Best Gorditas 2022 | Tacos Chiwas | La Vida | Phoenix
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.

Chris Malloy

Cocina Madrigal Tacos + Tequila looks like a hidden gem, except everyone knows about it, especially since Yelp put it at the top of their Top 100 Places to Eat in 2022. (By the way, that's a national list, not a local one.) The little restaurant tucked on a residential street in south Phoenix draws a crowd every day of the week. This neighborhood joint serves an eclectic menu of burgers, sandwiches, tacos, and burritos. But the enchiladas are the star: warm, soft, and unbelievably good . You get to choose from chicken, beef birria, barbacoa green chile, or wild mushroom (our favorite). You can also mix and match, the better to try what Cocina Madrigal has to offer. Each satisfying plate is served with two enchiladas, warm tortillas, rice, and beans.

Chris Malloy

You know a burrito is good when people are willing to wait in the Arizona sun for it. To order your food at El Norteño, a tiny eatery in west Phoenix, you enter a small indoor space that holds maybe two people. Then, you stand around in the parking lot until your food is ready. There's a small covered patio with a few tables, but most patrons get their food to go. Believe us when we say, the food is worth it. They open at 7:30 a.m. so folks on their way to work can grab a hearty, delicious breakfast burrito (we like the chorizo, egg, and potato). Around lunch, there's a line to order dishes like the machaca burrito (machaca is El Norteño's specialty). We like the Arizona burro, a massive, two-meal creation that includes carne asada, rice, potato, beans, sour cream, and guacamole. In addition to nearly two dozen burrito options, El Norteño offers a full menu of tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, and more. Just remember to bring cash — the establishment doesn't take credit or debit.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

To the first person who saw a burrito and thought, "I should deep-fry this and top it with a bunch of stuff," we salute you. Their creation is one of our favorite Mexican dishes, and there's no better place to get one than at local chain Rito's. Rito's serves up enormous chimis with crispy, flaky exteriors, topped with sour cream, guacamole, shredded cheese, and diced tomatoes. You've got your choice of fillings: The red chile beef is a longtime Valley favorite, but we love the shredded chicken with green chile sauce and pico de gallo as well. Order them enchilada style (with red or green sauce) for even more flavor.

When trying to find Topo, just look for a giant, cowboy hat-wearing gopher with glowing yellow eyes. The landmark in Gilbert's Heritage District is hard to miss. At this outdoor counter-service joint, the menu is small but mighty. Order the Topo Loco Burrito for a tin-foil-wrapped explosion of flavor. This burrito comes stuffed with chicken or pork, beans, sweet corn, hot sauce, cilantro, cheese, tomatillo crema, and crunchy Fritos chips. The textures contrast each other perfectly, making each bite a creamy, crunchy, messy mouthful. We recommend clearing your palate of all that savory goodness by finishing your meal with Topo's prickly pear soft-serve ice cream.

Lauren Saria

It's often the little things that make Phoenix Burrito House feel special. Like the fact that it takes up an unassuming, converted old house. Or the old loteria art that decorates the walls. Even the mere availability of those large-sized Mexican Cokes makes a difference. It's that very idea that makes their breakfast burritos equally great, and arguably the star of a stacked menu. It's the quality of the meat, from the extra-crispy bacon and the perfectly spiced chorizo, to the overall size and proportions. And, of course, something has to be said for the pinto beans, which are as close to performing a magic spell on your breakfast as humanly possible. Is it the most imaginative burrito you'll ever eat? Probably not, but these are breakfast burritos that we're talking about, and what these bad boys lack in innovation, they more than make up for in overall quality and a kind of down-home connection that all the truly best foods foster. Food should be about community and connection as much as the way the potatoes are perfectly cooked — that's why PBH feels like the breakfast burrito for this city.

Tamales are traditionally a holiday treat, made around Christmastime. But we're glad we can grab this comfort food practically any day of the year at The Tamale Store in north Phoenix. The bright, airy space has a little bit of everything: plenty of seating, shelves featuring Tamale Store-branded salsas and other items, flat-screen TVs, and a mercado area offering frozen tamales to take home. The daily lineup of fresh tamales varies a bit, but we're always happy when the Tex-Mex (ground beef and Monterey Jack cheese), pork red chile, or Arizona cornbread with Colby Jack are options. All of the tamales are soft and delicious — never stale or bland. We like to pick a couple and stick them in a combo meal, pairing them with great side dishes like elote and potatoes with chorizo.

Tirion Boan

No less a personage than Guy Fieri agrees that the sandwiches at Los Reyes de la Torta are something special. They start with a soft bolillo roll, and then the sky's the limit. The Del Rey is the most popular sandwich, according to the website, and we can confirm it's pretty great — a mix of ham, mozzarella, pork sirloin, breaded beef, and sausage-chorizo omelet, plus tomato, caramelized onions, fresh avocado, and chipotle sauce, it vanquishes all appetites. We're also partial to the Hawaiian, a sweet and savory dish made with ham, pineapple, and pork sirloin, topped with melted mozzarella, queso fresco, and a chipotle dressing. With 15 tortas to choose from made with fresh, quality ingredients, there's a sandwich to everyone's liking.

Melissa Fossum

Gaze at a mural of Frida Kahlo and sip on a cold margarita while you devour a quesadilla or three at Taco Chelo. These handheld creations are different from the large ones you're used to, made on your choice of a small corn or flour tortilla folded in half. And like so much in life, the simpler these quesadillas are, the better. The cheese blend melts into the tortilla creating a perfect bite, warm and melty with nothing but queso and carbs. Add carnitas or veggies to the little snack if you'd like, but know that the classic dipped into some red or green salsa is just as good.

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