Crescent Ballroom

Scenes don't always rise organically within a music community. Sometimes, they are placed there deliberately, started and maintained by organizers who see a void and have the will to make it better. Such is the case with Phoenix's fledgling alt-Latino music scene. Whereas our southern cousin Tucson boasts a handful of modern Latino bands, Phoenix's scene is still in its infancy. And that's where Nicolas Paredes and his collaborators come in. Clandestino is a monthly music night at Crescent Ballroom that Paredes and company started in 2014, and the event brings in bands from all over the country (and Mexico) and pairs them alongside local DJs for chill, fun dance nights featuring tropical bass music. The scene can only grow from here.

Paz Cantina
Chris Malloy

What do you want with a plate of tacos or a big ol' bowl of guac? A margarita, of course. And after a long day or at the start of a long night, there's nothing better than Paz Cantina's house margarita, which will never cost you more than three bucks. That's right, just three dollar bills. Sure, we were skeptical at first, but after one (okay, maybe it was three or four) we realized this downtown taco shop doesn't skimp on the ingredients — and by ingredients we mean booze. It doesn't take too many of these cocktails to have you feeling good, which either can be a good or bad thing, depending on your tolerance for tequila.

Readers Choice: Salty Señorita

Mejico
Carrie Wheeler

Let's start with the fact that Mejico doesn't serve fancy modern Mexican cuisine. This cozy restaurant, located in a converted house, offers homestyle Mexican food that's simply done, but also excellent. It's exactly that you would expect from an owner like Obed de la Cruz, also one of the owners of such East Valley Mexican spots as El Sol Mexican Cafe & Bakery, El Zócalo Mexican Grill, and Mangos Mexican Cafe. There are classic dishes such as enchiladas de rez, shrimp relleno, and mole de pollo, but here they're well-executed and delivered to you at a white-tablecloth-covered table. The atmosphere is charming, the service is friendly, and though the price point is higher than your typical neighborhood restaurant, we're more than happy to shell out for the simple, high-quality fare.

Readers choice: The Mission

Carolina's Mexican Food
Sarah Whitmire

The particular magic of Carolina's flour tortillas is in not being able to leave the parking lot without digging out that bag of warm tortillas, battling the twist-tie, and wrestling out one of those floury, paper-thin disks. Tortillas this good need no adornment. This Phoenix institution may sell tortillas by the dozen, but it's guaranteed that there will be at least one or two missing from the bag by the time it reaches its intended destination. Order accordingly to your gluttonous appetite.

Readers Choice: Carolina's

La 15 Y Salsas Mexican Grill

If northern Mexican food is all about the beef, then Oaxacan food, of which La 15 y Salsas is a shining example, is all about the salsa. A trio of fresh salsas hit the table with every meal, with a basket of thin, crunchy corn chips on the side. The salsas come in bowls just big enough to give diners a taste of the salsas' bright, spicy, or smoky flavors, but not so big they become the meal itself. Sample brightly green and acidic tomatillo speckled with fresh cilantro, powerfully spicy chile de árbol, chunky roasted tomato salsa, and glossy, dark pasilla chile. There's a seemingly endless number of salsas this well-loved Sunnyslope neighborhood has in its repertoire, and it is worth many a repeat visit to try them all.

Crescent Ballroom

Thank the music gods for the creation of a fantastic casual eatery inside of a busy bar and event venue, particularly one with thick guacamole that can be enjoyed during bingo, flamenco dancing, trivia nights, a concert, or any other event at Crescent Ballroom. Coarsely crushed avocado is complemented with the usual lime, cilantro, jalapeño, and onion, with bits of roasted tomato and juicy orange thrown in. Topped with more cilantro — we love a kitchen that loves cilantro — and finely grated cotija cheese, this guacamole is worthy of scraping the bowl clean, in between rounds of bingo, that is.

Asadero Norte De Sonora
Chris Malloy

In a town full of quick, affordable, and delicious Mexican restaurants, all of them featuring sides of beans, it takes talent and effort to stand out. The steaming cup of charro beans at Asadero Norte de Sonora does just that. Forget paste-like, greasy refried beans; these soupy pinto beans, studded with bacon, onions, and chile verde are proof that no one does beans better than the northern Mexican state of Sonora. Just be thankful that every burrito, taco, and torta order comes with a little cup of these addictive beans, or get a side for just $1.50.

Tortas Paquime
Jackie Mercandetti

Sometimes, we feel a menu item was created only to heed our call. Such is the case of the coctel de elotes at Tortas Paquime. So what if we nearly died getting in and out of the dangerously packed and tiny parking lot one time. We left with a warm cup of tender corn kernels filling our greedy stomach. They were rich and buttery, with just enough mayo to make them creamy, but heavy on the chili powder and extra heavy on the lime juice, with a layer of salty cotija to top it all off. This is exactly how we like our corn: no messy cob involved and soupy enough to tilt into our waiting mouth.

Luncha Libre
Jackie Mercandetti

There's nothing traditional about Luncha Libre's quesadillas, but that's precisely what makes them so good. They may be Mexican food, but expect a dose of Asian, Southwest, and good ol' American flavors. The Breakfastdilla, a monster stuffed with cheese, scrambled egg, and chorizo, is a revelation about how we've been doing breakfast all wrong all this time. Shame on us. Until we correct our underachieving quesadilla-making ways, we can keep ourselves stuffed with cheese, tortillas, and whatever else the Luncha guys think up by following this busy truck all over town. Keep up with their movements via Twitter @LunchaLibre.

602-399-4024
www.lunchadorsunite.com
Los Reyes De La Torta

We can't blame you if you've never made it past the selection of excellent tortas at Los Reyes de la Torta. They are, after all, what made the restaurant famous, but you would be missing out on their wonderful chilaquiles, a perfect balance of spicy green or red salsa penetrating fried corn tortillas, garnished simply with sour cream, queso fresco, and a side of beans. Simple as the dish is, it's satisfying and filling, and those salsas are tear-inducing not just for their heat, but also for their fantastic taste. Top it with eggs, steak, or chicken for a breakfast big enough to carry you through the day.

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