Best Día de Los Muertos Festival 2022 | Mesa Arts Center | La Vida | Phoenix

Día de Los Muertos festivals around metro Phoenix are explosions of color, expressions of long-held traditions and entertaining spectacles. When the Day of the Dead rolls around, we head to Mesa Arts Center to watch and participate in the festivities. MAC's version of the event includes a community ofrenda (a memorial altar) where attendees can leave photos of loved ones, plus music and dance performances, food and drink for sale, kids' activities, vendors, and more. We're not the only ones impressed by what MAC has to offer: In March, the National League of Cities gave the city of Mesa one of its 2022 Cultural Diversity Awards for the Día de Los Muertos event. This year's festival will be held Saturday and Sunday, October 22 and 23, and is free to attend.

Benjamin Leatherman

Club DWNTWN is a landmark of Phoenix's Latin dance scene that's been around for nearly 20 years, which, by itself, makes the club unique among local discotecas. The secrets to its longevity are also why it's the top club in town: a wide variety of hot tunes, plenty of space to dance, and numerous amenities. DJs bring the bops in three different rooms, each with its own varied sound. Up front, the expansive main room rocks with the harder beats of Latin urbano, hip-hop, and Top 40. In another dance hall and out on the back patio, genres such as rock en Español, cumbia, bachata, and musica tropicales are all in the mix. When hombres y mujeres aren't dancing at DWNTWN, they're drinking at its main bar (which is stocked with a wall of tequila), hitting up a separate michelada bar, or being seen in the VIP section. The crowds here are as wide as they are varied, as the turnout is typically huge. Saturday's Noche Latina party is the biggest night of the weekend, with lines stretching up Central Avenue. In other words, show up early (and dress to impress) if you hope to hit the dance floor.

Jackie Mercandetti

Consider it pure luck if you can find a seat at this tiny, yet highly acclaimed eatery on funky Grand Avenue. Dig into some fresh guacamole — limey and topped with cotija cheese and chiltepin peppers — or grilled elote with spicy crema to start. Later, watch James Beard Award-nominated Chef Rene Andrade grill up Sonoran specialties like perfectly seasoned carne asada and pollo asado over an open flame. Since it opened in February 2021, Bacanora has racked up accolade after accolade; it was just included in Bon Appetit's list of the 50 best new restaurants in the country. And when Machine Gun Kelly needed to grab a meal while he was in town for a show, Bacanora was the restaurant he chose. The menu, like the restaurant, is small but mighty, so book well in advance, grab a couple of friends, and try at least one of everything.

Tirion Boan

Call Her Martina, a new restaurant along the Scottsdale Waterfront, looks like a modern Mexican restaurant complete with greenery, neon signs, posters of movie stars, and sleek black furniture. But the space sounds like a nightclub. A mix of reggaeton, hip-hop, and pop hits blasts over the speakers of this trendy Old Town spot. Customers just starting their night stop by for a trio of salsas, an appetizer plate of steak-specked guacamole, or a cocktail or two. Tables of friends celebrate birthdays and go all out with orders of grilled octopus served over dramatically dark squid-ink risotto. The drinks, beautiful and balanced, steal the spotlight, while the flan topped with fresh mint drowns out the music with notes that are sweet, creamy, and rich.

Felicia Campbell

If you're focused on your driving while tooling down 16th Street (and you should be), you may miss the two food trucks camped out near Monroe Street. But the next time you're not rushing to get somewhere, stop and experience some of the best Mexican food in town. La Frontera #1 faces 16th Street, and the cash-only joint serves up tacos, burritos, vampiros, tostadas, and more. The al pastor is to die for and we usually order it packed into a burrito, but with a long list of available meats, including carne asada, cabeza (beef head), and buche (pork stomach), it'll be a long time before we run out of things to try. And speaking of options, you can take your food to go or enjoy it under the awning of the small seating area, or you can check out La Frontera #3, the food truck with a more seafood-heavy menu located in the same parking lot.

In a city with a 'Bertos on practically every corner, it's safe to say that Phoenicians have no shortage of choices when it comes to drive-thru Mexican food. But when we can, we eschew the corporate option and go for something a little more authentic (and in our opinion, way tastier). Maria's Frybread and Mexican Food is a small restaurant in east Phoenix, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in taste. The eponymous frybread is outstanding — we love it under the red chile beef, which in turn gets topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. Burritos (breakfast and non), tostadas — there's really not a bad choice here. You can eat in the homey dining room on oilcloth tablecloths, or pick up your meal in the drive-thru. Just be aware that unlike a 'Bertos, Maria's has limited hours for the dining room and the drive-thru, so make sure you time your visit well in order to try this hidden Arcadia gem.

Chris Malloy

Among the many strip mall joints of midtown Phoenix, Casa Corazon sticks out. The red-painted restaurant is housed inside an old church, complete with high ceilings and arched doorways. However now, the space welcomes the masses to celebrate the holy ritual of happy hour. From 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, Casa Corazon serves carne asada, al pastor, and canasta-style tacos for $4 a pop. Draft and bottled beers cost $5 and a house margarita will set you back $6. On Tuesdays, the $4 taco deal runs all day long. We suspect that you'll love the food so much that you come back for lunch or dinner, when the menu includes mouthwatering fare like Pasta Corazon with Tequila Shrimp or the house special chicken with mole negro.

Charles Barth

We don't get out to the west Valley town of El Mirage very often. But when we do, it's usually because we've been thinking about the tacos at La Bamba Mexican Grill Restaurant and we can't hold out any longer. We've written plenty about the outstanding al pastor at La Bamba, the tender meat marinated in a house-fermented pineapple vinegar. It's part of a very small menu: just a few kinds of tacos (get them Bamba style to add cheese), plus a quesadilla, a torta, and a salad. Topped with Chef Edson Garcia's red, green, and yellow sauces (red salsa, avocado salsa, and a secret salsa), tacos are accompanied by a pile of diced onions and cilantro, lime wedges, and cucumber slices. The lightly crispy shells give way to an incredible blend of flavors. Trust us when we say, these tacos are worth the drive.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

If your experience with gorditas is limited to the ones you've had at Taco Bell, you haven't had real gorditas. At popular local chain Tacos Chiwas, the gorditas are small — about the size of a coaster — and stuffed with flavor. There's only four to choose from: two kinds of shredded beef (red sauce and green sauce) with potatoes and beans; ground beef with carrots, celery, potatoes, and beans; and the standout rajas gordita, which comes with roasted poblano peppers, Anaheim peppers, onions, asadero cheese, and beans. All offer incredible flavor with just the right amount of spice. Depending on how hungry you are, you're going to need at least two for a meal, so we recommend mixing and matching in order to experience what Tacos Chiwas has to offer.

We love melted cheese on tortilla chips, whether it's at the movie theater or a fast-food joint or a trendy eatery. But of all the nachos we've tried (and trust us, we've tried a lot), we haven't found any we like better than the chips and cheese at Cocina 10 Kitchen, the restaurant at Crescent Ballroom. Of course, there's way more to the I-10 Nachos than just chips and cheese. Order them and you'll see what we mean. The chips come buried under an avalanche of refried beans, cheddar cheese, Oaxaca cheese, cilantro, cotija cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream. It's messy, delicious, and more than enough to share. Add carne asada for extra flavor, then head into whatever show is going on at Crescent that evening.

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