Taking in the Sights on 16th Street

Maybe vibrant street art makes you hungry. If so, you might consider eating your way up and down Calle 16, that stretch of 16th Street that’s essentially an outdoor mural gallery as well as a regional tour of excellent south-of-the-border cuisine.

Starting way down south and heading north, you might stop in at Asadero Norte De Sonora, known for its Sonoran-style grilled meats. First-timers like the parillada, a sort of sampler platter that comes with three different meats and house-made tortillas. If it’s huevos you’re after, up the road a bit you’ll spot La Cocina Economica Mexican Kitchen, a no-nonsense diner that serves breakfast all day. If you haven’t had a chorizo-and-egg burrito for breakfast, with a side of poblano, you haven’t lived. Check out Economica’s zany indoor mural and the fiesta-painted tables and chairs.

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Rito's Mexican Food
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Another year, another win for Rito's, one of our most reliable, humble, great Mexican classics. Whether green chile beef or red chile beef, whether shredded chicken or beautiful refried pinto beans, whether deep-fried into a chimichanga or sauce-drowned into an enchilada-style burro, you cannot go wrong with a burrito from any of the Rito's locations. A fragrant, lightly toasted flour tortilla wraps the saucy package like a rough sail. In its package, it looks about as big as a football. You can add rice and cheese to the middle, but would you add new brushstrokes to a Picasso? These deeply comforting burros are perfect as-is. 

El Norteno
Chris Malloy

Breakfast burrito is kind of a misnomer, because we'll eat an egg-stuffed burrito from El Norteño any time we can get one. We like it with chorizo, or sometimes bacon; add potatoes and cheese and you're still well under $10 for something that will leave you full and happy. Each component is well-executed, from the moist (but not runny eggs) to the crisp bacon to the soft potatoes. The red sauce that comes on the side adds a pleasant kick, but you don't need it to enjoy the burrito. Make sure you've planned a place to eat your burrito; there's not a whole lot in the way of seating at El Norteño. And don't forget to stop by the ATM; it's cash-only. Once you've got the logistics handled, though, you're well on your way to breakfast burrito bliss.

Dick's Hideaway
Patricia Escarcega

We recommend you bring a big appetite to Dick's Hideaway. Small portions aren't really a thing here, and that most certainly includes the relleno platter, one of the most satisfying plates in town. The fried peppers are stuffed with your choice of pork, cheese, smoked turkey, beef, or duck. (We love the decadent richness of the duck, but there's not a bad option.) The peppers are topped with red chile sauce or green chile sauce, or you can get it Christmas style (that's both sauces, for the uninitiated). Add in heaping piles of Mexican rice and pinto beans, and a giant tortilla, and you've got a traditional New Mexican plate that sings with flavor and leaves you very, very full.

The Tamale Store

The quality of a tamale really rises and falls on the masa dough; we've had plenty of dry, mealy, tasteless tamales that made us less-than-appreciative of this traditional dish. That's not the case at The Tamale Store, where the goods never fail to delight. The selection of fresh tamales changes a little from day to day, but our favorites include the mildly spicy pork red chile and the creamy green corn with cream cheese. All the tamales are lard- and gluten-free, and there are a number of vegan options, too, such as the hearty Southwest veggie, which comes stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, corn, and salsa. If your favorite variety is unavailable fresh when you stop by, make sure to grab some packages from the freezer case in the mercado section, where you can also find Tamale Store-branded salsas and other goodies.

Los Reyes De La Torta

This self-professed king of the torta lives up to its name. Since 2001, Los Reyes has been slinging a wide array of tortas that stray minimally from their Mexican origins. This isn't a place where you'll see progressive garnishes or newfangled ingredients that "improve" on the classics. Here, tortas tend to be about 25 percent soft bollilo roll, 75 percent fillings. Layers upon layers of tender, paper-thin bistec are heaped between bread. Many tortas have a warm, gooey layer of melted mozzarella. One unites chorizo, pork, and Spanish omelet — and that's before we even get to the avocado, tomato, and chipotle sauce. Sandwiches are about ratios, and the ratios on these tortas, whether spotlighting breaded chicken or onions and jalapeños, are flawless.   

Tacos Chiwas

The very best bite of Mexican food in town might be the quesadilla with marinated pork from Tacos Chiwas, nirvana attainable for $6.50. How can this simple combo of cheese, tortilla, and pork be so outstanding? Well, the tortilla isn't a circle of shirt cardboard but a craft product that the Tacos Chiwas founders, Nadia Holguin and Armando Hernandez, press themselves. These tortillas are toasted with high skill: browning them, crisping them, and bringing their grainy spirit to full life. Glorious asadero cheese oozes. And the pork is tender and radiant with heat and all the goodness chiles can muster. A Phoenix cheap eats hall of famer, first ballot.

Christopher Hudson uses local ingredients to make fancy-as-fuck Sonoran-style tortillas. Some of these are simple: tortillas made with lard, with heritage grain, or even with corn. Others get stupendously weird, like blueberry-honey-Bordeaux. Hudson won't hesitate to put chocolate or mulberries in tortillas, but he will hesitate to serve tortillas not up to his standards. He has thrown out batches before, and probably will again. To get his stuff, you need to arrive at the Gilbert Farmers' Market early, as these tortillas fly out of the specialty bin. Also, you have to use them fast, because they're made with perishables. Luckily, they're also available more regularly at Arcadia Meat Market. 

The stewy, saucy Mexican bites known as guisados are the homestyle focus of Just Tacos, run by a team that includes Violeta Cortez. Just Tacos opened a few days before the world shut down in March 2020, yet has won a loyal following. The call of the guisado cannot be denied, especially when we're talking about a chile relleno absolutely stuffed with panela cheese, battered and fried, and served on a tortilla that when folded can barely hold the glorious pepper. Chicken tinga is shredded to deep tenderness, lifted with gentle spicing. Braised pork in guajillo adobo has a deeper, harder, more beautiful kick. Hit the happy hours right (fish Fridays!), and you might become a regular yourself if you aren't one already. 

The Bread and Honey House

The jiggly yolk of a fried egg stares at you like an eye. It's perched atop a deep bowl of thick tortilla chips laced with red dust. Chopped herbs, red onion curls, and drifts of cheese cling to the chips. These chips? Tortillas cut and fried to order. The red dust? More of a tight sauce powered by guajillo and pasilla chiles. The chile flavor has a rare depth, rich notes of judiciously added chicken stock mellowing the cool burn. All said, this chilaquiles bowl is a masterclass in soulful flavor and textures. Chef Javier Perez simply reaches another gear with this breakfast staple. 

Dilla Libre
Gypsy Restaurant Group

Elote — that savory dish usually composed of corn, cheese, crema or mayo, lime juice, and seasonings — is prone to one particular pitfall: the weird soupiness that arises when all the ingredients are thrown into a Styrofoam cup. But you don't have to worry about that at Dilla Libre, where your corn is still on the cob, perfectly roasted and slathered in lime, garlic, cotija cheese, Tapatio crema, and chile lime Tajin seasoning. You can slice it off the cob or eat it picnic-style; the bright flavors sing either way. We recommend Dilla Libre's elote as a prelude to its hearty quesadillas or burritos. But a word of warning: Despite the fact that cilantro is not mentioned in the menu description, our elote came generously sprinkled with it. If you're a cilantro-hater like we are, make sure to order it without.

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