Best Elote 2017 | ACR Elotes | La Vida | Phoenix

ACR Elotes is certainly the best elote cart in metro Phoenix, but it's also one of the most elusive. It's worth chasing down this particular elote cart, though, which does not always keep regular hours but which makes regular appearances on Calle 16. Bring cash (no cards accepted, at press time), and prepare to delight in the pleasure of a cup of freshly prepared elote. The kernels are tossed in bright, vivid blend of cotija cheese, mayo, butter, lemon juice, and secret spices. True, there's nothing particularly revelatory about it, but it's somehow still a cup of corn for the ages.

Heather Hoch

Nopalitos remain strangely absent from many Mexican restaurants in the Valley, despite the fact that they are a ubiquitous ingredient in so many strains of Mexican cooking. But you can always find nopales at El Tlacoyo, Tempe's long-running, Mexico City-style restaurant. Most people go to El Tlacoyo to feast on specialties like barbecued lamb, but don't overlook a fresh-made huarache smothered in beans, crumbly white cheese, and topped generously with a bright, tangy and oniony salad of nopalitos. If you have not yet learned to embrace and love nopales, this simple, timeless dish might get you there.

Mariscos Ensenada is one of the most reliable sources of fresh Mexican mariscos in the Valley. Whether you're on the hunt for your Sunday morning Michelada or a platter of palate-tingling aguachile, the menu here is expansive. Highlights include botana mixta de camaron y pulpo, an invigorating shrimp and octopus salad. Tacos stuffed with breaded marlin are hard to resist, if you love fish tacos. Like much of modern Mexican seafood dishes, mariscos can often be pleasantly over the top. To that end, don't miss Mariscos Ensenada's take on the pineapple-stuffed seafood, a dish you have to see to believe. Fortunately, it's as delicious as it is photogenic.

In the burgeoning culinary genre that is Mexican sushi, El Tataki stands out as one of the most refined Mex-sushi spots in metro Phoenix. For newcomers to the Mex-sushi scene, this west-side spot is one of the best places in town to sample rolls like the Cielo, Mar y Tierra, a classic surf-and-turf roll made with shrimp, chicken, beef, avocado, and cucumber. The restaurant also serves a whole menu of traditional Japanese sushi, if that's your thing, as well as more conventional Mexican fare. The restaurant should be moving into its new digs (listed above) any day now.

Patricia Escarcega

The number of Sonoran hot dog carts has multiplied in metro Phoenix over the years, but El Caprichoso is still the best. The beloved hot dog cart has been in operation for more than 20 years, so it's no surprise that its hot dog has been fine-tuned to near-perfection. The hot dog is squeezed onto a fluffy split-top roll that is beautifully griddle-charred. If you order it with all the toppings, it comes ladled with beans and pico, dusted with cheese, and decorated with a squiggle of mayonnaise. It's one of metro Phoenix's most quintessential and addictive meals.

The hand-lettered sign outside Carnicería Castillo in south Phoenix makes a bold claim: "The Best Carne Asada and Pollo al Carbon in Phoenix!" Thankfully, this is not just an empty boast. This longtime neighborhood butcher shop sells consistently great carne asada, along with some of the juiciest, smokiest grilled whole chickens in town, prepared daily on the grill outside and sold in big, gorgeously wrapped aluminum packs in the shop's small takeout kitchen. Of course, this is not merely a takeout joint. If you're looking for meats to take home and cook yourself, Carnicería Castillo carries an extensive selection of harder-to-find cuts, including lengua, tripas, thinly sliced cecina, and house-made longaniza sausage. The meat case alone will put your chain grocery store butcher counter to shame.

When you come to Los Altos Ranch Market, it's best to budget more time than you think need for a quick grocery run. "Popping in" to pick up a few essentials can easily turn into an hourlong shopping expedition, thanks to Ranch Market's comprehensive selection of traditional Mexican and Latin American food items, including meats, produce, cheeses, fresh and dried herbs, and bakery items. It's worth a visit just to pick up fresh cheese from the in-store cremería, which stocks more than 30 specialty cheeses, or to pick up meat cuts that you simply won't find at more mainstream supermarkets. If you get hungry, stop by the cafeteria for hot combo platters, or grab a fresh fruit drink at the agua fresca bar. Along the perimeters of the store, a motley assortment of vendors provides everything from cellphones to on-site jewelry repair.

Lauren Cusimano

As the years go by, the Mercado de los Cielos at Desert Sky Mall in west Phoenix only seems to get bigger and more ostentatious. The marketplace is located in a space that used to house a Mervyn's Department store back in the 1990s. It's now one of the biggest indoor Latino marketplaces in the city, and it shows no signs of slowing down. The highlight of visiting El Mercado is its food court, which manages to squeeze several restaurants and snack shops into a somewhat diminutive space. Come here to snack on Mexico City-style specialties like pambazos and machetes; feast on platters of colorful Mexican-style sushi; or treat yourself to some Mexican raspados and aguas frescas. It's all here, and it's all pretty delicious.

Located in a Sunnyslope strip mall, Pan y Pasteleria San Sebastian is a small, bright Mexican bakery with a terrific selection of traditional Mexican pastries. For a small shop, the selection at Pan y Pasteleria San Sebastian is pretty astounding, running the gamut from staples like conchas, empanadas, and cuernitos, to harder-to-find pan dulce like cacahuates (creamy, peanut-shaped pastries). You'll also find muffins, fresh bolillos, and a nice assortment of cakes. You really can't beat the value and freshness, either, a winning combo at what is a truly great neighborhood panaderia.

It's hard to be in a sour mood when you're at Dulceria Importaciones Valentinas. This family-run shop is more than just a candy shop — it's a full-fledged party emporium. The store is festooned with brightly colored piñatas and balloons at every turn, and the selection of both Mexican and American candies is mind-boggling. The inventory runs the gamut from the classics — tamarind-flavored lollipops and mazapan — to the latest candy and snack fads imported from Mexico. Service is consistently friendly, and the store frequently offers deals on bulk candies that rival wholesale pricing, which mean you can stuff your massive piñata with abandon.

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