Amaranth is one of the indigenous staples of Mesoamerica, but here in Phoenix, we looked high and low for creative uses of the 8,000-year-old Mexican grain and came away disappointed. Spaniards outlawed the cultivation and consumption of amaranth because the Aztecs used it in ceremonies worshipping "false idols" not recognized by the Catholic Church. Despite being sustainable, very high in nutrition, and easily cultivated, it all but dropped off the radar in Mexico (and here in the States) as a result of Spanish invasion. It's making a slow comeback. The ancient grain is getting a nuevo makeover among (health) foodies. Amaranth seeds are showing up in health food stores like Whole Foods, and the greens of the amaranth plant can sometimes be found at local farmers markets, but culinary aficionados in PHX are lagging behind the trend. Where's the alegría (popped amaranth honey bars)? Or amaranth greens stewed with calabacitas? And it lends itself perfectly to gluten-free creations that don't taste like bark. Quinoa's had its day. We want to usher in the age of amaranth!

Best Place to Hide an Undocumented Immigrant

Turf Paradise

Turf Paradise

It's well known that more than a few workers who tend to the grounds and animals at Turf Paradise don't exactly come correct with their pay-pers. In 2008, about 100 employees at the racetrack faced termination and deportation because they remained employed after federal authorities turned down their visa applications. But Maricopa County Joe Arpaio, America's self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff," didn't turn his eye to Turf Paradise, which is owned by businessman Jerry Simms. Instead, Arpaio and his trusty deputies were content to eradicate illegal immigration by picking off a couple of immigrants at a time at car washes, a water park, and fast-food restaurants. Perhaps Simms' hefty cash contributions to Arpaio and his political campaigns are behind this immigrant haven?

Father Jorge Eagar is well known in the Valley's Hispanic community for leading Tempe's Shrine of Holy Wisdom, a ministry of the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch-Malabar. Officially unaffiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, the Catholic Apostolic Church is an independent religious sect that embraces classic Catholic ritual and regalia, but is far more ecumenical and all-encompassing when it comes to beliefs. It prides itself on blending both Eastern and Western spiritual traditions, whatever their sources. Everyone has a shot at the priesthood in this church, despite gender, sexual orientation or any other of the usual bars to being a cleric in the mainstream Catholic Church.

What Eager is not well-known for is his eye-popping nacimiento or Christmas créche, designed around and assembled from over 1,200 figurines he's personally collected over the last 55 years. Eagar's nacimiento is so big it's taken over half of the multi-car garage attached to his home in Chandler. And it's so intricate that it would take days to appreciate all the fine details Eagar has woven into this monumental Biblical scenario.

Very few people in the Valley are privileged to see Father Eagar's eye-catching Christmas crèche, which is a popular tradition in both Mexico and Mexican-American communities in the Southwest. You have to be personally invited to see it and only a certain number of people are allowed in the colorfully lit crèche area at a time. Donations from guests are not required, but encouraged to help defray the cost of maintenance and to support other events Eagar's church holds during the liturgical year. Your best bet for gaining much coveted entrance is to contact Friends of Mexican Art around the Christmas season; members of this organization usually have seasonal entrée to the nacimiento and get a portion of donations made to support their continuous underwriting of Mexican art-related events in the Valley.

Oaxaca Restaurant

The corner of 12th Street and Dunlap Road doesn't exactly look like a hotspot for Mexican food, but tucked within Let It Roll Bowl is the new location of the old Mini Mercado Oaxaca. It's now called Oaxaca Restaurant, and though it does serve bowling staples like pizza, fries, and ice cream (don't eat these — the Mexican food is better), there also is an extensive menu of outstanding moles, tlayudas, empanadas, and other specialties. Excellent mole notwithstanding, what Oaxaqueños in the know really head to this place for are the chapulines, or edible crickets. For about seven bucks, you can score a bag of food-grade crickets that go great as a taco filling or just for popping by the handful. The texture is just like popcorn, and the flavor is reminiscent of tangy salt-and-vinegar potato chips. As the old tater chip saying goes, "You can't eat just one."

