Best New-School Taco 2019 | CRUjiente Tacos | La Vida | Phoenix
Debby Wolvos

Do flavors from places like Korea, Hawaii, and Maine have a place in tacos, you may ask? Richard Hinojosa believes they do. At CRUjiente Tacos, he gives tacos touches and flavors from other regions. He has plated a duck mole taco on a blue corn tortilla. He is well known for a Korean fried chicken taco, which appears more like an artful creation than something you would put in your mouth — cilantro perched, gochujang dolloped, mojo dots lime-green on the flanks. He tortillas up peach tacos. He lays a segment of guinea hen across a circle of coarse blue corn accented with cauliflower-ginger puree. The possibilities are open. That is the beauty of this taco shop. At most taquerias, you know how the al pastor is going to taste, or you have a good idea. At CRUjiente, however, every trip to the taqueria is a fresh adventure.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Not many purveyors of fish tacos are as directly linked to the source as Chula. The swordfish tacos served at the uptown Chula location begin as giant but agile creatures harpooned in the cold, blue waters off San Diego — pulled onto a boat that Chula co-owner Jon Heflin's father, Jim Heflin, pilots. But what makes this taco the best happens at the end as well as the beginning. Generous, steaky slabs of swordfish seem to overflow from their corn tortillas. A bright, garlicky mojo marinade uses land ingredients to accent the fish's alluring marine qualities. A slaw brings cool snap. Chile crema adds fatty depth and mellow burn. Chula has seized control of this taco from sea to serving tray, and the result is a welcome contemporary version of an old classic.

Best Place to Eat Tacos Without Cilantro

Sonora Taco Shop

Open every day except Sunday, this south Phoenix taco gem fills your tortilla to the brim with your choice of meat — asada, chicken, or pastor. (Sorry, non-meat-eaters: Sonora Taco Shop is not for you.) One item not found is cilantro, the ingredient that typically ruins whatever food is on the plate, making it impossible to taste any other actually delicious flavor. (Don't @ us, it's a genetic mutation.) Order a vampiro, a caramelo, or even a burrito, and take comfort in knowing that the green, lacy leaf closely resembling parsley won't be anywhere near your meal. Every bite of tender, perhaps spicy, meat will be thoroughly enjoyed with everything but the gross herb.

Chris Malloy

Leo Madrigal packs more than 30 years of kitchen experience into his enchiladas. For his green chile enchiladas, the Mexico City-born chef gives pork the slow-and-low barbacoa treatment. The pork is soft, yielding, and smothered in green chile with the same feel-good molten qualities of the pork itself. Sauce blankets the modest-size corn tortillas neatly, spilling a little onto the beans on one flank, the pico-topped rice on the other. A dramatic tight zigzag of crema crowns the top, adding yet another dimension of pure softness on top of the melted cheese. These aren't the biggest enchiladas in town, but good luck finding a flaw in them.

The origin of the chimichanga is hotly disputed. What's not in question is that deep-fried burritos are delicious, and we eat them as often as our diet allows. Our pick is the chimi plate at Valle Luna, a local mainstay for more than 35 years. First, choose your meat; we like the spicy machaca beef, but other options include shrimp, ground beef, shredded chicken, and pork. Next, wait for your meal to show up, a full plate composed of a thick chimichanga topped with house-made Sonoran chimi sauce, plus sour cream, guacamole, rice, and beans. You'll leave stuffed even if you didn't fill up on Valle Luna's chips and salsa earlier in the meal.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

To order a green chile burrito from Rito's, you have to be hungry. You have to be tolerant of heat (the cooks use Hatch chiles when in season), ready for a goopy latticework of melted cheese, okay with making a mess, okay with your lunch companions seeing you turn into a kid, and again, hungry, but hungry for more than food. A Rito's burrito satisfies a primal hunger for the spicy, comforting, soulful food of the Southwest. That'ss because a green chile burrito from Rito's is one of the rare places where flour tortillas, yellow cheese, and stewed meat achieve, with the help of chiles, perfection. Ascend to yet another level by going enchilada-style. Damn, it's good to eat in the Southwest.

Chris Malloy

Not all dishes have been accepted into the canon of breakfast food — breakfast lasagna isn't a thing, nor are breakfast burgers. But we're so glad that it's socially acceptable to have a burrito in the morning. Our favorites are the ones from El Norteño, which has been family-owned and -operated since 1981. The food here is simple, cheap, fast, and so, so good. Breakfast burritos come in steak and egg, chorizo and egg, and bacon and egg varieties, just to name a few. Our favorite is the chorizo and egg; the eggs are perfectly cooked, and the chorizo is neither dry nor greasy. We add potatoes and cheese and still get a decent amount of change from a $10 bill (oh yeah, the joint is cash-only). El Norteño has a full menu of great choices, but it serves breakfast all day, so it's hard to tear ourselves away from our beloved burrito.

Forget the catchy restaurant names: Adding the word "store" to something makes things easy, especially if that store happens to sell the best tamales in town. That's saying something in a city like Phoenix. But The Tamale Store sells menu items like chicken green chile, pork red chile, Arizona cornbread with colby jack cheese, cilantro black bean — we could go on. What's more, this is a family-run operation. When Martha Castillo's house-made tamales gained some well-deserved recognition, it was "all hands on deck" for she and her adult children in order to meet demand. Tamales can be found at the physical store in north Phoenix, where they can be eaten or taken to go, and at farmers markets across the entire Valley — some year-round.

Chris Malloy

Sometimes, we want a big meal. Other times, not so much. At TEG, (formerly called Tortas El Guero), we can get a fantastic sandwich that matches our appetite. The restaurant sells tortas in mini, regular, and super sizes; all come with fries, and we haven't met a bad choice yet. The Alambre comes with carne asada, bacon, onion, green bell peppers, and melted cheese. Another favorite is the Pacifico, which stacks pork leg, ham, pineapple, and chipotle. There are vegetarian options as well, like the Calabacita (zucchini, spinach, red bell pepper, and cheese) and the Poblana (poblano chile, mushrooms, and spinach). Order one of TEG's aguas frescas or milkshakes to wash down your torta, and you've got the makings of a great meal, no matter how big your appetite is.

Street food is all the rage, but once you've had a piping hot spoonful of Mexican street corn, or elote, done right, you won't mind participating in this trend. Fans of corn, both cobbed and cupped, will enjoy most anything from Elote Man AZ, a Mexican food truck serving a variety of street corn. Try it Mexican style, with mayonnaise, cotija cheese, chili powder, lime juice, and Valentina hot sauce, or go plain with just butter, salt, and pepper. But snack fans will opt for orders of elote mixed with generous sprinklings of Doritos, Tostitos, Takis, or Flaming Hot Cheetos — or maybe one with all four, called the Quatro. And for a sweeter side, try the Churroelote, that being cinnamon-coated corn.

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