Gadzooks Enchiladas & Soup
Gadzooks Enchiladas & Soup

Gadzooks has become synonymous in metro Phoenix with succulent, made-to-order enchiladas. The fast-casual scene at Gadzooks is efficient yet friendly, and the selection of fillings and toppings is top-notch. Options for fillings include guajillo-braised short ribs, green chile pork shoulder, and even beer-braised bison (available during lunch only). Top your enchiladas with the house-made smoky red sauce, or the tangy green sauce. Then pick your cheese — Chihuahua or asadero (or both). Finally, sit back and watch the kitchen staff turn your enchilada platter into a cheesy, bubbling feast.

El Norteno
Chris Malloy

Since 1981, El Norteño has been dishing out consistently delicious Sonoran-style Mexican grub near downtown Phoenix. Machaca — intensely flavored dried, shredded beef in a bright, pungent chile sauce — is the house specialty. Perhaps the tastiest way to enjoy El Norteño's machaca is with an order of the restaurant's freshly fried chimichangas. These crackly skinned, deep-fried burritos are a marvel of texture — notably crisp on the outside, and stuffed with soft, fragrant, saucy shredded beef on the inside. A heap of sour cream melts deliciously into every crevice of your chimichanga.

Rito's Mexican Food
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Rito's Mexican Food isn't fancy, but this Mexican hole-in-the-wall has become a lunchtime institution for good reason. Namely, there's the allure of Rito's terrific green chile burrito. It features an ultra-savory, saucy blend of tender beef and spicy green chile, all contained inside a buttery flour tortilla. This is a drippy, messy, two-napkin kind of burrito. But it's a small inconvenience for an extravagant amount of flavor.

The Tamale Store

This family-run tamale shop in north Phoenix makes tamales the old-fashioned way: with lots of elbow grease. All tamales are handmade in small batches, using a house-made, lard-free masa featuring a flavorful blend of canola and olive oil. Don't miss the pork red chile, stuffed with shredded pork in an earthy red chile adobada sauce. The shop also makes several unique varieties, including a sweet-savory Arizona Cornbread and Colby Jack tamale. You'll also find vegetarian and vegan options, along with two or three rotating seasonal varieties.

Los Reyes De La Torta

The Mexican torta is a little under-appreciated in metro Phoenix, where norteño-style tacos and burritos prevail. You can remedy this injustice with a visit to Los Reyes de la Torta, a local micro-chain that specializes in Mexico City-style sandwiches. There is nary a bad torta on the menu, but a highlight is the mammoth Torta King Carlos V, which is stuffed with a thin pork sirloin, breaded chicken, sausage, ham, and an egg omelet. It's lubricated with melted cheese and dressed with avocado, chipotle sauce, and a smear of beans. The ultra-savory bundle of meat and cheese is tucked into a buttery, fluffy telera roll, which is nicely crisped up on a griddle. The Torta King Carlos V, in other words, is a sandwich for royalty.

Tortas ahogadas are the marquee specialty at Tortas Ahogadas George, a casual counter-service restaurant located in a Tolleson strip mall. Owners Jorge and Maritza Santoyo, natives of Guadalajara, Mexico, make these "drowned" torta sandwiches in traditional Guadalajara fashion. Thick, crusty birote bread is sliced and stuffed with chopped, fried pork topped in a sweet tomato sauce and a smear of refried beans. The sandwich is then submerged in a fiery, lip-numbing red salsa. This porky, spicy flavor bomb is so drippy, it's served over a plastic-lined basket designed to contain the inevitable overflow of sauce. But it's so flavorful that you likely won't regret the inevitable mess you make while eating it.

Taqueria Los Yaquis
Katie Johnson

This popular roadside taco stand is the unofficial late-night restaurant of Charlie's Phoenix, the country-themed gay bar and nightclub near the corner of Camelback Road and Seventh Avenue. Crowds line up nightly for the taqueria's juicy carne asada tacos, which are sold for a whopping $1 a pop. The steak is beautifully charred, chopped to smithereens, and deposited on a lightly greased corn tortilla that's topped with the requisite chopped onions, cilantro, and house-made salsa. You'll want to order at least two or three of these beauties. Remember to bring cash — no plastic is accepted at this taco stand.

Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa
Jacob Tyler Dunn

This cheery south-central Phoenix Mexican restaurant specializes in juicy, mouth-watering chicken tacos. The chicken tacos are made from pollo asado that's been marinated for 24 hours in a secret Sinaloa-inspired spice blend. The meat is finely chopped, delivered on corn tortillas in slightly smoky, blisteringly-hot, meaty nubs. The result is pollo asado tacos that are well-seasoned, intensely flavorful, and all-around unforgettable. Don't miss the signature Kiss taco, two smallish corn tortillas topped with grizzled bits of chicken blanketed in melted white cheese.

It's well worth driving from all corners of the Valley for a taste of Tacos Calafia's Baja-inspired tacos — especially the al pastor. The chile-sluiced pork is rich and extra savory, and skillfully paired with oozing melted cheese and some of the restaurant's house-made, ultra-fresh guacamole salsa. Try it in the house al pastor mulita, which features two freshly pressed corn tortillas stuffed with gently charred slivers of the sweet-savory pork.

Hola Cabrito

On an average weekend morning, a short line trails out the front door of Hola Cabrito in south Phoenix. What's all the fuss about? It's Hola Cabrito's wonderful birria con consomé, a light stew of chile-rubbed goat meat roasted to a tender finish, then dampened with a meaty, flavorful clarified broth. You can also order your birria tatemada, or charred lightly on the grill, if you prefer. No matter how you take your birria, Hola Cabrito's rendition is deeply flavorful. It's served with a short stack of freshly pressed corn tortillas that you can use to make birria tacos right at the table.

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