A weekend afternoon spent wandering the aisles of Los Altos Ranch Market on Central Avenue is never time wasted. Wander over to the produce section to breathe in the fresh, dewy bundles of hard-to-find herbs like hoja santa. Linger by the cremería, which stocks more than 30 specialty cheeses, for a free sample of queso fresco. Have lunch at the in-house taqueria, where you can order everything from tacos to chile rellenos to carnitas made in house. Wash it all down with a visit to the agua fresca bar, where you can neutralize your heavy lunch with a refreshing cup of fresh watermelon, cucumber, or pineapple agua fresca. And if you managed to spend an afternoon at Los Altos Ranch Market without eating or drinking anything, we congratulate you.

La Reyna Bakery
Natalie Miranda

Even late into the evening, the pan dulce pastries in the bakery cases at La Reyna Bakery are impossibly soft and fresh. This modest neighborhood panadería and repostería produces conchas so fluffy and sweet, they make the dense, grocery-store variety seem like gluten bricks by comparison. Sweet potato empanadas are nutty and tender, and the little Danish-style pastries called manitas are perfect for dunking into your morning cup of coffee or tea. While you're here, stock up on freshly made bolillos, and some of the fluffiest hot dog buns (perfect for your Sonoran dogs) to be found anywhere around town.

No one makes Mexican antojitos ("little cravings") quite like Tim and Kim Cobb, who are best known around the Valley for their popular fleet of United Lunchadores food trucks. At their Calaveras Snack Shop in north Phoenix, you can stop in for a quick sugar pick-me-up in the form of a fresh-out-of-the-fryer churro. As churros go, the cajeta-stuffed churro made at Calaveras is pretty much flawless. The hot, fresh fried dough is beautifully crisp and rolled in cinnamon sugar. Even better, the pastry is filled with molten hot cajeta on the inside. It may sound like a perfect storm for sugar overload, but you certainly won't hear us complaining.

El Migos Water-n-Ice is a small, pleasant ice cream and water shop wedged into a sun-faded west-side strip mall. The shop sells all manner of Mexican snacks, but the house specialty is raspados. The Mexican raspado, in its modern incarnation, is usually composed of a cup of shaved ice bathed in a fruity syrup, and often finished with a dousing of La Lechera condensed milk. Fresh fruit toppings and a sprinkle of salt elevate this simple treat beyond a simple snow cone. Try one of the house Obispos ("bishops") at El Migos, which are essentially raspados topped with your choice of ice cream. As the ice cream melts, the raspado gets frothier and sweeter. The El Migos Obispo raspado is pure indulgence.

Realeza Michoacana

Paletas, the classic Mexican fruit popsicles, used to be the special domain of the neighborhood paletero — the ice pop pushcart vendor whose jingle bells rang merrily across barrios everywhere. Lately, it seems paletas have migrated to the grocery store, where they are strategically located in checkout freezer coolers. But why risk grocery store freezer burn? Realeza Michoacana on 16th Street has been making their own paletas on site for something like 20 years now. And the flavor selection is breathtaking: Mango and chile, bubblegum, pistachio, piña colada, tamarind, and guava are just some of the shop's specialty flavors. Fresh, sweet, and surprisingly bulky, these paletas will never go out of style.

If you've not yet experienced Mercado de Los Cielos at Desert Sky Mall, it's time to take a field trip. What was once a Mervyn's department store has been transformed into a lively Latino marketplace, the kind of place where you can buy a wedding dress, sign up for a new cellphone plan, and sit for a medical consultation with a Mexican herbalist, all without having to set foot inside the actual mall. Still, by far the best reason to visit the Mercado is to eat at its food court, a sprawling collection of food stands serving everything from Mexico City-style pambazo sandwiches to seafood platters of fresh oysters. The hardest part about eating at the Mercado is finding an empty table — the food court is a west-side weekend destination for families, and fills up quickly. Aim for a weekday supper, where you can have your pick of Mexican tortas, quesadillas, seafood, and pretty much anything else your heart and stomach desires.

Sushi Sonora

One of the best places to experience the strange and wondrous alchemy that is Mexican sushi is also one of the oldest Mex-sushi spots around town: Sushi Sonora. Try the restaurant's take on the cielo, mar, y tierra (a surf-and-turf roll made with shrimp, steak, and chicken), or the deep-fried beauty that is the cronchi roll, which is stuffed with shrimp, imitation crab, and cream cheese. Still, if you want to experience Mexican sushi at its fullest, wackiest expression, you'll want to try the Percheron, a massive roll that's named after the famously oversize draft horse. It's an appropriate moniker for this bulky, tinfoil-wrapped roll, which is crammed with carne asada and bacon and capped with enormous amounts of melted cheese. If you survive the Percheron, you can officially proclaim yourself a Mex-sushi veteran.

Rosita's Place
Sarah Whitmire

Rosita's Place has been hanging around McDowell Road since the late 1960s, so you know they're doing something right over there. Case in point: the house chimichanga, an Arizona culinary invention that approximates the size, shape, and heft of a small log. To say that the chimichanga at Rosita's is big would be a gross misrepresentation. This massive, crackly-skinned flavor bomb comes with a fork and knife, and you will need these tools to carve small, bite-size wedges of your piping hot chimichanga. You can have it stuffed with stringy machaca, hunks of green chile beef, scraps of moist, shredded chicken, or just oozing with molten-hot refried beans. The default version comes topped with big scoops of guacamole and sour cream, which is pretty much the best way to enjoy the Rosita's Place chimichanga.

Cocina 10
Charles Barth

Let it be known here: The I-10 Nachos made at Cocina 10, the Mexican kitchen inside Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix, are flawless. Nachos, of course, suffer a reputation for being a lowbrow snack food, the sort of thing enjoyed at bowling alleys and baseball stadiums. But that doesn't mean nachos aren't delicious. The I-10 Nachos elevate the humble snack food to new flavor heights. This is a carefully engineered nacho plate, made with a sturdy, crunchy base of tortilla chips, layered with refried pinto beans, and then generously lubricated with Tillamook sharp cheddar and Oaxaca cheese. The whole thing is baked into one delicious unit, then topped with fresh guacamole, scatterings of cilantro and cotija, and given a final blessing — a dollop of sour cream. As far as nachos go, the I-10 Nachos are perfection.

Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva
Evie Carpenter

If you're a fan of chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's culinary forays into the heart of modern Mexican cooking, a visit to her latest effort, Barrio Café Gran Reserva, is mandatory. Gran Reserva has transformed the old Bragg's Factory Diner space on Grand Avenue into an artful, 27-seat cafe space — the ideal showcase for chef Silvana's latest culinary experiments. It's the first of the Barrio Café restaurants to offer a tasting menu, which offers seven small-plate courses with exquisite bites like chicharrón de pancita, the tender meat bearing crisp edges and deliciously caramelized with Coca-Cola. Gran Reserva also boasts what might be the biggest Mexican wine list in town and an expanded menu of mezcal. If that's not reason enough for a visit, we don't know what is. 

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