While each floor at the Monarch Theatre comes alive with hip-hop and Latin music on Friday nights, the real fun happens in the upstairs lounge. Every week, a pair of 13-person Mexican banda ensembles, each equipped with brass section, multiple percussionists, and a singer, stage a battle of sorts in front of a packed dance floor. Banda La Alterada and Banda La Maciza each takes a turn performing a variety of ranchera and corrido songs. It's often a lively affair filled with fiery trumpet solos, audience members hopping onstage to sing along with their favorites, and DJ Fantastico spinning merengue and bachata before and after the performances. So who's the winner? Why, everyone in the house.

Filmmaker Mary Mazzio's Underwater Dreams is timely because it deals with immigration reform. And the movie, which played for a week this summer on various cable networks before opening nationwide in theaters, is pleasant for locals to watch because it's set here in Phoenix, specifically at Carl Hayden High School.

Mazzio's movie makes points about class distinction, underdogs making good, and the raw deal we give to "illegals." It's a sweet story about how a group of Carl Hayden students, all of them children of undocumented immigrants, entered a sophisticated underwater robotics competition sponsored by NASA in 2004 — and won. Competing against colleges, including engineering leader MIT, the four high-schoolers took top honors with a robot made from PVC pipe and duct tape. The victory changed the boys' ideas of who gets to succeed in life and how, and they returned to Phoenix empowered and determined to prevail. Later, the students' victory led to their involvement in immigration reform activism and passage of the DREAM Act. Bravo.

El Capri is a bit removed from the nightclubs of downtown Phoenix's Latin circuit, both in its location and its selection of music. You don't hear much in the way of Pitbull, Romeo Santos, Marc Anthony, and other overplayed artists in either of the two dance halls inside this long-running Central Phoenix discoteca. The emphasis at El Capri is on dancing to regional styles of traditional Mexican music, including sinaloense, duranguense, tejano, and grupero, as well as popular norteño and ranchera. All of it comes courtesy of DJs and such live bands as Patrulla 81, Conjunto Primavera, and La Maquinaria Norteña, which get novios y novias stepping lively across the dance floor. Gringos and monolinguists be warned, however; pretty much everything's en español here, including most of the clientele, but if you're fluent in body language and eye contact, you might be lucky enough to land a dance.

La Santisima isn't just about giant, delicious tacos or a salsa bar with more varieties than you can dream of; it's also about the tequila and the aguas frescas. If you're having trouble deciding on which of the two should accompany your spicy meal, why not marry the two into a tamarind margarita? The boozy concoction blends tart, tangy, and pulpy housemade tamarindo aguas and Casadores tequila for a $9 drink you'll be hooked on after your first sip. Just don't get too hooked, because the drink is made only on weekends. You'll just have to wait until then to get your fix. Sorry.

Readers Choice: Z'Tejas

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of