Best Paleta 2020 | Realeza Michoacana | La Vida | Phoenix

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.

Timur Guseynov

One pandemic habit we'll stick with long after this plague has left us? Avoiding the grocery store. What an incredible convenience it's been to order produce, dairy, and frozen pizzas with a laptop click. Truly, we're living in the future. We'll make an exception for Los Altos, though, which answers the question: What if the oppressive lighting, dull brands, and sunken-eyed cart-pushers at your local grocery chain were replaced by something a little more Technicolor and full of life? Los Altos is like a Walmart-sized bodega; curiosities abound alongside the essentials. Do you need a Spongebob pinata? Several dangle from light fixtures. A tiny yellow lawn chair for a child? A few are hoisted up above the frozen section. An entire third of an aisle is dedicated to seeds. There are two women stacking and packing fresh corn tortillas that ride down a conveyor belt, one after another. A vendor near the entrance sells steel-toed boots. Another buys gold. There's a salsa bar. There's a juice bar. There are bright, beautiful, elaborate quinceanera cakes. You can order a torta or chicharrones or menudo for lunch and eat it at the indoor picnic tables. "We are here to serve and enrich the lives of others," reads the wallpaper above the checkout, painted in both Spanish and English. Mission accomplished.

The Pixar movie Coco may have increased public awareness of Día de los Muertos, but in metro Phoenix, this annual holiday to commemorate loved ones who've passed on has always been an integral part of our cultural identity. When we want to add new items to our ofrenda (the ceremonial display created for the holiday), we head to Mercado Mexico in Guadalupe. The Mexican import shop has lots to see and buy, from sugar skull merchandise including figurines and tiles, to calacas (skeleton figurines). While you're there, check out everything else the store has to offer, like hand-painted Christmas ornaments, pottery, jewelry, and more.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of