Best Chimichanga 2020 | Rito's Mexican Food | La Vida | Phoenix
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

The chimichanga is one of the only zones of the Rito's menu where prices sail north of $10. But even though you can get happily full for half of that here, you will be elated to gnash into its burro deep-fried to a saucy crisp. Saucy, yes, because the right move is to go enchilada-style, meaning a chimichanga smothered in chile sauce and blanketed with melted cheese. Rito's, of course, is for old-school eating. Its category of "yellow-cheese" Mexican has been disparaged by other chefs. But conceptual, high-minded cooking feels overly dainty when you're two bites away from finishing a green chile enchilada, full, and wishing you had a thousand more.

Lauren Saria

PHX Burrito House is the kind of place where even the potato is expertly considered, providing soft bites that break up richness, jive with cheese, and pair nicely with a fragrant flour tortilla. You would be wise to include the humble potato in your build-your-own breakfast burritos at this eatery, which is truly a house. The best burrito here, the machaca, comes with them, forming a jalapeno-charged package big enough for two meals. Where most options here are meaty and intense, a shrimp burrito displays lightness and freshness. Other places are divier or flashier, but PHX Burrito House wraps its namesake food better than anyone in the Valley.

Chris Malloy

People loiter outside El Norteño, the humble Mexican-food shack at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Roosevelt Street. Are they waiting to order? Have they already ordered? Is this where the line starts, sir? Eventually, you piece together that you must enter a small vestibule (only one person at a time, especially these days) to place your order. On the wall inside is a massive menu that vaguely resembles the periodic table of the elements. You could eat here twice a week for a year and still not try everything. So, we'll make it simple for you: Go with the chorizo egg burro, and add potatoes. It's about $6 with tax, and, depending on how you see your day going, constitutes either a big breakfast or two small ones. Join the loiterers. When your order's called, apply the spicy salsa that comes in little tubs in your brown bag to every bite. And remember to bring bills — El Norteño is cash only, and closed on Sundays.

In a metropolis brimming with Mexican eateries, the best tamale happens to be cooked in a Salvadorian restaurant. This may not sound right, but it's true. The banana-leaf-wrapped tamale at Reinas De Las Pupusas Restaurant is a gastronomic masterpiece. Chef Dolores Garcia deftly calibrates the simple flavors and tucks the package into hot foil. The melted cheese that glues the corn together? Mozzarella. The flavors? Deeply herbal, a faint earthy perfume, almost akin to the profile of an excellent green tea. Order a few yourself (they're only $2.50 each) and you'll be hooked.

Chris Malloy

Torta ahogada, drowned in chile sauce. Torta stuffed with achiote-laced cochinita pibil. Even a torta stuffed with fried turkey tails. This family-owned torta shop (also known as Tortas El Guero) has specialized in many versions of the Mexican sandwich since 2002. Featuring soft buns that guide your focus to the fillings, these tortas, available in three sizes to suit your appetite, are full-on joyous meals on their own. But at TEG Torta Shop, you can go further. Regulars sidekick their sandwiches with horchata, or maybe a cantaloupe, mango, or plantain milkshake. The bow on top of the meal is a chilled salsa bar, catapulting excellent tortas to an unforgettable level.

Jacob Tyler Dunn

We love all elote, from the kind that comes out of a Styrofoam cup from a food truck window to the fancy-pants foodie variety found at Scottsdale eateries. But we like it best at Otro Café, Doug Robson's uptown Phoenix sister restaurant to Gallo Blanco. Otro's Elote Callejero — a perfect prelude, we should add, to one of the restaurant's excellent shrimp tacos or chicken enchiladas — is a wood-fired ear of corn draped in mayo, cotija cheese, and smoked paprika. Each slice down the cob releases a pile of fresh, warm, rich elote. We always make sure we've stripped the cob bare and grab every bit of cotija before the server whisks the plate away.

Evie Carpenter

Vegetarians can trust beans again at America's Taco Shop. No need to verify with the manager whether those pintos are 100 percent vegetarian: Owner America Corrales made a conscious decision to cook her beans without lard. In doing so, she's proven that extra pig fat isn't essential for tasty beans. Hers retain their natural flavor and authenticity, and blend well with the heaping amounts of salsa and guacamole on the burritos, salad bowls, and nachos served at America's Taco Shop. Dine in at the Scottsdale location, where the walls are decorated with colorful depictions of Corrales' family history and roots in Mexico. Or take these beans to-go and make it a Taco Tuesday night at home. Just be certain to warn your family.

Though the 16th Street hub has closed its nautical-themed dining room for good, other locations of cult favorite Mariscos Ensenada are still giving seafood the galvanizing Mexican treatment. Seafood tacos in the Valley don't get much better than the achiote-rubbed smoked marlin taco, about as meaty and umami-potent as fish can get. On the other end of the spectrum, raw shrimp slicked with an electric spicy lime sauce highlights all the fresh, delicate facets of food pulled from the sea. The spread of options here covers just about everything in between, from delicate octopus tostadas to heady, cheesy tacos gobernadora. With some of this town's most underrated salsa and an icy Pacifico, this spot will fill you with marine bliss.

Felicia Campbell

The easternmost truck of the La Fronteras in their 16th Street lot does a mean, criminally underrated Sonoran dog. On a split-top bun, somewhere down below all those toppings — guac, mustard, silky pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, a webbing of crema — a hot dog awaits. A blizzard of salty cheese sharpens it all, and a toasted chile is there to help you chase bites with little spurts of fire. The bun possesses that impossible union of chew and softness that most great Sonoran dogs have. It's key to easing you into all the goodness in the middle. Though not a dog-only truck, La Frontera makes such a solid version that it could be.

Jacob Tyler Dunn

We'd love nothing better than to completely clean our plate of the modern Mexican fare served at Gallo Blanco every time we dine there. But then we wouldn't have room for the churros. On their own, churros are a simple delight, two tubes of dough fried to crispy perfection and rolled in cinnamon sugar. But the Gallo version comes with a trio of dipping sauces — cajeta, condensed milk, and chocolate fudge — that take the experience from tasty to divine. There's never enough churro to finish the dips, leaving us wishing for more sweet pastry — or wishing that it was socially acceptable to scoop up the sauces with a spoon.

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