Best Use of Indigenous Ingredients 2011 | Kai | La Vida | Phoenix

Best Use of Indigenous Ingredients


Jackie Mercandetti Photo
We're generally as happy eating indigenous ingredients like nopales (cactus) out of the back of a roach coach as we are supping at a fine-dining location. One exception to this rule is Kai, a restaurant dedicated to locally produced indigenous ingredients like cholla buds, aloe vera, saguaro blossoms, mesquite bean meal, huitlacoche syrup, and more. The food, ambiance, and service are unparalleled, as well they should be at a Five Diamond dining destination. So save up for a special occasion and head to Kai to indulge in treats like the Mesquite Bean Martini, Salad Inspired by Local Farmers and Children of the Gila Crossing School, or the grilled tenderloin of buffalo, accompanied by a smoked corn purée, cholla buds, sausage, scarlet runner beans in chili, and a drizzle of saguaro blossom syrup.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
We've all had days when it's downright hard to decide where to go to dinner, but the next time you're thinking of uttering the infuriating, "I don't know. What do you want to eat?" just quit the wavering and hit up Chino Bandido. Where else will you find Chinese BBQ pork, chiles rellenos, egg foo yung, and machaca all on the same menu? All you have to do is choose a protein (or some veg) and decide whether you want it in a rice or bean bowl (fried rice or refrieds?). Not digging the bowl? Try it in a quesadilla, burrito, or combo platter instead. And don't forget an amazing snickerdoodle cookie on the side!

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, Central Phoenix

Tacos Atoyac

Despite the number of Mexican eateries in the Valley, Sonoran-style food still reigns supreme. Stumbling upon a place that specializes in Oaxacan moles and other edibles can be a much-needed break from tired but true Sonoran fare. Tacos Atoyac at 19th and Glendale avenues is the real Oaxacan deal, and it just opened this year, so it still has that new taquito smell. In addition to the tacos and tostadas, Tacos Atoyac also boasts moles and some of best damn horchata we've had in a long time. Best of all, nothing on the menu will break the bank, and an entire family can feast like kings for less than 20 bucks. Bienvenidos, Tacos Atoyac!

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, Downtown Phoenix

Tacos de Juarez

Kyle Lamb
When do you find yourself downtown and hungry? First Friday. When you're cruising FF and it feels like one more gallery exhibit might make you scream, talk your crew into heading over to Seventh Street and Roosevelt to Tacos de Juarez. It's a bit off the beaten path in terms of First Friday foot traffic, so you won't encounter a crowd, and you can play off your hunger by saying you're just really into Lalo Cota's beautiful Mexican murals — two of which grace the exterior of Tacos de Juarez. Then while your friends are ogling the colorful murals, you can fortify yourself with street tacos, platters of carne, and burritos aplenty. Just be careful with the super-potent salsa verde, or you might kill some taste buds.

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, South Phoenix


Pitic certainly isn't much to look at from the outside, but that's generally the case with hole-in-the-wall Mexican joints. If you can get past the industrial surroundings, you'll be treated to a bright and cheerful interior packed with colorful folk art — and complete with some pretty awesome Mexican food. Chiles rellenos, tacos, burritos like tu madre used to make, and it won't leave too much of a dent in your wallet. We recommend the caldo de res, a big brothy beef bowl packed with coarse-cut veggies and fresh tortillas on the side. Nothing is too spicy, but heat-lovers can layer on a bit of the red or green salsa for a kick. Muy sabroso!

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, North Phoenix

Los Reyes de la Torta

Tirion Boan
Los Reyes de la Torta is the king of Mexican food in North Phoenix. It's good solo or for an entire family, and if we lived in Sunnyslope, we would definitely eat here on the reg. We love eating in and watching the hustle and bustle from the open kitchen, while indulging in a cold cerveza or a tall aguas fresca. The tortas are tasty, but so is everything else on the menu. The quesadillas are one of our favorites: huge, thick, fluffy homemade corn tortillas folded in half and stuffed with goodies. Make sure you get the quesadilla en el estilo del rey, and it will come topped with cheese, crema, and cilantro. Just make sure to save room for their enticing fruit cocktail combos (chile lime goodness!) or flan at the end of the meal.

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, West Valley


Pedro's may not look like much from the outside, but upon entering, you'll be greeted with pure old-school, Sonoran-style Mexican charm. Chimichangas the size of a newborn baby, half-pound tamale masa bombs, enchiladas afloat in a sea of spicy red sauce, and a guarantee that everything will be absolutely smothered in piping hot cheese. For more than 30 years, this family-owned joint has been serving up massive portions of familiar favorites. Though you could easily fill up on the free-flowing chips and salsa, save room for the stuffed quesadilla, a machaca-filled grilled tortilla bursting with flavor (and gobs of cheese) in each bite.

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, Southeast Valley

Maria's Mexican Food

Once you hit the suburbs, it's easy to be overwhelmed by chain restaurants, so we like to support our independents out there even more. But with a place like Maria's Mexican Food, it's not principle alone that keeps us coming back for more. It's the amazing California burrito that has us hooked: steak and potatoes, Mexican-style, wrapped up with seriously mouthwatering pico de gallo and cheese. Maria is always on hand to offer a helpful suggestion. And what the restaurant lacks in atmosphere — it's a serious hole in the wall — it makes up for in flavor with caldo de res, sopes, and jamaica that would make an abuelita proud. Muy auténtico, Maria.

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, Tempe

Casa Reynoso

Natalie Miranda
Casa Reynoso is a Tempe institution that epitomizes the homey charm of neighborhood mom 'n' pop Mexican. Tucked away from traffic in the corner of a mostly deserted strip mall (where Fry's and Jack in the Box are the big-ticket attractions), word of mouth and a longstanding reputation for churning out Arizona-style Mexican food keeps business brisk. The Reynosos use the same recipes passed down from their Miami-Globe abuelitas, and the proof is in the pork chile verde. It's in everything from cheese crisps to burros and is even worth eating straight from a bowl (with a fresh tortilla on the side).

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, Scottsdale

Huauchinango Mexican Grill

When we're craving real-deal, Mexico City-style Mexican food, Huauchinango is the only way to sate the craving. Sopas, tlacoyos, huaraches, and plenty of other menu items may have you scratching your head at first glance, but pull out your best Spanglish and figure out what all of these lovely options are, because it's Mexican comfort food done right. Our favorite are the quesadillas, which are heavenly crispy bliss that's nothing like the cheesy gringo fare you expect from Taco Bell. Just remember to bring cash, because your charge cards are going to get laughed out of the place. A small price to pay for authentic Mexican food.

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