What makes a great tortilla? Handmade over machine-cut, thinner rather than thicker, supple rather than dense? No matter what criteria you apply, it's hard to find fault with the tortillas made at La Sonorense in south Phoenix. The 15-inch flour tortillas, which are made fresh daily in this small, family-run factory, are engineered to be shaped into quesadillas and burritos. But they're so good, you could easily devour a whole 12-pack all on their own. Buttery and powdery, papery thin yet pliant enough that you can roll them into a fine, edible scroll, these classic Sonoran-style tortillas are part of what makes it great to live and eat in Arizona. And if you're not into the flour tortilla holy trinity — flour, salt, and, yes, lard — La Sonorense also makes excellent corn tortillas. 

La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop

La Santisima makes killer burritos, tacos, and quesadillas, but the restaurant's marquee attraction is its fantastic salsa bar. With more than 10 homemade salsas to choose from, including unique offerings like spicy peanut salsa, sweet and chunky strawberry salsa, creamy pecan salsa, and refreshing jicama salsa, there is an option here for every mood and fancy. For traditionalists, there is the excellent Salsa Mexicana, a classic red, white, and green medley of smoky green chiles, white onions, tomatoes, and cilantro, which is the little black dress of the La Santisima salsa bar — it pairs well with everything.

Those of us who live for a freshly made batch of guacamole understand that a good guacamole is a necessity, not a luxury upsell side. Luckily, the folks at Diego Pops in Scottsdale understand the significance of a well-made, impeccably seasoned guacamole that can stand all on its own. The guacamole here is chunky, with the pleasing slow burn of blistered jalapeños mingling with the faint sweetness of fresh citrus. A squirt of lime, a sprinkle of salty cotija cheese, plus a basket of hot, crispy tortilla chips on the side — it's an honest, simple guacamole that's as timeless and pleasing as hot butter on fresh bread.

Otro Cafe
Jacob Tyler Dunn

Finding great Mexican street corn on the streets of Phoenix is not always the easiest task. Sure, you could spend all Sunday driving around, looking for the neighborhood elote man. Or, you can save some precious eating time and head to Otro Cafe, chef Doug Robson's uptown Mexican restaurant. There's always Elote Callejero on the menu, and it's always delicious. The elote is served entero (on the cob), neatly slathered with mayonnaise, and dusted with a generous helping of cotija cheese and a dash of smoked paprika. The sweet corn, and the faint peppery smokiness of the paprika, is like eating summer itself.

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. 

Comedor Guadalajara
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.

Ta'Carbon
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
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.

The Torta El Rey from Torta El Rey
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.

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