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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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.

More than three dozen creatives are part of the artist community at Xico, which showcases Latino and Indigenous artists. Xico excelled this year in finding new avenues to get artists' work in front of eyeballs despite the challenges of the pandemic. Xico created a series of videos featuring studio visits, which gave people a rare chance to see where these artists work and to hear them talk about their creative practices. It presented several exhibitions online, in a format that helped people feel like they were actually walking through the gallery space. And it curated murals on the exterior of a shipping container in Roosevelt Row, showcasing the work of emerging artists in a nontraditional format that appeals to a wide range of audiences, from art nerds making the gallery rounds to hipsters biking down the street.

The Sagrado Galleria opened in south Phoenix in 2016 as the place to go when you want to experience a wide range of works by Latino artists. The gallery presents exhibitions featuring emerging and established artists, and works to foster connections between the two that help up-and-coming artists grow and thrive in their creative paths. It's a community hub where everyone is welcome to explore Latino culture through visual art, performance, and food. The gallery also holds events in other community spaces, creating more opportunities for people to learn about Latino art and artists working in and beyond metro Phoenix.

Maria's Frybread may not keep 24/7 hours like so many Mexican drive-thru restaurants around town do, but what it lacks in availability, it makes up for in the quality of the food. The red chile beef open frybread is our pick — the pillowy bread laden with savory meat and fresh lettuce, tomato, and cheese tortures us with its irresistible aromas from the passenger seat until we can get it home. But there are also plenty of other options, including burritos (breakfast and otherwise), tostadas, pozole, enchiladas, and more. If you can spare the time, we also love to sit and eat in Maria's tiny dining room, where the red-and-white checked tablecloths provide the perfect ambiance for the down-home delicious offerings.

La Frontera
Felicia Campbell

We drove past La Frontera #1 for years, barely noticing it, until the day we stopped and grabbed a meal at the truck. Now, every time we rush past its home parking lot in downtown Phoenix, we think about all the food that lives there. Bean tostadas, the creamy frijoles hidden under a pile of avocado, onion, cabbage, tomato, and cheese. Burritos heavy with some of the best al pastor in the city. The truck serves breakfast in the morning and stays open well into the night, so there aren't many hours in the day that you can't satisfy your craving for simple, well-done Mexican food at La Frontera #1. La Frontera #3 is stationed in the same parking lot, making the corner of 16th and Monroe streets a mini food court (La Frontera #2 can be found in the west Valley). Oh, and don't forget to bring cash — they won't take your card.

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