Barrio Cafe

From start to finish, chef Silvana Salcido Esparza delivers Mexican cuisine at its finest at her longstanding Central Phoenix restaurant. You'll want to begin the experience with an order of the award-winning guacamole and finish with the churros rellenos de cajeta de cabra. The dessert comes with two churros dusted in cinnamon sugar. The combination of hot, doughy churros and scoops of vanilla ice cream should be tantalizing enough, but Esparza ups the ante by filling each churro with cajeta de carba, or goat's milk caramel. You're going to want more of this thick, gooey sauce than can fit inside the deep-fried sticks of dough, and luckily, Esparza also drizzles some over the ice cream and the plate. We suggest dipping the churros in the pool of nutty, caramel sauce. We've been known to eat it straight off our spoon when the rest of the dessert's all gone.

Raspados Paradise Mexican Restaurant
Minerva Rincon

If you're still thinking that a raspado is just the Mexican version of a Slurpee, you need to step out of the convenience store and find yourself a real raspado shop. We wish our corner 7-Eleven had chunks of tamarindo swirled into the cups of ice, or thick strawberry or mango syrups with — you guessed it — real fruit in them. But it just doesn't. And until it does, we'll be hitting Raspados Paradise Mexican Restaurant for our icy treats. Just don't judge us for choosing to have it topped with a sweet drizzle of Lechera, sweetened condensed milk.

Paletas Betty

If it seems the paleta game is a one-woman show in the Valley, that's because it is. Drawing from her upbringing in Michoacán, the paleta and ice cream epicenter of Mexico, Betty Alatorre de Hong, has been creating seasonal and addictive frozen fruit treats since 2010, stamping each one with her signature bite mark, earning national press, and even taking the time to create a perroleta for her canine clients. We can't say no to the refreshing pepino paleta, the rum-spiked piña colada, or a classic pure mango paleta, but we like to check back to see what seasonal treats Betty has in her freezer.

Dulceria Arcoiris
Heather Hoch

Did you set out to eat every bit of Mexican tamarindo candy ever made? Or just have a need to feed your inner Mexican Willy Wonka? Dulceria Arcoiris has you covered with more Mexican candy — in all its sweet, salty, and spicy (sometimes all at the same time) glory — than you ever imagined was possible. Row after row of colorful packages fill this open-to-the-public wholesale shop at affordable enough prices to make sweet treats at your next bash a breeze, including the ice cream and always welcome fruity Mexican sugar cane sodas.

If you're not happy with the thought of smashing into a traditional star-shaped piñata, with colorful streamers flying from each of its cones, the folks at Importaciones Valentinas are here to make your custom piñata come to life. Bring in a photo, sketch, or just describe the piñata of your dreams and browse the impressive selection of imported Mexican candy with which to stuff the papier-mâché creation. Time to get that blindfold, stick, and first aid kit ready; it's going to be a smashing good time.

There are yerberias that focus largely on the mystical aspects of healing, and then there's Yerberia Botanica Gloria 2, an incense-perfumed shop heavily stocked with obscure herbs, barks, and seeds, as well as high-quality nutritional supplements, tinctures, and essential oils. Have a question as to what is best for an upset stomach, allergy attack, or unsightly rash? The two knowledgeable ladies behind the counter are there to help. And just in case you need an extra level of healing, there is an ample selection of religious votives for every need, as well as rosaries and religious imagery.

Best Place to Buy Mexican Furniture

Casa Decor

If your hacienda-style house seems empty, this dense store has large, darkly stained antique and new wood dining tables, comfortable and sturdy carved chairs to match, glazed and colorful talavera pottery. With an in-house repair and design team, Casa Decor can fix anything or create a custom furniture piece to suit your need — though it's hard to imagine this shop with a huge mix of Mexico- and Southwest-inspired furniture and décor won't have exactly what you need.

Best Place to Buy Mexican Tchotchkes

Mercado Mexico

Mercado Mexico

The space may be a little dusty and a bit warm on a summer day, but inside this 30-plus-year-old shop is one of the Valley's best selection of traditional talavera pottery to fill the grandest of tables, clay pots for every kind of traditional Mexican cookery, and volcanic stone molcajetes and metates. The shopping doesn't have to stop there. Outfit yourself with straw hats or browse the extensive selection of pottery and steel sculptures found in the large patio.

Best Place to Buy Day of the Dead Treasures

Purple Lizard Boutique

The Purple Lizard

Looking for the elusive Day of the Dead sugar skull? Or how about authentic embroidered Mexican clothing to dress up as a calavera? This jam-packed store has everything Day of the Dead-related, from calavera-adorned greeting cards to earrings, sugar skulls, and ceramic skulls, as well as colorful decorative calavera catrina dolls, elegantly and beautifully dressed. Spend an hour or two browsing this well-stocked boutique and see what other colorful treasure you can find.

Asi Es La Vida

Imagine this: cheese, chorizo, and cactus. We know what you're thinking. Who would dare to put cactus in something you eat, right? Well, a lot of people, actually. It's more commonly called nopales and is a staple in Mexican food, especially that of central Mexico. If you look carefully, you can find it on the menus of many Mexican restaurants around the city, but our favorite use has to be in the queso fundido at Asi Es La Vida. It acts almost as a green chile in the cheesy dip and it mingles well with the spicy chorizo and hearty mushrooms. Grab a chip, take a dip, and prepare to be a convert. And we promise there won't be a spine in sight.

Readers Choice: Barrio Cafe

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