La Pinata Mexican Food Restaurants

Might the ultimate Mexican snack be the humble tamale? Quite possibly. The simple masa-based dish dates back to ancient Mexican and Latin Americans like the Aztecs and Mayans, who were gobbling them up back in 5000 BC. Seven thousand years later, they still are staples at Mexican restaurants, including this longtime family-owned eatery in Central Phoenix. Made in-house, the soft, perfectly steamed masa envelops long strips of flavorful green corn, chicken, or a delicious mixture of pork and beef. Order them à la carte or as part of a platter, on which they're smothered in La Piñata's richly zesty sauce. Just like the Mayans used to make.

Sonoran hot dog
Laura Hahnefeld
Sonoran hot dog

Do you worship your hot dogs at the altar of Southwestern fast food? If so, there may not be a more perfect creation than the Sonoran. A beef frank with bacon, pinto beans, and condiments like onions, fresh tomatoes, jalapeño sauce, mayonnaise, and mustard, it's a dog whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. El Exquisito, the family-run hot dog stand on the city's west side, makes a formidable Sonoran dog. Its version features thick bits of bacon and adds ketchup as one of the condiments, giving it a more pork-y flavor with just a touch of sweetness and with a big doughy hug thanks to a downy-soft bun. Open every night (except Tuesday) about 6:30 p.m. and closing between midnight and 1 a.m., El Exquisito serves up a Sonoran dog that is, as the name suggests, exquisite.

Tortas Paquime
Jackie Mercandetti

For those whose Mexican sandwich fantasies consist of ingredients like meat, avocado, tomato, pickled jalapeños, and mayo packed into torpedo-shaped bolillo or telera bread, this local chain's offerings are a tasty head trip. There's the namesake sandwich, which comes with tender, thinly sliced pork and mustard; the classic Cubano with shredded pork, ham, turkey, beans, and two kinds of cheese; and the mighty Torta Ahogado, featuring thick slices of pork, avocado, and refried beans drenched in a spicy and rich tomato-based chile sauce. Extra napkins? They've got as many as you'll probably need.

Ta'Carbon
Katie Johnson

The carne asada from Ta' Carbon is pretty amazing. Grilled to perfection, lightly marinated, and with just the right amount of coarse salt, the beef is sizzled over a charcoal fire, a method most asada aficionados consider ideal. You hardly could be blamed for watching it cook behind the counter, its smoky, meaty aromas finding their way to your nose before you've even had a chance to fill up your plate with diced onions, cilantro, Mexican limes, sliced marinated carrots, and salsas from the condiment bar. When it's ready, it comes with a tortilla, atop tacos, or however you wish, really. Want an ice-cold Mexican soda to wash it down with? You bet you do.

For 10 bucks, you could do worse than the crazy-good grilled chicken meal served at this no-frills Mexican meat shop and market in Scottsdale. Served up hot 'n' ready from a giant outdoor charcoal grill, these boldly seasoned and deliciously smoky whole chickens get packed to-go with corn tortillas, a pint each of rice and hot dog-studded beans, and fresh, spicy salsa. The fowl-focused feast easily will feed more than one person, so if you're going solo, prepare for some tasty leftovers.

San Carlos Bay Seafood Restaurant

As Valley dwellers, we're lucky to never be too far from a place that serves zingy Mexican-style seafood cocktails, stews, and ocean-centric eats. Our hangout, at the moment, is San Carlos Bay — the little house in the shadow of State Route 51 that's been around for over 25 years. Here, you'll find plump shrimp baked with cheese in a deep green poblano cream sauce, a white fish fillet soaked in garlic, and a "super" cocktail loaded with delicacies like sea snails and baby clams. A lazy Susan loaded with sauces at each table makes it easy to give your seafood an extra kick.

Raspados Paradise Mexican Restaurant
Minerva Rincon

Corn gnawed right off the cob is a delicious thing, but even better is a warm cup of grilled white corn kernels, bathed in butter, with just a hint of mayo, and topped with cotija and Valentina. All the taste of an elote, but none of the mess. Nestled in a relatively quiet spot at the very crowded Arizona Mills, Raspados Paradise's coctel de elote gives you a taste of Mexico City, allowing you to walk, eat, and avoid pushy mall vendors while engulfed in edible bliss.

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.

For those without the good fortune of having pozole served up regularly at home, pop into this spartan eatery in Mesa for a soul-soothing bowl of what just might be the perfect Mexican comfort food. Served up as pozole rojo, Taquitos Jalisco's red chile-laced broth features bone-on chunks of beef, puffy, chewy pieces of hominy, and a plate loaded up with cilantro, white onion, shredded cabbage, and slices of lime to flavor your pozole as you please. Served up in a giant bowl, it will feed you today and, most likely, tomorrow, too.

The folks at La Sonorense realize that a thick and chewy flour tortilla is a terrible thing, so they make their tortillas, available from 5-inch taco all the way to 15-inch burro size, into delicate paper-thin and par-cooked disks, selling them out by the two-dozen pack in their tiny, friendly cash-only shop on Central. The best thing about par-cooked tortillas? Getting the thrill of seeing a tortilla poof up into a perfect pillow without all that rolling and flour dust everywhere.

La Sonorense's primary business is to supply local restaurants, and chances are if you've had a fantastic flour tortilla anywhere in town, it is one of theirs. Their corn tortillas are equally delicious, but it's even better to pick up their tortilla masa, sold still warm by the pound, and try your hand at making them at home.

Joyride Taco House
Nikki Buchanan

For those who consider chips and salsa the dynamic duo of Mexican eats, we present Joyride Taco House. In downtown Gilbert, this energetic taquería (from the folks behind Federal Pizza, Windsor, and Postino) serves up a dazzling default fire-roasted salsa and bottomless basket of crunchy housemade tortilla chips, then ups the ante with specialty salsas of bright tomatillo, bold and smoky chile de arbol, slightly fruity guajillo pepita, and charred habanero available for a few extra bucks. Boozy housemade aguas frescas to wash 'em down with? They've got those, too. (And good news: Joyride is expected to open a location on Central Avenue north of Camelback Road in December.)

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