Best Sonoran Hot Dog 2017 | Hot Dogs El Caprichoso | La Vida | Phoenix
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.

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.

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