Presidio Cocina Mexicana
Patricia Escarcega

Presidio Cocina Mexicana is quietly earning a reputation as one of the strongest Mexican restaurants in midtown Phoenix. If you want to taste what makes Presidio special, order their enchilada plate. The simple dish is elevated with the restaurant's homemade, bold, bright sauces — beware, the red sauce is even spicier than the green, and both are on the spicier side. You can order them stuffed with juicy tendrils of shredded chicken, or simply with beans and cheese. Either way, they will jolt your taste buds in new and unexpected ways.

The Tamale Store

The Tamale Store is a small, family-run shop in north Phoenix that delivers a killer assortment of homemade tamales. There are few places around town where you can find as diverse a selection of tamales as you will here. Chicken mole, green chile pork, bean and cheese, and even a healthy selection of vegetarian and vegan tamales are all readily available. The tamales are sturdy and thick, half-pound bundles of pure flavor (but made gloriously lard-free). You can buy them fresh, or pick out a frozen bundle to take home, to be steamed back to life in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant
Meagan Simmons

Nobody seems to know for certain exactly where in Arizona the chimichanga was born. Few, however, will dispute the fact that chimichangas are calorie-laden and delicious. One of the most unforgettable chimichangas in the city is on the menu at Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant, a staple of Seventh Avenue in central Phoenix. Chimis are all over the menu at Mi Patio, but for a distinctively Mediterranean take on the classic deep-fried burrito, the Baja Spinach & Feta Cheese Chimi is irresistible. It's crammed full of spinach, but the general blandness of the greens is overwhelmed by lavish amounts of melted cheese and the restaurant's signature cream cheese Baja sauce. It's a messy, extra-indulgent dish, layering flavor upon flavor.

TEG Torta Shop
Chris Malloy

TEG Torta Shop is the sleek new name of Tortas El Guero, a longtime destination for massive and frequently delicious Mexican tortas. The name may be slightly revised, but the restaurant's expansive menu of sandwiches is as formidable as always. There are more than a dozen tortas on the menu, including harder-to-find specialties like colitas de pavo (turkey tail tortas); pork leg tortas; cochinita pibil; and classic configurations with pounded-thin milanesa steak. Tortas are available in three sizes, served on lightly toasted, fresh telera bread, and richly accessorized with Mexican cheeses, fresh avocado, and crispy french fries on the side. For less than $10, you can eat like royalty.

Tortas ahogadas, or "drowned" tortas, are the famously fiery sandwiches of Guadalajara. The tortas are traditionally smothered in a lip-numbingly hot chile de arbol salsa. There aren't too many places to find Guadalajaran-style tortas ahogadas in metro Phoenix, but it just happens to be the marquee specialty of Tortas Ahogadas George, a friendly counter-service restaurant situated in a Tolleson strip mall. The sandwiches are true flavor bombs: crusty loaves stuffed with shredded pork and then thoroughly drowned in a deliciously spicy, slightly watery salsa. The plastic basket they are served in is wrapped in plastic to protect your sandwich from dripping salsa all over the floor. If you can handle the tortas ahogadas at Tortas Ahogadas George, we salute you.

Taqueria Los Yaquis
Katie Johnson

Carne asada is arguably the unofficial dish of metro Phoenix. You can hardly drive a block in the city without bumping into someone grilling up thinly sliced, marinated steak. At the height of backyard barbecue season, it perfumes the air of certain neighborhoods. And on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Camelback Road, you can follow the scent of it straight to Taqueria Los Yaquis, a wildly popular Mexican food truck and Yelp sensation that's located on the same block as Charlie's Phoenix, a raucous country-themed gay nightclub. The menu at Taqueria Los Yaquis is abbreviated, but it doesn't really matter, because most people line up for one thing: the carne asada, which is dark, griddle-charred, and chopped into bubbly, juicy nubs that are wrapped up in a warm, corn tortilla. It's simple carne asada, yet somehow always divine.

Formerly known as Pozoleria Guerrero, Pozoleria Mexican Food is one of the city's finest purveyors of pozole. In the wrong hands, pozole can quickly devolve into a greasy, overly spicy jumble. Thankfully, this modest counter-service restaurant continues to deliver fragrant, flavorful pozole, made daily in three pork-laden varieties: white, red, and green. The pozole rojo is the most popular order; it's full of deep flavor with pleasant traces of heat. The white pozole is garlicky and rich, and green pozole is gratifyingly spicy. Every bowl comes generously and deliciously accessorized with fresh avocado and a big, grizzled hunk of chicharron.

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.

El Tlacoyo
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

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.

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