Best Salsa 2015 | La 15 y Salsas | La Vida | Phoenix

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tirion Boan

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.

Chris Malloy

If a cramped, cash-only establishment is not for you, skip El Norteño. But be warned: You'll be missing out on one of the best bargains on breakfast burritos in the Valley, found inside a tiny building at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Roosevelt Street in downtown Phoenix. Four bucks gets you a generous portion of spicy and flavor-packed housemade chorizo, mixed with eggs and fluffy potatoes and tightly wrapped inside a warm flour tortilla. Perfect for breakfast, but available any time. Dunked into the excellent housemade hot sauce, it's almost more flavor than can be handled — ask for extra portions of this bright red and gloriously shiny sauce to take home.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Henry Ford famously said, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black," but he may as well have been talking about the cult-worthy burritos at the worst-kept secret spot in Phoenix, Rito's. Any customer can have any burrito that he or she wants so long as it is green or red — and paid for in cash. Join the line of downtown professionals patiently waiting for their mouthfuls of tender braised beef in, you guessed it, either red or green sauce and expertly packed into a flour tortilla. If you come to the conclusion that Rito's is the kind of place that excels at what they do through specialization, rather than by sumptuous settings and expansive "please everyone" menus, look around you; you're not the only one.

Readers Choice: Carolina's

Swing by this butcher shop and food counter on any night and you're certain to run into one of the many self-described foodies of the Valley utterly devoted to the charcoal-grilled chicken, carne asada, and al pastor tacos of Mercado y Carnicería Cuernavaca. If you thought tacos had to be a complicated affair featuring overly complex sauces and precious garnishes, all carefully perched on a bent-metal stand, think again. Get to Cuernavaca and back to tacos made great by well-seasoned, perfectly cooked meats, sauce (if you want it), a simple onion and cilantro garnish, and a warm tortilla served in a paper basket. Anyway, one of those metal stands would just get in the way of power-eating your way through one of Cuernavaca's roasted-pineapple-topped al pastor tacos.

Readers Choice: Joyride

Patience is a virtue, one that is richly rewarded at the South Phoenix eatery Pitic. Crowded with families and business folk enjoying a leisurely lunch, Pitic is the place where enchiladas stand out on a menu overflowing with Mexican classics. Appropriately drenched in a smooth red chile more flavorful than spicy (as it should be) and paired with creamy refried beans, this dish makes a sour cream garnish unnecessary. Choose from rolled cheese, chicken, or beef enchiladas — or the lesser-known Sonoran-style flat enchiladas — and take the option to add a fried egg on top.

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