Best Mexican Food Court 2017 | Mercado de los Cielos | La Vida | Phoenix
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.

Palabras had barely opened before owner Rosaura "Rosie" Magaña left Grand Avenue for McDowell Road — but with good cause, as swamp cooling wasn't so healthy for the books. And that's what this store is about, along with comics and zines. It's a small but lovely selection, and now with a market and coffee shop in the same complex, we may head over and never leave.

If you haven't yet stopped by Mexican Arts Imports, it's time to plan a visit to this well-worn, family-run Mexican imports shop on Phoenix's east side. The store offers an excellent selection of Mexican imports, selling everything from small, decorative Mexican tchotchkes to colorful religious items like painted ceramic rosaries and Frida-emblazoned crosses. Day of the Dead-themed statuary abounds, and the store carries a comprehensive selection of colorfully glazed Mexican ceramics and outdoor pottery. The store's layout, with long, meandering aisles chock-full of clearly labeled merchandise, makes it a pleasure to browse. Service is consistently cheerful and helpful, too.

Best Margaritas, Palomas, and Agave Selection

Casa Añejo

They're the new kid on the block, sure, opening only halfway through 2017 — but that's proof that an agave-spirits cocktail bar (and, in this case, restaurant) with craft sensibilities has been sorely missing from Phoenix's drinking scene. Casa moves a few steps in the right direction past its closest competitors, by offering not only margaritas in a requisite array of fruity flavors — kiwi, watermelon, mango with chile, and an unexpectedly welcome berry hibiscus — but also tropical, modern tiki drinks from bar manager Riley Jones, in addition to tequila and mezcal drinks, where the spirit does the talking.

Sky Lounge has been a go-to spot for the Latin crowd — or anyone else interested in shaking their groove thang — since the '90s. And, quite frankly, the vibe at the two-story downtown Phoenix discoteca hasn't changed much over the years. Sky Lounge still serves up a mix of sultry Latin sounds, cheap drinks, and an abundance of eye candy on both of its floors every weekend. And the clientele that frequent the place is still of the young and sexy variety, including chicas in form-fitting clubwear and the cabrones who admire them. You can find them on Sky Lounge's dance floors or huddled in its VIP booths during the club's popular Latin Ladies Saturdays party, which features a soundtrack of reggaeton, cumbia, and hip-hop, as well as live music from local orchestra Banda la Xplosiva. There's even a hot dog cart outside, in case you and your novio or novia have worked up an appetite while dancing and drinking.

Katie Johnson

Over the years, Taqueria La Hacienda has become something of a landmark on Buckeye Road. This longtime, cash-only Mexican food truck might not seem as hip as the fleet of trucks parked outside the city's night clubs and bars. Obscure location aside, though, it doesn't take long to fall in love with La Hacienda. The taco selection is comprehensive — try the spicy chicharron if you love your pork with some heat — and the service is generally very prompt and friendly. Even better, night owls are well-accommodated. La Hacienda is open until midnight on weeknights and until 2 a.m. on the weekends. It's no wonder, then, that the truck has become a popular spot for late-night travelers making their way to and from nearby Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

For many Hispanics, the holiday season is not officially over until Día de Reyes on January 6. Día de Reyes celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men — Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar — to visit baby Jesus. This day is also known as the Feast of the Epiphany. In some parts of Latin America, kids typically get presents on Día de Reyes instead of Christmas. They leave their old shoes outside their rooms or in the living room, and in the morning they find them surrounded by gifts given by the Three Kings. The traditional food, Rosca de Reyes, is an oval-shaped (to symbolize the crown) sweet bread with dry and candied fruits. The rosca has a small plastic figurine inside representing baby Jesus. Whoever gets the figurine in their slice of rosca must throw a party with tamales and atole on Día de la Candelaria on February 2. The Rosca de Reyes is usually eaten in the morning with hot chocolate and champurrado, making it the perfect reason to keep binge-eating and delay those New Year's resolutions. You can usually find the rosca during the first week of January in local panaderías. Freshly made roscas await you at this traditional panadería, which also serves tasty pan dulce. Antigua Bakery offers two sizes of roscas. Be careful when you bite into the Rosca de Reyes; you don't want to break a tooth on baby Jesus.

Did you know that there's a patron saint for farmers (St. Isidore), nurses (St. Agatha), and truckers (St. Christopher)? There's even a patron saint of television — St. Clare of Assisi. You'll find both popular and obscure saints represented at Books and Blessings, a pleasant and friendly religious gift shop located at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale. The shop carries a wide array of saint prayer cards, saint figurines, saint-related literature, and high-quality saint statuary. The store also offers a nice selection of Mexican folk art, greeting cards, imported Italian art, and religious jewelry. Whether you're looking for a saint who's been known to help in matters of real estate (selling your house), or matters of the heart (finding a spouse), you'll probably find that saint at Books and Blessings.

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