Best Salsa 2018 | Casa Corazon | La Vida | Phoenix
Chris Malloy

The salsa bar at Casa Corazon in central Phoenix is a thing of beauty. You'll find nearly a dozen house-made salsas and fresh taco garnishes, enticingly well-organized and bearing unique flavors that will have you making return trips during your visit. Don't miss the creamy, blended pineapple salsa, or the bracingly fresh serrano pepper salsa. For extra heat, try the smoky morita salsa. It doesn't hurt that the restaurant makes its own fresh tortilla chips, which is further incentive to make multiple trips to the salsa bar.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

The cheesy rajas, beefy desebrada roja, and peppery picadillo get top billing at Tacos Chiwas, midtown Phoenix's beloved Chihuahua-style taqueria. But it would be a mistake to leave without trying the restaurant's excellent frijoles charros. Whole pinto beans are simmered in a broth flavored with bacon, hot dog slices, onions, and fresh cilantro. The result is a velvety, richly layered stew that's a meal all on its own. Beans are a staple of most Mexican restaurants, but they're rarely as memorable and delicious as they are here.

Guacamole doesn't get much more flavorful, fresh, and baroque than the rendition you'll find at this popular taco shop. La Santisima's ultra-fresh, chunky guacamole features a base of freshly smashed avocados, cilantro, onion, and tomato. Diced jicama adds texture and crunch, while diced mango and cranberries add pops of fruity sweetness. It's served with a side of thin, crisp tortilla chips, perfect for shuttling the creamy and delicious pastiche into your mouth.

The flour tortillas at La Sonorense Tortilla Factory in south-central Phoenix are fashioned out of four basic ingredients: flour, shortening, salt, and water. They are pressed into thin, par-cooked disks, which means they puff up enticingly when you warm them up over fire. Thin and pliable, La Sonorense's tortillas have the kind of richly buttery profile that makes them good enough to eat all on their own. Not surprisingly, many metro Phoenix restaurants and food trucks source their tortillas from La Sonorense. You can enjoy these terrific tortillas anytime by dropping into the factory's storefront on Central Avenue and grabbing a dozen (or two).

Charles Barth

Why are the nachos at Cocina 10 so good? They start with a base of thick, hot tortilla chips, which are layered with refried pinto beans and glued together by melted Cheddar and Oaxaca cheese. They're topped with cilantro and fresh pico, and finished off with a thin lashing of sour cream and a sprinkling of cotija cheese. A fresh mound of guacamole is served on the side, which you can dig into at your own pace. Every crisp mouthful is palpably crispy, fresh, and delicious. And if you want to turn up the flavor even more, top off your nachos with some of the kitchen's slow-cooked barbacoa.

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.

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