Best Taco 2020 | La Bamba Mexican Grill Restaurant | La Vida | Phoenix
Charles Barth

Too much of the "best taco" talk around town neglects to consider the actual best taco: the generously heaped, three-sauced wonders plated by Edson Garcia, who juggles 17 tasks at once inside his far west Valley hidden gem. Tacos here are deeply considered, to the point that their basic components are remixed. The al pastor uses pork belly, shards of marinated pineapple, and pineapple vinegar. Horchata is served in a giant stein, impossibly lush. This intensity and quality extends to all Garcia touches. A native of Veracruz, the man deserves a place in Arizona's taco pantheon. A few bites of carne asada or shrimp, and you'll believe.

Patricia Escarcega

We don't know exactly when Taco Tuesday became a thing. But one day per week when taco consumption is encouraged, arguably even required? We're not mad about it. Plenty of taco joints run specials on this holy day, but of those our favorite is Taqueria El Fundador, where most of the taco varieties are just $1 each on Tuesdays. These tacos are filled with warm, perfectly spiced morsels of meat and piles of onion and cilantro (we're partial to the al pastor). Of course it doesn't have to be Tuesday for us to crave what Taqueria El Fundador's got going on; the eatery, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, does hearty burritos, gooey quesadillas and yes, tacos, six days a week (it's closed on Sundays).

Juan Cornejo and Juan Cornejo Jr. have brought their fun, flavorful, intensely personal brand of Sonoran backyard cookout to Roosevelt Row. The elder captains the kitchen, where barbacoa softens, vampiros crisp on the plancha, and ruby sheets of carne asada sizzle like mad on charcoal grills. A perfume fills the restaurant. The salsa bar beckons. Soccer plays on the corner TV. It's all comfortable and welcoming, and that's before you even get to the food. It's some of the best Sonoran-style eating in town, even some of the very tastiest Mexican. Sleepers like cabeza and tripa can star. So, too, can a simple carne asada burro or humble side of beans. The Cornejos have an amazing thing going.

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.

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