Best Elote 2022 | Gallo Blanco | La Vida | Phoenix
Jacob Tyler Dunn

There's a difference of opinion in the street-corn-lovers community: Do you like your corn in a cup (which is called esquites), or still on the cob (elote)? Popular central Phoenix eatery Gallo Blanco caters to the cob crowd. Its version of the Mexican snack food is one ear of corn smeared with just the right amount of mayo, then generously dusted with cotija cheese, chile piquin, and smoked paprika. You can slice the kernels off the cob, or dig in face first — hey, that's what napkins are for. The elote is perfectly roasted, fresh, and crisp, and the ideal start to a great Gallo Blanco lunch or dinner.

Taco Boy's two Valley locations serve some of the best tacos in town, no question. But when we think about meals we've had there, the dish that sticks in our mind, that we crave, that we tell others about, is ... the beans. Seriously. Think of the many bland piles of refried beans you've eaten in your life, then imagine the opposite of that. Taco Boy's beans are dark, with a smoky flavor. They're mostly smooth, with just a tiny bit of texture. They're incredible fresh or reheated. And they're the perfect side dish to the main offerings at Taco's Boy — we particularly love the al pastor and the carne asada. The Phoenix outpost has a few beer options in bottles, but if you head to Tempe to try the beans and their sidekicks, you can pick a beverage from the beer wall, which offers 20 taps of frothy refreshment.

Allison Young

A bit of Googling quickly brings up the recipe for the guacamole at the iconic and oft-celebrated Mexican restaurant Barrio Café. It seems simple enough — avocado, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, lime juice, salt, and pomegranate seeds (and optional tomato) — and yet nothing we whip up in our kitchen tastes the same as the version that comes out of the kitchen at the central Phoenix eatery. That's fine with us — it gives us an excuse to walk through Barrio Café's doors yet again. We start with the guac, or maybe the queso fundido, then face the hard question — which of Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's excellent dishes do we choose as an entree? (Spoiler: It's usually her savory, fragrant cochinita pibil.) But while we wait for the main course, we get to feast on the guacamole and chips, each light chip cradling a scoop of chunky green heaven.

If you're not familiar with the concept of Mexican sushi, it sounds like an oxymoron — or a joke. But it's neither. While Mexican sushi has lots in common with the conventions of traditional Japanese sushi, there are plenty of traits that make it unique. There's no nigiri or sashimi; the hallmark of Mexican sushi is the deep-fried roll, and the things that go into said rolls can vary wildly from anything you've seen before. At local chain Sushi Sonora, that means the Sushi Dog, a roll with sausage, bacon, cream cheese, and avocado, or a traditional Mexican sushi creation, the Cielo, Mar y Tierra (sky, sea, and land) Roll, which includes chicken, beef, shrimp, cream cheese, and avocado. Our favorite is the Potan Roll, which features crab mix on top of salmon, shrimp, and cream cheese, all topped with a zesty sauce. If you're looking to expand your sushi horizons, Sushi Sonora is the place.

On weekend mornings, the parking lot at Don Cahuamanta is filled with people waiting in line for their favorite menu items. The tiny restaurant, black and white on the outside, with "Bienvenidos" painted in bold letters across the arching doorway, is a neighborhood favorite. Don Cahuamanta specializes in its namesake, manta ray. The Sonora-style restaurant's logo shows a large gray stingray, and it serves the unique meat in rich soups and atop tacos. Inside the tiny restaurant, hungry customers chat exclusively in Spanish, ordering fresh plates of aguachile and smoked marlin tacos. Cold seafood cocktails are also available in large glass goblets or served inside coconuts. Get here early or be prepared to wait at this west-side seafood destination.

Chris Malloy

Chantico is a cute date spot, open and airy with modern vibes and lots of good bites. But the Spicy Halibut Ceviche stands out among tasty dishes like clams al vapor and mesquite-grilled achiote chicken. Presented in a fresh coconut, chunks of tender halibut and pineapple sit in a spicy medley of cilantro and chiles. The generous portion, served with fresh corn tortilla chips, is refreshing and surprisingly filling, and a great way to start the meal before trying some enchiladas or tacos. Dig into the meaty coconut after you inevitably devour the ceviche, and you may not even want dessert. But no promises.

Jamie Peachey

This local bakery shot to social media fame last year when it sold purple and orange tie-dye conchas to support the Phoenix Suns. But La Purisima has been churning out some of the best pan dulce in the Valley since 1983. Stop by the Glendale or Phoenix stores to find shelves of fresh baked and brightly colored pastries lining the counter, offering almost endless options. Cherry-filled turnovers, colorful conchas, fruit-filled empanadas, and overflowing cream puffs beg to be picked by hungry customers pointing to their selections at the busy bakery. Bags and boxes get filled quickly, making way for the next batch of baked goods to be put out on display. Regulars order their pan with a dozen tortillas for later, or a cup of fresas con crema for an extra sweet treat.


Drinking horchata at Belly, the hip Southeast Asian-inspired eatery in Phoenix's Melrose District and coming soon to Gilbert, isn't a suck-it-back experience out of a plastic cup. No, it's a slow-sipping affair that invites all your senses along for the ride. Your eyes are drawn to the backlit bar and cocktail-slinging bartenders, your ears are tuned to the buzzy chatter and techno beats, and your mouth is stunned into submission by the frosty freshness. It's both thicker and lighter than any horchata you've had before, punched up with the tangy hint of citrus. That's no accident. Made by simmering fresh-cut lemongrass and makrut lime leaves to extract as much flavor as possible, the tangy tea is then blended with house-made rice milk, coconut milk, and coconut cream for a trippy sip that adds a bright Thai spin on the traditional Mexican drink. Booze it up by adding a dark aged rum like Ron Colón. Bonus: Belly Gilbert will be offering a cinnamon and star anise version. Double bonus: Both happen to be vegan.

An agua fresca is a treat any day of the year. But a tall cup of water blended with fruit, served fresh and ice-cold, in the middle of summer? It tastes like heaven. Local chain Tortas Manantial has the aguas frescas game down; they serve them in two sizes in flavors like pineapple, papaya, grapefruit, soursop, lemon, coconut, cucumber, and more. And you know the ingredients are fresh because you can watch while the staff chops and blends the fruit for your drink. Tortas Manantial's three Valley locations also serve just juice, plus licuados (smoothies). Any of the restaurant's beverages are perfect for washing down their lineup of tasty sandwiches.

Move over, Starbucks. We know of a much better spot for sweet coffee drinks. The Van Buren location of Tres Leches Café is a bright, invigorating space with multicolored walls, a charming courtyard, and plenty of space to work, read, or catch up with a friend. The menu is filled with Mexican-style coffee creations. We love the rich Tres Aztecas, a Mexican mocha with espresso and crema, and the Cafe de Frida, a gently spiced blend of coffee and cream. If we're feeling peckish, we'll pick a Mexican pastry out of the bakery case, maybe a concha or an Oreo doncha. Tres Leches also offers the fruit smoothies known as licuados as well as aguas frescas and the hard-to-find aguas sucias, aguas frescas taken to the next level with espresso.

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