Best Quesadilla 2016 | Machete Azteca | Food & Drink | Phoenix

Machete Azteca, a west-side counter-service restaurant specializing in the street foods of Mexico City, is not the place to go to for oversize, cheddary cheese crisps, nor is it a destination for quesadillas made with store-bought flour tortillas, oozing with melted Monterey Jack. This is the place to go for sturdy, 16-inch-long, machete-shaped quesadillas — so big you'll need a pizza box to carry them out of the restaurant. The quesadillas are thickly built on homemade corn tortillas, and stuffed with tender, cheese-smothered fillings like alambre de res (grilled, thinly sliced beef cooked with sauteed onions, peppers, and bits of bacon) and chicharrón prensado (rendered and pressed pork skins). There's not really a bad quesadilla in the house, although we're partial to the flor de calabaza, a squash blossom machete glued together with salty white cheese. 

Meagan Simmons

Chilaquiles are the ultimate leftover comfort food, in the sense that you can quickly whip up a morning batch with the shards of leftover stale tortilla chips stuck in the back of your pantry or with the flabby, hardening tortillas lingering somewhere in the recesses of your uncleaned fridge. Sure, chilaquiles are technically easy to prepare, but that doesn't mean it's easy to find a plate of restaurant chilaquiles that captures the full, glorious appeal of this comfort food dish. Enter Comedor Guadalajara, the boxy, nondescript Mexican restaurant on Central Avenue that has fed generations of Phoenicians. There is no choosing between red or green sauce here. There is only one chilaquiles plate, a no-frills breakfast of gently fried corn tortilla slices blanketed in a wonderful red chile sauce, which is lightly inflected with the heat of roasted chiles. It comes topped with a couple of eggs, and the soft, tender tortilla strips take on a meaty texture the longer you let them soak in the sauce. And, oh, that sauce. It's so good, you'll find yourself plotting your return to south Phoenix for one more taste.

Fancy resort kitchens have their own version of breakfast burritos, and they usually involve egg whites, pico, and thick, sturdy flour tortillas. These are fine burritos, but there's something truly special about a breakfast burrito made on a flattop grill by a guy nicknamed Chuy, who wields a giant metallic spatula like a grizzled kitchen warrior. That's the kind of breakfast burrito you'll find at Rolando's Mexican Food, a counter-service standalone joint that looks like the decor has gone unchanged since 1976. There are a few options to choose from, but the standard order here is Rolando's Breakfast Burrito, a massive breakfast indulgence of buttery scrambled eggs, nicely seasoned breakfast potatoes, and crispy bits of bacon. Melted orange cheese cements the whole scrappy breakfast together, and the meal comes neatly packaged in an enormous, Sonoran-style flour tortilla.

Katie Johnson

At the height of the lunch hour, the parking lot at Ta'Carbon becomes a snarl of illegal park jobs, and inside, there's almost always a line at the counter. Blame it on the exquisite tacos, little bundles of gorgeously seasoned meats piled into soft, fluffy tortillas, which you can garnish to perfection at the salsa bar. Try the Hazz, a green chile beef taco spilling over with blistery nubs of carne asada blanketed with white cheese. It's fantastic. Al pastor, cabeza, lengua, tripitas — take your pick, because they're all delicious. Put in your order at the counter, and pay after you've had your fill. 

Gadzooks Enchiladas & Soup

An entire restaurant devoted to enchiladas? We like the way that Aaron Pool, the owner of Gadzooks and a lifelong enchilada aficionado, thinks. Gadzooks, the fast-casual restaurant on Seventh Street with the funny-sounding name, has become a staple of the central Phoenix Mexican food scene. It's the place to go for succulent enchiladas made to your specifications with fillings like guajillo-braised short ribs and green chile pork shoulder. Top your enchiladas with the smoky red sauce, or the tangy green sauce, some Chihuahua or asadero cheese (or both), and prepare to take in the rich, bubbly layers of flavor and texture.

Erica O'Neil
The Torta El Rey from Torta El Rey

We've all met tortas that were all bun, no meat, dry as sawdust, or barely worth their weight in bolillo. These are not the type of tortas you'll find at Tortas El Rey, a midtown strip-mall gem where the classic Mexican sandwich is transmuted into a minor feast. The torta that achieves its fullest, grandest expression is the El Rey, a thick, meaty vessel layered with succulent pig (jamón and pork sirloin), milanesa steak, a crackly strip of bacon, and for good measure, a healthy serving of chorizo. It comes thoroughly lubricated with melted cheese and topped with a fried egg, just in case that's not enough protein for you in one sitting. The hardest thing about eating the El Rey is finding a way to fit it into your mouth. But once you figure that part out, the sandwich soon becomes another fond, delicious memory.

You know the Sonoran dog, the bacon-wrapped, mayonnaise-sluiced street food of the Sonora-Arizona borderlands. By now, you may have even started to take the Sonoran dog for granted. Don't. Instead, make a dinner date with El Caprichoso, the popular Phoenix hot dog stand where service is fast and courteous, and the Sonoran dogs are perfection. The split-top bun is always fluffy, the hot dog nicely charred and juicy, the beans nicely seasoned, and the various toppings — pico, a dusting of salty cheese, and a squiggle of mayonnaise — are carefully composed and balanced. The El Caprichoso Sonoran dog, enjoyed on a picnic table with a curbside view of the streets of Phoenix, is one of best dinners in town.

Red, green, or white? That's the question at hand when you pay a visit to Pozoleria Guerrero, a barebones strip-mall restaurant that specializes in the rainy-day birthday meal of so many Mexican childhoods: pozole. Pozole comes in an infinite number of variations — and no one can quite decide on a definitive spelling — but all three of the varieties at Pozoleria Guerrero are fantastic. We prefer the white pozole, where the earthy funk of the hominy is complemented with lavish amounts of garlic and herb seasoning. Your broth is studded with hunks of succulent pork, and every bowl comes with a grizzled piece of chicharrón, which is perfect for soaking up the salty, flavor-rich broth of your pozole.

Mexican-style seafood is surprisingly abundant in Phoenix. We don't let a little thing like living in the middle of the Sonoran Desert stop us from enjoying platters of ostiones (oysters), citrus-sluiced ceviche, or fiery plates of shrimp soaking in lime-scented aguachile sauce. You'll find all these dishes, and much more, at Mariscos El Cochorit, a west-side mariscos joint where the banda music blares out of the speakers and enormous platters of Sonoran- and Sinaloan-style seafood stream out of the kitchen. The thing to get on a hot day, when you want to pretend you're on vacation but couldn't make it to the beach, is the coco con campechana, a hollowed-out coconut brimming with a refreshing, tomato-based cold seafood soup of whole shrimp, octopus, and calamari. And the camarones cucaracha may not sound very appetizing, but the plate of sizzling shrimp dripping in garlic butter is pretty great.

Tortas are easy enough to find in Arizona. But tortas ahogada? That's going to require a little bit of digging. Fortunately for you (and us), we've done the legwork and have found what may be the best, possibly only, tortas ahogada eatery in the metro area. The Guadalajaran specialty, which literally means "drowned sandwich," takes torta eating to another, albeit messier, level. And at Tortas Ahogadas Guadalajara, this fried pork dish is served between two slices of toasted bolillo bread and drenched in piping hot chile de arbol, a light-but-spicy sauce that may or may not set your tongue on fire. Delicious for many, dangerous for the more sensitive, the tortas ahogada at this Chandler establishment warrant caution as much as they do a tall glass of ice water.

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