Best Quesadilla 2018 | Machete Azteca | La Vida | Phoenix

Have you ever eaten a machete? These Mexico City-style quesadillas are about 2 feet long and hand-molded to approximate the size and shape of the namesake blade. They're thick and sturdy, built on house-made corn tortillas and stuffed with cheese-smothered fillings that include chicharrón prensado (rendered and pressed pig skins); sesos (cow or pig brains, depending on availability); buttery, wilted flor de calabaza (squash blossoms); and huitlacoche, the earthy, inky-black corn fungus that has been a culinary staple in Mexico since pre-Colombian times. No matter what you order, these machetes will forever change the way you look at a quesadilla.

Patricia Escarcega

This family-run east-side taquería offers nine mouth-watering taco options. You'll find popular standards like carne asada, pollo asado, and al pastor, as well as harder-to-find offal like buche (pig stomach). The carne asada is a highlight, the steak chopped up into bubbly, slightly crisp nubs. Don't miss the chicharrón tacos, served homestyle and soupy; the melty slivers of pork skin are irresistibly tender and spicy. And though it might seem like one of the least exciting options on the taco menu, the pollo asado tacos are a revelation. The chicken, finely chopped and aggressively seasoned, is skillfully crisped so that none of the flavor or juice is lost to the griddle.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tirion Boan

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.

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.

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.

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