Best Torta Ahogada 2017 | Tortas Ahogadas George | La Vida | Phoenix

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.

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.

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 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.

In the burgeoning culinary genre that is Mexican sushi, El Tataki stands out as one of the most refined Mex-sushi spots in metro Phoenix. For newcomers to the Mex-sushi scene, this west-side spot is one of the best places in town to sample rolls like the Cielo, Mar y Tierra, a classic surf-and-turf roll made with shrimp, chicken, beef, avocado, and cucumber. The restaurant also serves a whole menu of traditional Japanese sushi, if that's your thing, as well as more conventional Mexican fare. The restaurant should be moving into its new digs (listed above) any day now.

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.

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