Best Mole 2012 | El Conquistador | La Vida | Phoenix
Katie Walter

Tuesdays are our favorite days at this bright and welcoming North Phoenix restaurant serving Jalisco-style Mexican fare. That's when Maria and Mark Altmaier serve up their luscious chicken mole. Simmered for hours and with a list of ingredients that could fill a page or more, the Altmaier's rich, thick, chocolate-tinged sauce can be had over tender pieces of chicken or as chicken mole enchiladas, which also are available on weekends.

Katie Johnson

Psst, want some crazy-good carne asada cooked over an open flame right in front of you? Step right up — to the counter — and order one of three vehicles for its delivery: tacos, a burrito, or a plate. A guy takes your name and hands you a 5-by-7-inch styrofoam tray. Take the tray over to the condiment bar, and pile it high with diced onions and cilantro, Mexican limes, sliced marinated carrots, shredded cabbage, sliced cucumbers, sliced marinated red onion, and any one of the five or six salsas available. You're gonna need this stuff because when your name is called, all you'll get is that delicious asada and its tortilla. It's up to you to do the rest. Not that this medium-rare skirt steak isn't delicious on its own — pleasantly salty, tender, and lightly marinated. The $6 plate of asada makes four decent-size tacos, which should fill you up without breaking the bank.

Lauren Saria

Sure, there are plenty of New Mexican joints we love in the Valley, but when it comes to carne adovada, Los Dos Molinos is one place we keep coming back to. With four locations in the Valley, this family-owned chain from founder Victoria Chavez serves up carne adovada as large chunks of slow-cooked marinated pork, perfectly prepared, tender and moist, and swimming in a red chile stew whose flavor is instantly memorable. The consistency is reminiscent of good mole, and the flavor is nearly as complex. But then there's the spiciness that makes it so excellent — not jolting or tongue-searing, exactly, but deep and kicky enough to remind us why we like spicy food in the first place.

Heather Hoch
Sonoran hot dog

Don't go looking for Nogales Hot Dog during the day — it doesn't exist. Operating only at night in a makeshift setup in a parking lot on the southwest corner of Indian School Road and 20th Street, owner Pablo Perez and wife Monica set up every evening around dusk and sell dogs until around the time the bars close. With a tent, a few picnic tables, and a TV, dog biters can get their bacon-wrapped wiener con todo (with everything) or belly up to the condiment stand where shredded cheddar, crumbly cotija, a considerably spicy salsa verde, and even some sliced mushrooms await. It's a delicious mess, especially after a few beers at one of Indian School's numerous watering holes, where ordering up more than one just goes with the late-night groove.

Natalie Miranda

This Mexican restaurant pours one of the most authentic-tasting glasses of horchata (a blended rice water) we've had in a long time. Unlike most of the horchata you find — dispensed from a machine and almost too sweet to drink without adding extra water — this refreshing beverage has an earthy rice and cinnamon flavor and is scooped out of a giant water jug.

It's the same for the rest of the aguas frescas that complement the tasty meals at Birrieria Obregon. They come in four other made-fresh-daily flavors — cebada (barley), jamaica, limón, and piña. The pineapple and lemon drinks have bits of fresh fruit floating in the glass — further proof that these are authentic, homemade, and not mixed from powder.

If you think a paleta is just another Popsicle, then you need to try one of Betty Alatorre de Hong's paletas. It's anything but your average pop. Betty uses only the finest of ingredients — fresh fruits, fresh cream, and even fresh ground spices — and combines them with a little bit of magic and a lot of love to create a truly unique paleta. We love Betty's take on Mexican hot chocolate, the Sandia with fresh watermelon and basil, and the seasonal Datil made with fresh Medjool dates from Gilbert's Agritopia and sprinkled with toasted almonds. A real treat any time of year.

Debby Wolvos

Minerva Orduño's day (more night, in this case) job is nothing to scoff at — she's a line cook at FnB, one of our favorite restaurants. Perhaps the best part of the job: Her bosses let her use the restaurant's kitchen to pursue her dream. Muñeca Mexicana is a little business that's making our own dreams of authentic, artisan-crafted Mexican sweets come true. Orduño whips up piloncillo-stuffed pastries known as coyotas, killer caramel sauce made of goat's milk (cayeta del celaya) and these delectable little almond cookies she calls polvorones and we call the best reason we've ever tasted to indulge in a treat made with lard. You can buy her goods at FnB's little sister, the Bodega market in Scottsdale, and learn more about Orduño and her future plans for more items on her Facebook page. Not long ago, we spotted chorizo on the shelf at Bodega; bring on the savory, Minerva!

If Willy Wonka had a Mexican cousin, Pico Rico Dulceria is where Guillermo Wonka would peddle his candied confections. The store stocks something for every sweet tooth, so whether you're after a fruity, spicy, or just plain sugary treat, you'll be satisfied by the selection. Aisles are stacked with bags upon bags of candies. There's cajeta, candied guava, dulce duro de coco, and countless varieties of tamarind and chile sweets, ranging from lollipops and hard candies to fruit leather and the liquid crack that is Lucas Muecas. And you can't leave without getting a few kisses — Ricos Besos chocolate flavored toffees, that is. They and all of the other small candies are the perfect stuffing for a piñata, and you'll find plenty of them to fill hanging from the ceilings.

Jamie Peachey

Like a beacon of baked goodness, this giant blue building in Glendale is sure to catch your attention, if the aromas coming from its fragrant pastries and breads don't get to you first. There's usually a line, but the friendly gals behind the counter make sure it goes quickly. Plus, you'll want to spend some time peeking into the glass cases filled with treats first. Will it be one of several varieties of pan dulce, a savory bread — how about an apple dipped in chocolate chamoy sauce or a molasses-flavored puerquito, the giant animal cookie shaped like a pig? There's also a custom cake-making station, masa for tamales, and a machine you can watch pop out fresh-made flour tortillas, one of the bakery's more popular items.

We must recognize this carnicería in downtown Peoria for its super-fresh cuts of carne ranchera and carne preparada (soaking in a marinade).Unlike other carnicerías — where you might find the meat with tinges of brown or with edges of thick fat — this one always has a bright red freshness, is sliced thin, but thick enough not to fall apart when you toss it on the grill over blue propane flames or good old-fashioned charcoal. To get the most flavor out of your meat, ask for it preparada, and they'll pour marinade into the bag they package it in. Even when you toss it on the grill without letting it soak for hours in their orange and onion marinade, the meat still has a sweet hint of the flavorful juice. Fire up the grill!

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