Best Salsa 2017 | El Gallo de Lagos Taqueria | La Vida | Phoenix
Patricia Escarcega

El Gallo de Lagos Taqueria is the kind of family-run strip-mall hole-in-the-wall that is a taco-lover's dream. The restaurant delivers a very strong assortment of tacos, including al pastor cut off the trompo, and luscious, melty buche (pork stomach) tacos. The restaurant is also known for its birria, tortas, huaraches, flautas, sopes, and quesadillas. Only one thing makes all of these delicious dishes taste even better, and it's the house-made assortment of salsas: a deliciously tangy green salsa, a spicy red salsa, and a heady chile-infused oil salsa that might bring to mind the stuff you find at your favorite Sichuan spot. Come for the tacos, but definitely stay for the homemade salsas.

Shelby Moore

Asadero Toro is the kind of nondescript, standalone Mexican restaurant that seems to fade into the metro Phoenix landscape without notice. But if you're the kind of Mexican food aficionado who can appreciate a well-made side of beans, it's worth taking note of Asadero Toro. First, there's the bean and cheese burrito, a simple classic that nevertheless has been known to produce feelings of immeasurable joy. Then there's the simple side of beans, which you can order with pretty much anything on the menu. The beans are about as creamy as melted Brie, and lovingly seasoned to extract intense flavor from the humble legume. It may not be fancy, but it's delicious.

Rita's Mexican Food is one of the west side's quiet gems, a long-running Mexican restaurant with refined airs and great service. It also happens to have some seriously good guacamole. Order it tableside, which at Rita's feels less like a trite menu cliché and more like a delicious indulgence. The whole avocados are sliced right in front of you, the meat of the fruit smashed against finely sliced onions and tomatoes, and seasoned to your liking. The chips are part of the equation, of course, and they are hot and perfectly crisp.

Every week, thousands of tortillas — both corn and flour — are produced at La Sonorense Tortilla Factory in south Phoenix, many of them headed straight to the kitchens of the region's top Mexican restaurants. Why are the tortillas at La Sonorense so highly coveted? They are produced with tried-and-true recipes that have stood the test of time. The hallmark of La Sonorense is the factory's buttery, papery thin flour tortillas, which contain only a handful of ingredients — including flour, shortening, water, and salt — and pressed to a thin yet pliant consistency. They are marvelous, as are the factory's signature yellow corn tortillas. Swing by the friendly storefront early in the morning, when you can pick up a pack of tortillas hot off the conveyor belt.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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