweet caramelized sauce, it's everything we could hope for in this classic custard dessert. Save room for a few bites, if not the whole thing.

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