Best Tequila 2012 | 3 Amigos Tequila | La Vida | Phoenix

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.

It's a good thing that Miguel Morales owns a fairly sturdy automobile, considering the amount of mileage that the 29-year-old DJ (better known by Kyko) racks up every week getting to his various Latino club events across the Valley. On most Tuesdays, you can find him dropping it like it's hot at La Cabana in Glendale as a frequent guest DJ at Nocha de Banda. Every Thursday, however, Morales is a resident at Bar Smith's Double Vision night, when he serves up Latin hip-hop tracks and reggaeton hits for a packed house. Once the weekends dawn, however, he really shows off his skills as a selecta. As one of the headliners of Oceans Seven's Privileged Fridays party, Morales works the record decks with aplomb, effortlessly and energetically mixing cumbias, Latin Top 40 hits, and electro for four straight hours. And he does it without breaking a sweat (after all, that might stain one of his signature fitted ball caps). Then it's off to the top floor of Sky Lounge, where he keeps the party going until 3 a.m. Saturdays with masterful mash-ups of club hits en español and urban jams. And when he isn't working the local Latin circuit, Morales makes major bank south of the border by performing at various beachside bars in Rocky Point. Not bad for a kid who got his start making cassette tape mixes as a teenager.

One of the best songs to put Senate Bill 1070 and the whole police state mentality that reigns in Arizona on blast is "Papers," by Phoenix hip-hop duo Shining Soul. Shining Soul's lyrical depiction of a Sand Land on lockdown for the brown is especially relevant. And the video's footage of a landscape infested with Border Patrol vehicles and a desert patrolled by vigilantes illustrates the situation all non-whites in Arizona find themselves in. The group comprises Alex Soto and Franco Habre, both border activists who have engaged in defiant acts of civil disobedience, showing that Shining Soul not only can spit rhymes, but walk the rap, as well.

These mariachi performers poetically pluck, blow, and strum their vihuelas, trumpets, and guitars, astonishing audiences who gather to hear them perform on Sundays at Fiesta Mall in Mesa, as well as private parties and receptions.

Mariachi Valle del Sol is a seven-man ensemble that's been performing for more than a decade in the Valley. This crew is made of seasoned musicians who, for example, have shared the stage with the likes of Juan Gabriel and Pedrito Fernandez, a Mexican artist and actor.These talented gentlemen, who beautifully belt out the traditional Mexican ballads of love and loss, won a local "Nuestro Mariachi" competition in 2011 at Fiesta Mall. You can still catch them at the Mesa mall on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m.

Daryl Williams is just about the coolest Mormon in the Valley, and that's saying a lot considering how many adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there are in this neck of the cacti. Williams is a renowned commercial trial lawyer, a pilot with his own Cessna, a classical pianist, and a wood shop devotee who knows how to whip up a handsome end table lickety-split. But what we find even cooler about Williams is his pro-immigration stance, despite being, as he puts it, just to the right politically of Genghis Khan. A conservative Republican he may be, but he's no nativist. He long has opposed the immigration policies of former state Senator Russell Pearce, and he takes a libertarian, open-market view of the issue in his frequent lectures and his influential "Illegal Immigration: An Essay," which has opened more than a few minds on the subject. Sometimes, LDS members get a bad rap locally, because of people like Pearce, but Williams' humanity and unapologetic championing of new arrivals shows up Pearce as the odd man out.

Without state Representative Steve Montenegro, brown-bashers and notorious Sand Land nativists might not have a Hispanic willing to stand next to them in pictures, sing their praises on the stump, or cosponsor their mean-spirited anti-immigrant legislation. But Montenegro is good like that. Himself an immigrant from El Salvador whose family reportedly received a mysterious grant of asylum in the 1980s when the Reagan administration was denying most amnesty appeals from those fleeing the civil war in that small Latin American country, Montenegro has zero sympathy for any and all arrivals newer than he. Photogenic and well-spoken, Montenegro is a constant reminder that right-wing extremists come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. No wonder GOP political operative Constantin Querard recruited the guy. He's the perfect vendido ("sellout"). If you don't believe us, Google "vendido" and "Arizona" and see whose photo pops up.

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