Best Menudo 2014 | Rosita's Place | La Vida | Phoenix
Sarah Whitmire

No one likes being told that they can order menudo only on weekends. There are times when the day's events call for a soothing bowl of deep red or bright white menudo filled with fresh tripe and soft hominy. Rosita's Place knows about those days and caters to us the way we remember our grandmothers doing when we were young. The time spent on each batch of menudo is evident with the bold flavors that swirl in our mouth. Go ahead, squeeze a lemon wedge in it or toss some onion and cilantro — maybe even oregano — on top, but we guarantee that all you'll need are fresh tortillas to dip in the rich broth.

Jackie Mercandetti

To call Mariscos Altata loud doesn't do justice to the level of noise you're likely to encounter while dining at the West Phoenix restaurant. But if you're really looking to have top-quality Mexican seafood, then the impressive din will be worth enduring. The restaurant serves a large menu of dishes featuring shrimp, oysters, squid, scallops, and more. Your meal will always begin with chips, salsa, and a complimentary cup of briny seafood and vegetable soup that will likely leave you wanting more. One of the better entrée options is the shrimp cucaracha. Served with a side of red hot dipping sauce, it's a dish of grilled head-on prawns that arrive at your table looking like a plate of spindly insects.

Chris Malloy

Much of the draw of this 16th Street spot is the whole grilled chickens, which will set you back less than $10 but easily can satisfy a whole family. And they're really good. But it's not the chicken that keeps us coming back. It's the carne asada. Whether we're taking out or dining in, we almost always get an order of Asadero's street-style tacos, which come in a variety of types, including lengua and al pastor. They're all solid options, but the carne asada is the best. The restaurant does an excellent job of producing flavorful, moist grilled steak, and we've yet to find a better option in town. You also can get your carne in burrito form, though we think the tacos allow you to better appreciate the meat inside.

Walk past the display of balloons, down the aisles of hot sauce, chips, and beans. It's then you'll know you've made it to the meat section of El Rancho Market. Every part of the chicken is available — all you have to decide is whether or not you want it marinated. It's beef you want? Take your pick among center shank, short ribs, and liver, and if you're really feeling it, grab some tongue. If making pozole has been on your list of things to do, El Rancho sells the right pork meat for your endeavor. And don't worry, El Rancho's seafood section goes well beyond shrimp and stuffed salmon. Whole octopus, blue crab, and catfish nuggets are a few of the more exciting choices.

Timur Guseynov

From the giant pots to the corn husks and masa you'll need to make tamales, Ranch Market has you covered. The produce aisle offers a bounty of produce both familiar and exotic. And you can get fresh juices, baked goods, rotisserie chicken, and just about anything you can think of, including hard-to-find Mexican spices and cerveza to wash them down with.

Jamie Peachey

There's a reason La Purisima has taken the crown as the best panadería. It's not stuck in a vortex of only spitting out multi-colored conchas, which, let's face it, aren't that great to begin with. No, La Purisima gives customers every reason to drool over the pastries inside the cases. If you've got to cure a molasses craving, you've stepped into the right building. Not only are the pastries sweet, but so are the workers, who know you'll need extra time to decide on the options. Just don't hold up the line by getting entranced by the machine in the back sending out the fresh tortillas.

Sarah Whitmire

Don't even bother trying to convince us that there's a place in town making better tortillas than Carolina's. This restaurant has been doing them perfectly for as long as we can remember. There are lots of Mexican restaurants in town and many of them make good tortillas, but none achieves the level of fame that has come to this Phoenix institution. Carolina's tortillas are made in-house and arrive fresh off the grill nice and hot. We'll never be able to understand how Carolina's manages to make them paper-thin and yet able to stretch around more burrito contents than we ever thought possible. It's a good thing, too, because without such a strong tortilla base, there's no way you'd be able to enjoy Carolina's food without spilling green chile sauce and grease all over your shirt.

Allison Young

We've said it once and we'll say it again: Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's guacamole is the best in town. True, there's something to be said about a simple, well-executed bowl of creamy guacamole, but we can't help dreaming about the heartier, fancier version found at the chef's famous Barrio Cafe. Her guacamole features fresh avocados, tomato, red onion, cilantro, jalapeño, lime juice, and pomegranate seeds to make for a dip that's anything but boring. The balance between tart and sweet makes it addicting. Yes, the fanfare of the tableside show comes with a larger-than-average price, but we promise you won't regret the extra dollars once you try it.

Best of Phoenix 2014: Legend City / Goat Cheese

In Spanish, its name means "goat sucker," which is meant not as a pejorative but rather a description of the dietary habits of the chupacabra, a mythical creature who's occasionally seen stalking the desert. The name comes from the animal's penchant for killing and drinking the blood of small animals, especially goats.

In terms of legendary creatures, the chupacabra is relatively young. Early sightings occurred in Puerto Rico in 1995, and domestic visits from the little monster also have been reported. The goat-sucker also must be a shape-shifter, because descriptions of it vary. In Russia, it's the size of a bear, with spines from its head to its tail; in Maine, it's more dog-like, with long, sharp teeth and bald, pink skin. And there have been plenty of sightings near metro Phoenix. Always, the chupacabra has a sour disposition and a thing for eating other animals.

Biologists and wildlife management officials consider the chupacabra a contemporary legend and usually explain it away as a rabid dog. A five-year study by scientist Benjamin Radford failed to prove either the animal's existence or the reports that it drains its victims of their blood. Radford concluded that reports of chupacabra — at least in the United States — are in fact dogs and coyotes with mange, which causes their fur to fall out and their skin to bunch up and thicken.

Otherworldly creatures? Mangy dogs? No matter — the chupacabra has gone small-screen, and that makes it real. CNN's Ed Lavandera has discussed the chupacabra on air, describing it as the "Bigfoot of Latino culture." Better yet: The goat-sucker has had a featured role in something called Scooby-Doo! and the Monster of Mexico.

Making good salsa is not easy. Finding the balance of chiles, garlic, and salt while still imparting a memorable flavor is sometimes best left to those who have been doing it for years. The folks at Carniceria Los Piños put out a refrigerator full of three different kinds of salsas and a spicy guacamole every day. Choose from two red salsas — the classic, which leaves a welcomed burning sensation causing you to reach for more, and the totalmente salsa, with its roasted pepper taste. The salsa verde is an all-time favorite, made with fresh tomatillos and excellent on just about anything it touches.

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