Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, Southeast Valley

Taquitos Jalisco

Not needing any help with the heat is the aptly named Shrimp in a Very Hot Sauce, or camarones a la diabla.
Jackie Mercandetti
Not needing any help with the heat is the aptly named Shrimp in a Very Hot Sauce, or camarones a la diabla.

From the outside (well, from the inside, too), this unassuming eatery could be just another no-frills, hole-in-the-wall taquería in a past-its-prime suburban strip mall. However, the food is excellent. Let's start with the bírria de chivo (a specialty of the southern Mexican state of Jalisco): This goat dish may be the best of its kind in the Valley, with luscious chopped meat in a mouthwatering thick stew flavored with roasted peppers. We also enjoy the pozole rojo, a boldly flavored soup with hominy and tender chunks of beef served with add-as-you-like garnishes of cilantro, onions, shredded cabbage, and lime. Beyond that, you can find all standards — tacos, burritos, tostadas — with very good carne asada, lengua, al pastor, and the like. Prices are about as cheap as they come for flavors this outstanding.

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, Tempe

El Tlacoyo

El Tlacoyo
Heather Hoch

Find this hidden, casual eatery in Tempe and you'll discover a selection of unique and authentic eats from the eastern Mexican state of Hidalgo, located north of Mexico City. For starters, don't miss the restaurant's namesake, the tlacoyos, oval-shaped fried masa cakes topped with a delectable green sauce, cheese, and feather-light shredded chicken. There's also a larger version of the tlacoyo called the huarache and a selection of stellar cheese crisps folded and filled with delights like huitlachoche (corn smut) and pumpkin flower. Weekends bring added deliciousness in the forms of lamb soup, barbecued lamb tacos, and the popular Hidalgo snack called tulancingueñas (think of it as a spicy Mexican version of a ham and cheese sandwich). Add a little Chuck Berry mixed in with the Mexican music coming out of the restaurant's speakers, and you've got yourself some lively goodness from both sides of the border.

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, Scottsdale

Tacos Jalisco

Tacos Jalisco

Just a mile north of this dilapidated '60s-era strip mall, in Old Town Scottsdale, there's no shortage of higher-end Mexican restaurants. And many of them are quite good. But for dyed-in-the-wool, dirt-cheap Mex eats, this is our go-to. A carne asada platter for just $6.45? Yes, please. The chopped beef is tender and lightly seasoned, served with homemade tortillas, diced onions, and fresh cilantro. For a couple of dollars more, there's mojarra frita (fried talapia) or camarones rancheros (shrimp served in a spicy tomato sauce). Where this mom-and-pop joint especially comes in handy is when you're hoisting beers a couple of doors down at one of Scottsdale's best dive bars, the Closing Soon Saloon. After a couple of pops, you can duck into this taquería for a couple of spicy al pastor tacos or a nice pollo burro, and then retreat back to your barstool 15 minutes later. Repeat as necessary.

La Barquita Restaurant
Jackie Mercandetti

Mexican breakfast or American breakfast? You can get both at this small, unassuming neighborhood restaurant in Central Phoenix. Originally from La Barca, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, chef and owner Jose Garcia cooks up Mexican breakfast favorites like chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, and eggs alongside nopales or machaca or scrambled with serrano chile, tomato, and onion. A fork is fine, but we like to pile the a.m. eats into warm homemade tortillas. There are a few good ol' American classics as well; like bacon and eggs, omelets, and Garcia's signature light and fluffy pancakes made from scratch. Wash your breakfast down with a good ol' cup o' joe, or better yet, a cold bottle of Sidral Mundet, the apple-flavored soft drink from Mexico.

Carolina's Mexican Food
Sarah Whitmire

It's noon and your corporate overlords already hate you for even stepping away from your desk at all, let alone for lunch. (Yeah, we feel your pain: more work for less pay.) Time for a break that's fast, cheap, good, and legendary, courtesy of this always-hopping Mexican joint just south of downtown. Boasting crazy-good tortillas, green corn tamales, machaca, and a show-stopping signature hot sauce/salsa especially drool-worthy when poured over the Oaxaca special (a burrito featuring Carolina's excellent chorizo, beans, potatoes, and cheese), you'll be in, out, and satisfied in 30 minutes (maybe less) and with only about $7 less in your wallet. Is it lunchtime yet?

