Best Panaderia 2012 | La Purisima Bakery | La Vida | Phoenix
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!

Jackie Mercandetti

There are a lot of great Mexican markets in this town, and there's no doubt everyone has a neighborhood favorite. Among them all, La Tolteca is a real standout, not only for its restaurant, panadería, and carnicería, but also for its central location and ability to bring together a wide variety of people. Stop by on a busy weekend afternoon for some succulent mahi mahi tacos with queso fresco or red chile chilaquiles smothered with avocado, cotija, and crema. You'll spot families taking advantage of the affordable prices alongside 20-somethings waiting for a bowl of menudo to cure their wicked hangovers. La Tolteca also is the place to go to stock up on groceries for family taco night, a traditional tamale dinner, or a breakfast spread of empanadas, pan dulce, and churros. And if you're in need of a tortilla press or piñata, they've got that, too.

It seems the traditional outdoor swap meet is giving way to indoor swap marts — and, sure, hunting indoors for bargains makes sense, especially during our brutal Valley summers. But if you're old-school, one of the remaining outdoor venues for weekend hawking of new and used wares is the Glendale Public Market, which doubles at night as a double-feature drive-in for newly released flicks.

It isn't billed as a Mexican swap meet per se, but from 5:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., pay your 75 cents at the gate on Saturday — or $1.25 on Sunday — enter a giant parking lot, and peruse the goods of hundreds of Latino vendors as Mexican tunes blast in the air. On a recent Saturday morning, we went in search of a bargain on a foot-long pan large enough to fry a whole fish, plates to match, a set of small audio speakers, turtle food, and a hard plastic kennel for a three-pound Yorkie. It was an amazingly successful trip. Among the construction materials (including nearly every tool imaginable, baseboards, and paint) there were beautiful booths, with shorty-shorts and tight Ts, skimpy bras, and MAC blushes and mascara, as well as other name-brand makeup items. And produce vendors, selling watermelons and other seasonal fruits and vegetables, were there, too, their booths looking like mini-yard sales with used household items. This place is a gold mine, where old-fashioned haggling still has a place.

Dia de los Muertos has been celebrated in Phoenix for more than 30 years; just ask veteran Chicano artists Zarco Guerrero and Marco Albarran.The holiday's festivities — including the creation and decoration of altars that honor family members and friends who have died as well as processions, prayers, celebrations and gatherings — take place annually in November in family homes and in public gathering spaces. Our must-see: the celebration at the Desert Botanical Garden, where local artists show their ofrendas (or offerings), created to honor and remember friends and family members, to the tune of live music, the annual Procesión, stories and presentations from the artists, and plenty of celebrating. Best of all: There are crafts and authentic food and drink for sale.

Santiago Gonzalez's tequila will make you rethink your margarita. The local entrepreneur and his brothers started G Farms on the west side of Phoenix in the '80s, where, among other produce, they grow top-grade blue agaves that never see an ounce of pesticide. It's at the farm and nearby — at the family distillery in the Mexican state of Jalisco — that these agaves thrive, are harvested, and are then pressed, transformed, and bottled into handcrafted 3 Amigos Tequila. Gonzalez is a true advocate of hard work, honesty, and great tequila. And though it's tempting to pop open a bottle and pour it straight into the blender, we swear it's worth the challenge (and fewer ice cubes) to sip it straight from the glass without the other flavors. You'll thank him later.

If you can make it past the throngs of ASU students on Mill Avenue feeling the effects of 21st-birthday shots and chanting what sounds like a mix between the school fight song and a fraternity anthem, head straight through the doors of Canteen Modern Tequila Bar. The server will know exactly what you need to drown out the noise and won't assume you want whatever's cheap alongside a heap of salt and a slice of lime. At Canteen, tequila is sacred and comes in more than 100 types, and it's all 100 percent pure agave. Sip it, mix it, or, yeah, even shoot it — all the tequilas here go down pretty well with a few tacos and a great view of the streetside shenanigans.

Robrt Pela

A rough day, a hot afternoon, a leisurely brunch — we'd be hard-pressed not to come up with an excuse to suck down a margarita. But in any and all of the above cases, it'd better be good.

Gallo Blanco bartenders shake up a variety of margaritas with grapefruit juice, jalapeño, prickly pear, and Grand Marnier, but we prefer to stick to what's old-school and proven to last. At Gallo, that's the Margarita Classico. The classico has two ingredients: fresh-squeezed citrus and Sauza tequila. (Okay, and the truly mandatory salt on the rim.) But those two ingredients are hard to get right — and because Gallo Blanco does, we'll forever be coming up with excuses to go back.

The doors at Sky Lounge typically open around 9 p.m. on any given Friday, which might be the ideal time to arrive if you're seeking a primo spot before the rest of the masses flood the place. It's the most popular night of the week at the two-story dance hall, which fills up quicker than the beat in a feisty merengue number. Within an hour, it becomes difficult to move about downstairs without having to maneuver past las chicas bonitas dominating the dance floor and wiggling their nalgas in time to all the salsa and bachata being spun. Ditto for the second level, where the musical menu consists of a potent pastiche of reggaeton superstars like Pitbull, Latin Top 40 favorites, and hip-hop heavy hitters. Oh, and you might want to get your drink on early, since Don Julio tequila and other top-shelf shots are on special until 11 p.m., and wading through a sea of señoritas to get to any of Sky Lounge's three bars can prove impossible.

Benjamin Leatherman

Downtown Phoenix's Latin dance circuit is more than just a little competitive, as rivaling clubs do anything and everything to get as many hombres y mujeres inside and onto their dance floor as possible. To wit: The proprietors of DWNTWN opened a third room in the back, started allowing the 18-and-over crowd in after last call, and began booking such major bachata and cumbia artists as Henry Santos and Chris Jay for monthly performances. Hence, the musical selection has gotten even more diverse and the weekend crowds have gotten even bigger. They also keep the beats flowing until 5 a.m. — which is later than any other nearby joint, Latin or otherwise — which permits patrons to baile to the sounds of DJs Big Latin, Rubas, and Alfredo until the sun peeks over the sky and begins to glow.

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