Best Paletas 2013 | Paletas Betty | La Vida | Phoenix

With her kitschy logo and signature bite mark on every paleta (don't worry; it's a mold, not from her mouth), Betty stays at the top of the frozen-treat business in this town for two very good reasons: The insistence of using all-natural and fresh ingredients and the melding of traditional Mexican flavors with a modern twist.

With her roots in Michoacán, the ice cream- and paleta-churning state of Mexico, Betty Alatorre de Hong fills her paleta molds with a colorful array of the best seasonal offerings of the Valley's farmers, like dates, peaches, and sweet corn, accented with raisins.

One of our new favorites? The very adult-appropriate aged-rum-spiked piña colada. And one more reason to love Paletas Betty? The Perroleta, a dogs-only chicken popsicle!

Heather Hoch

If you've ever wished for a brick-and-mortar expanded version of an ice cream truck, wish no longer — Dulceria Arcoiris is here to fulfill your childhood summer dreams. The best part is that the fully-open-to-the-public warehouse sells its ice cream, popsicle, and candy wares at wholesale prices, so you can get an unreasonable amount of sweets, including gallon jugs of snow-cone syrup, for next to nothing. Boxes of a dozen paletas in almost any flavor, including cucumber, coconut, and guava, are only $5. Plus, they offer all of the classics like bomb pops, drumsticks, and those cartoon character ice cream pops with the gumball eyes. No matter what sweet treat you pick at Dulceria Arcoiris, it's going to be so cheap that the trip to the spot on 15th Street and Van Buren spot pretty much will pay for itself.

What this small retail storefront lacks in space and ambiance, it more than makes up for with its variety of Mexican candies sold in larger packages perfect for stuffing the star-shaped piñatas dangling from the ceiling. It carries the requisite salty treats, like Lucas, and the sugary goodness of De la Rosa Mazapan, a powdery peanut butter candy. And, once you've loaded up on candy to stuff the piñata, you have to stop at the ice cream counter and stuff yourself with a Pico de Gallo. It's a glass filled with long strips of fresh pineapple, cucumber, mango, and watermelon cut right in front of you, covered with a sprinkle of Tajin, a salty/spicy/sour topping, and chile cayena (cayenne pepper).

Friendly, helpful workers make this bright, fun store that much better. At this one-stop shop, you get everything you need to throw a fabulous party. You can pick up one of the piñatas it has in stock or, if you give them a week's notice, you can custom-order one. Need a water slide? They have it available for rent. Ditto for jukeboxes and karaoke machines, along with margarita, cotton candy, popcorn, snow cone, slush machines — and even a mini-hot dog cart you can haul away for the day. True to the name, Sueños y Recuerdos also carries delicate, frilly recuerdos (keepsakes) for weddings, baptisms, first communions, baby showers, and quinceañeras.

A flock of ceramic chickens greets you at Mercado Mexico. We could say it's almost like they're egging you on to explore — but that would be cheesy. And the chickens are only the beginning. Past the chickens are brightly colored turtles, frogs, lizards, and pigs — all keeping warm under blazing metal suns. There are candle holders, wrought-iron works of art, pieces twisted and flattened into flowers, potted-plant holders, and decorative wall pieces. And there are pots; oh, how there are pots — pots with lids, pots for planting, giant pots just for display, pots emblazoned with desert landscapes and Mexican or Indian villages. Don't be chicken; get shopping.

No matter what you want, this place has it. Rustic, leather-covered chaise lounges. A six-foot pine bar with built-in drawers and a wine rack. Decorative vases and pots that range from "Hey, let's plant a few herbs" to suitable for an indoor queen palm. Mexamigo gets its goods from a factory in Guadalajara, so it's as authentic Mexican craftsmanship as you can get. As packed as this place is, it is clean and organized, easy to maneuver. There are rows and rows — and stacks upon stacks — of crosses, wall art, paintings, mirrors, tiles, wood and ceramic statues, talavera pottery, fountains, wrought iron gates, doors, antiques . . . Well, like we said, no matter what you want, this place has it. If they don't have it, you can custom-order it and they'll create it.

We love the large supermercados in town, but when all we need is a cone or two of piloncillo or a package of chipotles, this tiny market in Mesa is just the thing to fill our shopping basket. With the same selection as the big stores (but edited), the shelves of this small shop (and the delicious bakery attached to it) burst with Mexican cleaning products, pickled jalepeños, every type of dried chile used in Latin cooking, and a quick-moving and well-priced produce section. The meat counter running the width of the store is packed full of house-cut meats, which are expertly seasoned and cooked for the small and affordable ready-to-eat food section, with a food coma-inducing $5 torta. Grab a Mexican Coke and enjoy every bite before even leaving the store, at one of the thoughtfully provided red laminate tables.

How did we know we'd likely stumbled upon a winner in the Best Margarita category? The name, silly. A high-class joint like Sierra Bonita Grill was hardly going to call a margarita special if it wasn't. And, oh, this one is. The not-so-secret ingredient that pushes it over the edge is brandy, but from top to bottom, this drink is all good: shaken orange juice, Cointreau, reposado tequila, and homemade sweet and sour. Be sure to bring your designated driver; this drink is a strong one.

It used to be a private, friends-and-family-only, small-batch tequila going back three generations in the town of Tequila, Jalisco. Today this smooth premium tequila is a gift resulting from the reunion of an estranged father and daughter, bringing an elegant tequila to the American market. Stone oven-cooked blue agave hearts are the foundation of a spirit that's double-distilled and shipped from Jalisco to Queen Creek, where Debbie Medina of Jalisco International Imports Inc. and her partner, Jonathan Gach, bottle the family secret. At $50 for the French white oak barrel-aged Reposado, it isn't a bargain, but this light amber liquid isn't a shooting tequila — it's a tequila for sipping neat while sharing your own family secrets.

Ever spend an hour trying to pick out a tequila from a list of 100 bottles? We don't like our tequila-sipping time being wasted by bottom-shelf tequila. We want to get to the good stuff and get to it fast. Give us a tequila list with an opinion and some editing or give us gin.

Hold the gin bottle, though; Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails has done the editing for us and put together a thoughtful list of fewer than 25 tequilas, all sip-worthy, no salt, lime, or sour mix required. Not being a Mexican restaurant may give the sleek Blue Hound a leg up in the tequila competition by allowing it to be more selective. If you still can't figure out what to sip, chat with Steph the bartender and let her help you decide.

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