Rio Mirage Cafe y Cantina

It would be enough to feast on unlimited chorizo con huevos, red menudo, chiles rellenos, and other Mexican staples at Rio Mirage's brunch — all served with a glass of sparkling champagne. But what makes this Sunday treat especially worthy of a nod are the fresh-off-the-grill, piping-hot tortillas delivered in a woven basket right to your table.

You simply can’t go wrong with the classics — rice, beans, chips, and salsa — added to the build-your-own taco station, and the menudo, light on hominy but packed with beef stomach and a slightly thickened red sauce, defies the version of the dish you’d find in most Mexican restaurants. Satisfy your sweet tooth with pan dulce, a sugar-coated sopaipilla, or a churro stuffed with an apple-flavored filling. There’s a mix of chopped watermelon, cantaloupe, and strawberry for a less indulgent end to your all-you-can-eat experience.

La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop

The tacos and burritos at this small and stylish Central Phoenix eatery certainly are good, but let's face it: It's the salsa bar that put this place on the map. There usually are 12 different salsas on hand, consistently well prepared and wonderfully flavorful — from sweet to spicy to fruity to tangy. There's a cool cilantro cream with a refreshing, light taste, a zesty tomatillo, and more unique selections like strawberry and pecan salsa. Spread them out on your table for a sensory explosion, not just for your taste buds, but a colorful feast for you eyes, as well. A basket of chips never had it so good.

Rita's Kitchen

We didn't think things could get any better than sitting on Rita's elegant and spacious patio with a cinnamon-spiked glass of their red sangria — and then we tried a bowl of the luscious guacamole. Holy avocado! Made tableside with fresh avocados, spicy jalapeños, and tart lime juice, the dip is customized to your liking and served with an overflowing bowl of their delicious tortilla chips. We like ours salty and spicy with a hearty helping of jalapeños and a nice dose of sea salt. It's a pricey appetizer, but it's worth it for guac this good.

Red Eagle/El Porvenir Tortilla
Katie Walter

El Porvenir Tortilla Factory isn't much to look at — from either the outside or inside. But don't let the dusty shelves in the dimly lit store turn you off, because this family business has been churning out the best flour and corn tortillas in Arizona since 1954. Delivered daily to stores across the state, you’ve probably seen the packages, stamped with a red eagle, at your local grocer. If you want to cut out the middle man, however, go directly to the Tortilla Factory for a package of warm, preservative-free tortillas that are the next best thing to homemade. Red Eagle has a variety of sizes to accommodate everything from soft tacos to good-size burritos. Unlike most tortillas, you’ve got to keep these flavorful treats in the refrigerator (or eat ’em fast) because they don’t contain the preservatives that give their competitors’ products a longer shelf life — and a rubbery texture.

Pozoleria Mi Casita

Lots of Mexican joints in the Valley solve the Mexican-soup puzzle, but many of these serve it only on the weekends. This West Phoenix hole-in-the-wall serves the stuff every single day, and it serves not one but three varieties — one for each color of the Mexican flag. The deep-flavored pozole rojo is filled with pork chunks, hominy, and red chiles. The pozole blanco uses chicken and is not quite as spicy but no less flavorful. And the pozole verde (also featuring chicken) is slightly tangier than its brethren, thanks to the use of tomatillos. Each variety is served in large, steaming bowls along with warm tortillas and a plate of add-ins such as cilantro, lime, shredded cabbage, and radish. Our recommendation: Dump it all in the stew, stir, and let the flavors mingle to create one of the best-tasting, most soul-satisfying dishes found in Mexican cuisine. Our other recommendation: As hard as it may be to resist, don't finish the entire bowl in one sitting, because your pozole — no matter what color — will taste even better the next day.

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