Best Mexican Imports 2020 | Mexican Arts Imports | La Vida | Phoenix

For 50 years, Mexican Art Imports has been adding dazzling color to metro Phoenix. The shop is packed to the gills with merchandise: pottery, clothing, kitchenware, leather goods, wall hangings, religious items, fridge magnets, and holiday items share space in a dizzying display. We never know where to look first, but we often head straight for the apparel section, where fun woven totes sit alongside embroidered clothing, leather holsters, striped blankets, and gorgeous hand-tooled purses. We hit up Mexican Art Imports for papel picado in a variety of sizes, for brightly painted serving platters to give as housewarming gifts, for wall mirrors bordered by tiny Mexican tiles. Each room in the surprisingly large shop yields more items to discover, and we like to visit often to see what's new and take a few treasures home for ourselves.

On the surface, Tocaya Organica seems very ... shiny. The fast-casual Mexican restaurant chain immigrated from California, bringing with it almost 60,000 Instagram followers, a greenery wall for people to pose with, and a "West Coast cool" brand identity. But when you eat there, you'll find that Tocaya has substance to go along with its style. The restaurant sells build-your-own, customizable items; choose a burrito, salad, bowl, quesadilla, or tacos, then select a protein and a type of queso. We love the Street Corn en Fuego bowl, which comes with jalapeno cabbage, cilantro lime rice, avocado, and salsa. Vegans and vegetarians will appreciate all the meat-free options, like adobo tofu and cilantro lime chick'n plus vegan chipotle jack and mozzarella "cheese." Don't skip the pomegranate guacamole with plantain chips or the churro waffle bites with chocolate and strawberry dipping sauces, either.

Bahar Anooshahr

Mexican food is often heavy on the opposite of vegan food: lots of meat, lots of cheese. Earth Plant Based Cuisine on Grand Avenue has a different vision, though. This small, family-owned business packs big flavor into its menu, along with a desire to show customers what going green and being vegan is all about. The tables and ceilings are made from wood pallets, the countertops and prep tables from repurposed materials. The friendly staff is eager to guide you, but in our experience, you can't go wrong with the street-style corn, the carnitas made with seasoned mushrooms, or the Baja burrito with beer-battered "shrimp." Save room for a milkshake made with soy-based ice cream and almond milk.

During pandemic days, it's been great to have a drive-thru that allows us to enjoy our favorite Sonoran fare. Now if we could only figure out what to order. We've finally given up trying to decide which of Maria's frybreads is our favorite. Plain, it's delightful, dense, and soft and crispy around the edges. With honey, it's our favorite decadent dessert. Clumped with both red and green chile, it's a meal. And speaking of meals, we only need one per day when it comes from Maria's speedy, friendly drive-thru, where we can pick up the five-star flavor of an enchilada-style red chile burrito, or maybe the giant-sized chicken chimichanga with rice and some of the best refried beans we've ever had.

Katie Johnson

The pleasures of a great roadside taco truck are simple, and south Phoenix's Taqueria La Hacienda keeps it as simple as can be. The Buckeye Road fixture prepares a large handful of proteins in a small handful of ways. For $6, you can nab a carne asada or lengua burro neatly wrapped in red-checked paper and jammed with juicy meat. Tacos come with scatterings of chopped onion and herbs — not much more than the bare essentials. Vampiros are a smart order at this truck, as tortillas crisped into place cup generous portions. Lace on red and green salsa from the squeeze bottles generously. We love that we always know where to find Taqueria La Hacienda, and that it gives us the food we crave during the day, when covered seating banishes the sun, and into the night, including until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Chef Javier Perez, who runs this warm nook with his wife, Ana Bautista, plates thoughtful breakfasts that are largely Mexican, but not always. Something that isn't: an egg sandwich slicked with mayo, served on challah, absolutely stellar. But the La Grande Orange and Luci's Orchard alum can go new-school and old-school Mexican with the best of them. An all-business breakfast burrito stretches with potato, egg, and crumbles of chorizo. Crepes soak under velvety tres leches crema. Chilaquiles — house-fried tortilla chips angled every way that sop with fork-broken egg yolk and quietly smolder with chiles and chicken stock — are a perfect morning meal.

Coffee shops occupy just about every street corner in this city, so a place has to be pretty special for us to make a cross-town trip. Azukar Coffee is one of those coffee shops. Located in a historic home near Central Avenue and Baseline Road in south Phoenix, Azukar is easy to miss while driving. But pull that U-turn. Azukar has a tight menu of coffee drinks with a Mexican twist: The agave mesquite latte is sweet and a little earthy, and the honey cinnamon has a slight, pleasant bite to it. There's also cold-brew coffee mixed with horchata, mango chile limonada, and iced teas in flavors like cucumber and Jamaica hibiscus. We like to grab a breakfast quesadilla or a stuffed bolillo roll sometimes, too. It can be hard to decide whether to sit inside, which is cozy and decorated with work from local artists, or in the courtyard, which is bounded by a low wall with a mural and provides a view of the traffic on Central. But whether you stay and enjoy the ambiance or take your beverage to go, Azukar is a place you won't soon forget.

Sarah Whitmire

Prepackaged flour tortillas are available at pretty much any supermarket in town. But why on earth would you buy those, when you can walk into any Carolina's Mexican Food location and leave with its fresh tortillas instead? The Carolina's tortillas come in two sizes — 12-inch and 15-inch — and are made throughout the day, just like they have been since 1968. You can get a half-dozen for $3.60 or a dozen for $6.45 — a little more expensive than the processed, bland ones in the grocery store, but infinitely better. We routinely pick up a six-pack and take it home to make quesadillas or fajitas — or to just heat one up, spread butter on it, and enjoy.

Minimalism is a fine concept when applied to art, design, or fashion. Not nachos, though. We expect excess and decadence when we order nachos. The ones that emerge from the kitchen of Crescent Ballroom's Cocina 10 almost overflow the plate. The light, thin tortilla chips come smothered in a pile of refried beans, three types of cheese, cilantro, pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream. You know that sad, bare patch of chips that's often found on an order of nachos? Doesn't exist at Cocina 10; toppings are plentiful. We like to eat on the open-air second floor, which adds a lovely view of downtown to the nacho-consuming experience. We also recommend adding carne asada to your order; again, when it comes to nachos, less is not more.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

After a lifetime of eating specimens made on lesser tortillas, tasting a quesadilla made by Nadia Holguin and Armando Hernandez is like going from black-and-white to color, acoustic to electric. The tortilla? Handmade from freshly ground local grain, warm and fragrant and perfectly browned. The cheese? Molten, oozing. The meat? If you go pork, it'll be fall-apart shreds boosted by a steady, beautiful chile heat. There are a handful of elite tortillas in metro Phoenix. Tacos Chiwas has one of them — and all the added touches are just as impressive. For the money, this quesadilla is one of the top bites of food in town.

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