Best Tamales 2015 | Azteca Bakeries & Restaurant | La Vida | Phoenix

Go past the shady courtyard into this production bakery/casual eatery to get to the most delicate corn tamales money can buy in the Valley. They're buttery with melted hunks of queso fresco, roasted green chile rajas, and roughly ground kernels of fresh sweet corn. Get that wax paper and corn husk wrap off this steaming tamal, give it a loving bath of the accompanying green chile sauce, and dive right in. Order them by the dozen for $21, and don't forget to try the beef and red chile tamales a try.

Chris Malloy

If your hunger for a torta comes in mini, regular, or supersize, you're in luck. El Güero has you more than covered. With 14 menu items to choose from — including a vegetarian creamy avocado and cheese torta — there is something for everyone. We're hooked on the I-can't-make-up-my-mind Cubana, with layers of tender braised pork leg, ham, steak milanesa, and refreshing iceberg lettuce. If you're craving turkey and Thanksgiving is nowhere in sight, give the Colitas a try: tender turkey tail meat between a toasted telera bun slathered with mayo, topped with lettuce, tomato, and spicy pickled jalapeños. Forget about getting a drive-thru burger next time you feel the need for meat between toasted buns.

Heather Hoch
Sonoran hot dog

The real secret to the Sonoran-style hot dog isn't the bacon wrap, not that it doesn't help. The secret is the bun — slightly sweet, light as a cloud, yet sturdy enough to hold that bacon-wrapped wiener, mayo, pinto beans, diced tomatoes, onions, avocado cream, pickled jalapeños, and any other of the many toppings ready to garnish the sweet bun. For years, this hot dog stand has been at the top of the list in the Valley, for its friendly, consistent late-night service, and we can't disagree.

You can find some of the best red or green pozole in town on an otherwise unremarkable stretch of Van Buren. And you can find it early in the day, as this wonderfully fragrant restaurant opens daily (except Tuesdays) at 9 a.m. Pozole for breakfast? Why not? Especially when it's served spicy and hot with a pile of freshly chopped iceberg lettuce, white onion, and cilantro. Top your steaming bowl of pozole with the shredded green cabbage, chopped white onion, and cilantro provided, and fish out the tender hunks of pork with some of the chicharrones provided. And just in case you need it, every table comes with a small bottle of Mexican oregano. Our guess: With pozole this good, you won't need it.

There's more to Mexican seafood than fish tacos, and if there's one place in Phoenix to experience mariscos, it is El Pacifico, a colorful family-owned seafood eatery in Central Phoenix. This is the sort of place where bringing a group and ordering one of everything is never a bad idea, just so the menu can be fully appreciated. Start with a platter of briny oysters topped with lime-soaked rock shrimp, hot sauce, and avocado; follow up with a tostada piled high with shrimp and fish ceviche and a callo de hacha aguachile; then take a slight break with a fresh coconut stuffed to almost overflowing with a cóctel de campechana (a mixture of shrimp, oysters, octopus, and fish) and tender coconut flesh. Finish off the meal with a fragrant bowl of caldo de siete mares or caldo largo, Mexican seafood soups that rival the best French bouillabaisse in their flavor and variety.

There's value in restaurants that dedicate themselves to doing one thing, and doing it well. When it comes to the tacos at Tacos Sonora Grill, there's only one choice to make: corn or flour tortillas. No matter what your choice, those generously sized tacos (no two-bite minuscule tortillas to be found here) will be filled with carne asada and only carne asada. Tender and juicy, with a good dose of smoke from the charcoal grill, the carne comes in three forms: as a taco, a tostada-quesadilla hybrid, or as a beef-stuffed quesadilla. Try all three for $7.

As much as we like to think we're mavens in the kitchen and can whip up a flavorful marinade on the fly to go with any meat, our grill thanks us every time we get our carne asada from the folks at Carnicería Sonora. Buy it preparada (as in drenched in their own marinade) or try your hand at your own seasoning. Either way, this butcher shop is ready to stock your next tailgate party or afternoon spent grilling on the patio, with a selection of beef, chicken and pork products, prepared salsas, fantastic guacamole made on the premises, and 12-packs of BBQ-appropriate beer. It doesn't get any easier, or better-tasting than this.

Timur Guseynov

Calling Los Altos Ranch Market a grocery store is like calling the Great Wall of China a fence. This massive food emporium contains everything one might need for a fantastic Mexican meal: fresh epazote, dried avocado leaves, freshly made tortillas, masa to make your own tamales, 20 kinds of dried chiles, giant whole beef heads . . . Dig a little through every flavor-packed aisle and you'll be rewarded with whole cacao beans, dry purple Peruvian corn for making chicha morada, and every type of bean used in Latin America.

Nothing makes us think of a childhood spent in Mexico more than entering a panadería, grabbing a round aluminum tray, a pair of tongs, and getting busy picking out favorites from the racks and cases brimming with freshly baked pan de dulce, cookies, and individual cakes. From flaky palmeras and sturdy, nearly overfilled empanadas to airy, fragrant sugar-topped conchas amd crusty-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside bolillo rolls, Panaderia y Tortilleria Guerrero nails them all.

2829 North 32nd Street, #30

Nothing pairs as well with spicy Mexican food as a tall glass of horchata. Sure, a margarita will get the job done, but when you're sweating bullets and looking for something to cool the flames in your mouth, there's only one drink that can really meet your needs. When you consider that La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop (with another location in Glendale) is known for having some of the best salsas in town, it makes sense that the restaurant also has some of the best horchata. It's not your standard pre-mixed agua fresca. The restaurant's version is loaded with fruit and pecans, giving it a depth of flavor that's seriously unique. There's no grittiness to the rice-based drink, just a hint of melon, and a nutty flavor that's perfect when balanced by a salsa-drenched taco or two.

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