Best Elote 2020 | Otro Café | La Vida | Phoenix
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.

Think you've tasted tamarind? How about guava, or even rice? Each of these foods takes on new dimensions when turned into paletas at Realeza Michoacana, purveyor of other frozen treats as well, like raspados and ice cream. But that tamarind? Deeply tropical, weighty, and veering into molasses notes. The guava paleta has a cool lushness. And the creamy, sweet rice flavor has the deep, almost floral fragrance of a great horchata, yet chewy and stippled with broken grains. Opt for a margarita flavor, an ornate coconut, or whatever calls to you from the rainbow colors of the paleta freezer. If you've been raised on mass-produced frozen treats, then here you can only go right.

Debby Wolvos

Hot summer nights are always improved by a well-made margarita. (Or days — we don't judge.) Which is why we so frequently head to Arcadia for drinks at CRUjiente Tacos. The Premier Cru margarita is our go-to — 100 percent blue agave tequila, house agave syrup, freshly squeezed lime, and a muddled orange to give it some character. But we've also been known to switch it up and order the bright, fresh Arcadia margarita, which adds cilantro, jalapeno, and cucumber to the mix, or the sweet and spicy Passion Fruit Serrano margarita. Whatever you choose, try to go either during happy hour, or on CRUjiente's Margarita Mondays, when you can get any of these for a very reasonable $5 a pop.

In early 2019, the American arm of the Mezcal Carreño team, Ivan Carreño and Abel Arriaga, started distributing a handful of mezcals in Arizona. These days, they're moving to sell their product, made in Oaxaca using traditional methods (stone wheel, open-air fermentation, a copper alembic), in dozens of states across the country. Their most singular bottle might be Ensemble 7, which blends that many kinds of agave. The product is a tightly edited, deeply nuanced mezcal that will make anyone who has ever been clobbered by a bottom-shelf mezcal smoke bomb see the craft spirit anew. Carreño recently released a bottle called Naran, which happily brings the Carreño price tag within closer reach.

Mexican food in Scottsdale? Not your best bet. One of the exceptions is this little carniceria, bodega, and lunch counter, operated without fanfare by the Santana family. Behind its long glass case, you can find just about any cut of pork or beef you please. Regulars flock to the few tables for prepared food. The whole-roasted-chicken special packs deep flavor and brings incredible value. The creamy, dark orange salsa filled with seeds is hauntingly good, easily one of the most memorable in the Valley. If you're looking for a few meaty sopes for lunch, longaniza and pork chops to grill, and tortillas and hot sauce for your fridge, this carniceria is a blessing.

Jamie Peachey

Now in its fifth decade, west Valley panaderia La Purisima is still our best and most beloved. Conchas are soft, fragrant, and touched with just enough sugar. Puffy, pig-shaped marrinatos are simple beauties with ample chew and notes of molasses that roll and roll. Flaky baked empanadas filled with sweet pumpkin drop in the fall. Regulars flow in for quick to-go orders of sugar-encrusted pan dulce like clockwork. What many also grab is an underrated aspect of this longtime standby: savory food. Next time you stop in for cookies or sweet yeasted breads, grab a burrito or tamale for the road.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of