Local chain Los Altos Ranch Market feels in many ways more like a community space than a supermarket. The store is always abuzz with activity: at the quasi-food court, a long, cafeteria-style setup that sells burritos, tacos, and quesadillas for takeout or dine-in at the indoor picnic tables; at the bakery, where customers pick up big, puffy conchas and eye the cakes in the refrigerated cases; and at the full-service meat and fish counters. You can buy and sell gold at the kiosk near the exit, or buy a pinata for your kid's birthday party. Los Altos has a decent selection of American grocery items, but if we were just looking for some peanut butter, we'd go elsewhere. We come to Los Altos for Sonora-style tortillas the size of vinyl records, for huge chunks of fresh cotija cheese, for tubs of red and green mole. The upbeat music and positive energy we encounter when we visit is just icing on the tres leches cake.
Should I stop for a box? Or a quick concha? Or a tamale or burrito? The sequence of questions flickers through the mind of every in-the-know driver passing the west Valley location of this esteemed panaderia. This summer, the answer became easier once La Purisima released its Suns-themed concha, spiraled with waves of crunchy purple and orange sugar, its bun soft and yeasty. The old classics slap hard. Marranitos are soft and chewy and rich, with dusky notes of molasses. Orejas dipped in chocolate and simple squares of tres leches cake are everything they can be. Staring down the pastry case, you can only go right.
Kids may get excited in traditional candy stores, but we're old enough that M&Ms and gummy bears just don't thrill us anymore. Still, we can't help but marvel at the selection at Dulceria Valentinas, the local chain of party shops. They do have some American offerings, but those are old hat. We're much more interested in the dizzying array of Mexican sweets, which Dulceria Valentinas has in abundance. There are a few things we're familiar with by now, like the De La Rosa peanut candy. But we've had a whale of time browsing the aisles and picking up some new-to-us treats to sample, like Mamut, the chocolate-covered cookie-and-marshmallow dessert, and Pico, an orange and chili-flavored powdered candy. We return every so often to discover a new batch of favorites.
You don't have to be Catholic to enjoy a trip to Autom, but it probably helps. No matter what your religious tendencies (or lack thereof), this west-side emporium is stocked to the gills with interesting items, from actual priestly garments and church supplies to stuff for laypeople such as books, home decor, and more. If you're looking for something bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe — the version of the Virgin Mary that is celebrated all over Mexico and the American Southwest — Autom has a wide selection of goods, from statues and Christmas ornaments to rosaries and candles. Keep an eye out for Autom's Dollar Days events, when the reasonable prices drop even lower.
The deceptively large Mexican Arts Imports in central Phoenix is a riot of color; everything from the home decor to the clothing and accessories to the kitchenware is done in bright hues of blue, red, yellow, and green. We don't visit the place, which has been in business for more than 50 years, as often as we'd like — we don't have the willpower to browse without leaving with a shopping bag full of goodies. But we go there for the gorgeous, hand-tooled leather bags, Talavera serving bowls (they make excellent housewarming gifts), painstakingly painted trinket boxes, and more. So much more we can't list it all here. The store recently added the ability to shop online to its website, but nothing beats a trip to 24th Street to take in all this gem has to offer.
In college, we went to a party that featured a pinata full of mini liquor bottles, condoms, and underwear. Not our classiest moment, but we tell the story to illustrate the fact that you're never too old for the joys of whacking a hollow object with a stick. Dulceria La Bonita has the best selection of pinatas in town, from the whimsical many-pointed stars in a variety of colors, to cute animals, to popular characters like Batman, Baby Yoda, Elmo, and more. And when you're there, you'll find everything else you need to outfit your party, like disposable dinnerware and party favors. There's also a staggering array of Mexican and American candy, which makes far better pinata filler than ... well, you know.
When you walk into a small bookstore, the experience is so often the same no matter the city or year. The bestsellers. The classics. The currently trendy fiction and nonfiction volumes that are all the rage in literary circles. Walking into the new location of Palabras on Roosevelt Street is a different experience entirely. Here, the literary canon is smashed. The shelves are curated according to more searching, freeform, and truly independent tastes. Books are in English or Spanish. Minority authors are nicely represented, especially authors from the Southwest and Latin countries. Events pull serious talent — and not big empty literary names, but writers making a true difference.
Latin dance joints may dot Phoenix's nightlife scene, but La Flor de Calabaza differs from other local discotecas and clubs with its unique setup and a more varied music selection. Es verdad. Primarily a high-style cantina with a menu of dishes sourced from throughout Mexico, it transforms into a lively lounge where the vibe, crowd, and soundtrack evolves throughout the night. Opening at 5 p.m., evenings on weekends are more family-friendly with live music from rock en Español on Fridays and Saturdays or mariachi ensembles on Sundays. DJs take over later in the night, and the playlists are a mix of regional styles such as Tejano and norteño, plus Latin pop, hip-hop, and EDM. Members of the club crowd dance in whatever space is available between tables. If you want more than just Pitbull or Bad Bunny bangers powering your nighttime outings, get your culos over to La Flor de Calabaza.
It's been nearly two decades since Mariachi Pasion began in a music class at Arizona State University after eight students decided to play together for a family member. Now, with nearly twice as many musicians, the all-female group is still blending beautiful mariachi music with charm, grace, and emotive power. The group plays all around the Valley, helping to bring mariachi music and culture to new audiences. Sporting crisp and elegant traditional mariachi outfits that signal their professionalism and passion for the music they make, they always bring a smile to those who hear them play. By combining musicianship, melodic voices, and soulful expression, Mariachi Pasion creates new mariachi fans wherever they go, helping to assure this exquisite art form thrives far into the future.
Julia Chacon, whose Julia Chacon Flamenco Theater group began as Inspiración Flamenca in 2008, takes viewers on journeys through a beautiful hybridization of cultures reflected in this Spanish art form filled with emotion and movement. She's adapted throughout her journey, bringing others along with her to create new connections rooted in the power of cultures to unify and enlighten. The group's performances are precise but passionate, and Chacon surrounds herself with artists who are truly dedicated to their craft and the community they share. When the pandemic presented challenges for teaching live dance, the dance theater took its classes online, assuring that flamenco would continue to serve as a unifying force. It's impossible to witness Julia Chacon Flamenco Theater perform without catching flamenco fever, then finding more ways to make the art form's beauty and power a part of your life.