Best Sonora-Meets-Scottsdale Hot Dog

El Hefe

El Hefe Super Macho Taqueria
If the tableside taps, hot pink accents, and mural of a sexy chica with guns and tattoos a-blazing don't clue you in, El Hefe blends the chic, trendy ambiance of a typical Old Town bar with Latino machismo. The same can be said for the El Hefe Dog, a Kobe beef wiener wrapped in bacon and smothered with plump charro beans and such condiments as mustard, green chile salsa, and avocado. Quality meat makes for a savory base for the toppings, which overflow onto the wooden plate like a colorful foodie fiesta. Wrap the whole thing up in a soft hoagie roll, and you've got a man-size munchie that literally gives more weight to El Hefe's rep as a "super macho taquería."
The Great Bacon Craze of '09-'11 seems (thankfully) to be coming to an end, but if there's one place bacon still reigns supreme, it's lovingly wrapped around a Sonoran-style hot dog at Nogales Hot Dogs. At Nogales Hot Dogs they serve one thing and one thing only: mesquite-smoked, bacon-wrapped hot dogs loaded with toppings. This is not a sit-down restaurant, though, so keep an eye out for a food truck parked in a lot at the southwest corner of 20th Street and Indian School Road. They set up at around 6 p.m. daily and serve their Mexi-fied version of chili dogs late into the evening, for you night owls.
Guerrero's Mexican Food
Breakfast burritos are well and good, but they can be snooze-worthy, hardly enough to rouse us from a deep sleep. Platters of perfect chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, and chorizo con huevos, on the other hand? We're up and gunning for the door. Get your pants on, already! Guerrero's is a small shop that opens at 7 a.m. and offers a dozen different breakfast platters. Guerrero's chilaquiles are like Mom used to make, and their machaca with eggs will turn that morning frown upside down. Guerrero's even has burritos, if you simply can't part from the old tried and true.
Ticoz Resto-Bar
We spend all week eating yogurt and fruit for breakfast so that when the weekend rolls around, a bit of indulgence can be forgiven. When we're craving a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs morning meal with a Latin twist, Ticoz's weekend brunch is the only thing that satisfies. This chic, trendy lounge transforms into a classy mid-morning venue to linger over a rich brunch. The 3 Egg Gringo Breakfast, frittata, or French toast sticks should be enough to satisfy the breakfast purists. For the rest of us, there's pork chile verde huevos rancheros and our favorite, the Mexican eggs Benedict: two lightly sweetened corn cakes topped with spicy chorizo, poached eggs, and a rich chipotle hollandaise. Add a $3 mimosa or bloody Mary to make your stellar Latin brunch go down even easier.
Los Compadres
Los Compadres
Cheap Mexican places are a dime a dozen, but not every location smells so good from the parking lot that we need only follow our noses to the entrance. And does the nose ever know. Los Compadres is a humble, family-owned Mexican joint that offers some of our favorite lunchtime specials, all priced at six bucks or less. Be forewarned that the lunch specials are mini versions of standard Sonoran fare, which means tiny tacos, bitsy burritos, mini tostadas, and the like, but one plate is still plenty enough to fill our belly. Plus, everything on the menu is less than $10, so you can mix and match your own lunch special or order a trio of sopaipillas to go.
The Mission
Jackie Mercandetti
Mexican food doesn't have to mean burritos and tacos. One meal at The Mission in Scottsdale will dispel this notion completely, and do it with exotic Latin flair. We recommend you start with a blood orange or pomegranate margarita and an order of the guacamole, which is made tableside to your specifications and includes one of our crunchy favorites, pepitas. Or opt to start with the roast corn gordita, which includes some of the tastiest huitlacoche (corn smut) in the Valley. Then you can work your way through any of The Mission's fresh seafood or tender meat entrées, or you could skip right to dessert. The Mission's pumpkin bread pudding is so good, we won't tell if you do.

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