Juan's Authentic Mexican Food

There is likely not a more elemental Mexican-American dish than nachos. This borderlands staple — invented somewhere in between Mexico and the United States — is frequently looked down on as the lowbrow foodstuff of bowling alleys and movie theater snack bars. But most everyone secretly loves nachos, a dish that marries flavor and texture in beautiful and delicious ways. If you're a secret (or not-so-secret) aficionado of nachos, consider paying a visit to Juan's Authentic Mexican Food, an old-fashioned and unassuming Mexican restaurant on Thomas Road, where the nachos are made in their full and abundant glory. Get the Supreme Nachos, which are loaded with your choice of beef or chicken (the ground beef seems to work the best), plus generous scatterings of tomatoes, green onions, beans, and of course, small lakes of melty, buttery cheese. It's no secret that it's delightful.

Tacos Sahuaro
Patricia Escarcega

Tacos may be the specialty of the house at Tacos Sahuaro, but this friendly counter-service restaurant also happens to be a destination for terrific quesadillas. The quesadillas at Tacos Sahuaro are extra-cheesy and thickly built on tortillas made from scratch daily. They come stuffed with your choice of meat; the selection includes standards like carne asada, pollo asado, and al pastor, along with harder-to-find offal like buche (pork stomach). The meat and cheese is pressed into a sturdy, thick quesadilla, beautifully griddle-crisped on the outside and opulently cheesy on the inside. A quesadilla here is a satisfying meal all on its own.

Ta'Carbon is certainly not the prettiest taco spot in town. But it's nearly always the busiest. At both its west Phoenix and Glendale locations, the restaurant's mesquite grill never seems to get a rest, and the line never stops forming at the counter. The menu is simple yet complete, featuring very good carne asada, lengua, tripas, and even huevos de becerro, also known as calf fries. This is one of the few taquerias in town serving calf-fries tacos, and they are delicious. The secret to Ta'Carbon's success is not just the selection of meats, though, but the careful, studious attention paid to seasoning. Meats are consistently well-seasoned, plunked onto soft corn or flour tortillas, and left to be beautifully dressed up to your liking at the well-stocked salsa bar. Put in your order at the counter and the staff will keep track of it. It's not unusual to return to the counter two or three times over the course of a single visit.

Mucha Lucha Taco Shop

Tacos, obviously, are the specialty at Mucha Lucha Taco Shop. But while tacos may get all the glory, you will definitely want to indulge in one of the restaurant's enormous and delicious burritos. The Surf & Turf specialty burrito at Mucha Lucha is arguably one of the most ambitious in town. It's an overgrown tube crammed with spicy shrimp, carne asada, peppers, and rice. It might not be particularly elegant, and it's certainly not light eating, but this diet-buster also happens to be distinctly delicious and unforgettable. A burrito at Mucha Lucha is not so much a meal as it is a minor feast.

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.

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