Best Agua Fresca 2019 | The Rez, an Urban Eatery | La Vida | Phoenix

This food cart spotted in downtown Phoenix and Roosevelt Row is known for late-night Native American cuisine at various locales. The Rez, an Urban Eatery also can be seen at farmers markets and food festivals serving up frybread — even vegan and gluten-free varieties — plus Navajo burgers, blue-corn nachos, tamales, tacos, crepes, stew, and the menu item we're here for, its signature aguas frescas. Friday and Saturday nights mean aguas frescas till 4 a.m. — more or less. If you see a green jug, spring for the iced cups of the fresh lime-green concoction (though flavors do vary). It's a fun, complex mix of honeydew, basil, pineapple, jalapeno, and some other flavor that's just ... green.

Melissa Fossum

If you'd like to have a seat and watch the denizens of Roosevelt Row walk by, one of the best spots is the patio wrapped around Taco Chelo. Picnic table-style seating allows you to focus on the main drag or quiet neighborhood (depending on which side of the table you occupy) while enjoying tacos, chips, and something to drink. That drink? It'll have to be the frozen house margarita — or Consuelo's Margarita. It's a simple mix of Jose Cuervo Tradicional, meaning 100 percent blue agave-rested tequila, plus triple sec, lime, and agave. You can add flavor, but original is best. It's blended with ice to create what we like to call the adult squishee. It's tart, it's sweet, and it melts fast, so anticipating a second round is not all that uncommon.

Two friends got together and decided to push a family booze recipe to make a living — that's the fascinating story behind Mezcal Carreño. The 90- to 92-proof mezcal originated in Oaxaca, Mexico, with the Carreño family, mezcal-makers since 1904. The mezcal recently began distribution in the United States, starting first in Phoenix. Overseers Ivan Carreño and Abel Arriaga of Mezcal Carreño are the friends behind the distinct, bubble-textured bottles, and if you happen to catch them at a food festival, they will gladly give you a quick history. Oh, and a sample of their mezcal, of course, if you're not already a convert.

Spread comfortably through a simple, house-like structure on South Central Avenue, Azukar Coffee has every element of a superlative coffee shop. There is natural light, color from turquoise tabletops and florid paintings, and a deep sense of warmth that flows from more than simply the rush of hot caffeine to your head. Owner-operators Sandra and Norberto Flores greet you warmly when you step in — and then patiently guide you through the unconventional offerings if you please. Cajeta coffee beverages. Iced lattes with piloncillo. Pastries like pan dulce to go with your drink. Regulars post up at tables, break out laptops, and get to work. It’s easy to lose yourself and kick back with a mesquite-syrup latte, life’s bummers dissipating like steam from your cup. If you haven’t made it out to this 2-year-old spot yet, get going.

A local market for unique Mexican meat, marinades, and authentically made salsas, tortillas, guacamole, and the like since 1995, Carniceria Sonora provides helpful customer service and above all, fresh and delicious products. Showing up to a poolside cookout with Sonora's freshly made tortillas and an assortment of preparada meats (marinated in a family recipe of herbs, citrus, and spices) instantly will make you the hero of the party. Having access to this family-owned market and its authentic offerings is tantamount to having a loving grandmother, uncle, or neighbor whose sole joy in life is to prepare food according to the age-old tradition of their homeland. If you don't have that relationship with someone, rest assured (and give thanks) that Carniceria Sonora welcomes you, lovingly, at any of its locations.

Una de esa, una de esta, y otra de esa ... pues dame tres conchas de chocolate también — it's easy to get carried away picking up pan dulce at La Purisima Bakery 2. A dozen becomes two dozen quickly. Maybe it's the intimate setting, or the always smiling, charismatic women. If anything, the well-lit pastry cases filled with a picture-perfect variety of conchas and galletas have you reaching for more than your wallet and waistline bargained for (it's well worth it, though). We won't name any names, but we'll guarantee these conchas are never dry like some of the Big Brand's conchas — nothing's worse than a dry concha. Oh, you can't forget the homemade tortillas gracefully sitting on top of the cases. You're definitely leaving with the whole panaderia. While you munch on your puerquito, be sure to scroll through La Purisima's Twitter page, because yes, your local panaderia has a lit social game and dank taste in memes.

When we visit Mexico, we take evening walks on the boardwalk along the beach. Those walks always include a snack or a treat — anything from ice cream to tacos. Food vendors are a staple in plazas and boardwalks in Mexico, and those evening treats are what La Carreta de Lily is all about. You can go for the fruit option — mango with chamoy, fruit cocktails, or strawberries with cream. There's ice cream in a variety of flavors, served on its own or as a topping. Or be adventurous and try the mixes like Tostito chips with Mexican-style street corn. La Carreta de Lily has the answer for your every sweet or savory craving.

Phoenix's only bilingual bookstore is a cozy space in a somewhat unlikely location on East McDowell Road near two gentlemen's clubs. Palabras Bilingual Bookstore is cool and neatly organized, featuring an array of books in English and Spanish, including fiction, children's books, memoirs, and books organized under sections like Women's Studies, Politics and Social Justice, Blind Date With a Book, and books mentioned in comedian John Leguizamo's Netflix special, Latin History for Morons. Besides books, the store features $2 comics in English and Spanish, as well as a collection of zines, prayer candles, tea, clothing, and more. It even has a rack of free books in the back. Works from selected authors and photographers are on display in certain sections of the store. In the front of the store, children and adults have a space where they can sit and read, while at the back there's space for groups to meet and discuss their personal stories or works they've read.

Dia de los Muertos, the celebration of life that honors ancestors and others who've gone before, gets transformed too often into just another holiday exploited for commercial gain. Cultural Coalition, an organization focused on indigenous arts and culture, presents a compelling counterpoint called Mikiztli. Its joyful gathering at Steele Indian School Park combines culture, creativity, and collaboration to powerful effect — bringing together diverse community members and elevating the role of tradition in contemporary life. People sing, dance, make crafts, explore art, and hear stories, even as they learn more about Native and Latino cultures, which are at the root of the Southwest experience we share today. The procession honoring the dead reminds young and old of all that's happened to make our lives possible, and of our own responsibilities for moving traditions and cultural understanding forward.

Outside of festivals, there aren't a lot of places where you can find Dia de los Muertos treasures. But the Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center has a gift shop where people can explore Dia de los Muertos traditions from sugar skulls to colorful, clothed skeletons called calacas. The shop carries candles, artworks, prints, decorative items, jewelry, clothing, books, and more. Many are made by local artists, and there's a wide price range that makes finding the right gift a bit easier on the wallet. This fun, festive shop is a wonderful place to find unique gifts or take visitors from out of town in search of souvenirs that reflect the Latino cultures at the heart of Phoenix.

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