Best Burritos 2023 | Rito's Mexican Food | La Vida | Phoenix
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

When you order a burrito for the first time at Rito's, do yourself a favor: Splurge on a side of sour cream. Your taste buds — soon to be scorched with either the green or red chile burrito — will thank you for the soothing balm of a thick dollop. Burritos have been Rito's passion since 1977, with a menu offering nine versions served in four styles — standard, enchilada, chimichanga and chimi enchilada. First-time diners are encouraged to go standard with the less spicy green, though — see above — you'll still need the sour cream to temper the heat. But that's all you'll need. The green chile burrito is filled with chunks of beef slowly cooked with green chile, jalapeño, tomato and onion. Juices ooze out when you bite into it, so beware if you dive in with both hands instead of a fork and knife. The restaurant now has four locations: Mesa and uptown Phoenix offer full service, while the original location in the Garfield neighborhood is to-go only, and Surprise offers just counter service. The full-service spots provide chips and salsa, so you can munch while considering a burrito with beef, chicken, beans or rice and beans. You can't go wrong.

With the myriad of excellent options in the Valley, Best Chimichangas can be a moving target that's as much a matter of timing as it is technique. But it's tough to argue against the superlative specimen offered at El Bravo, one of the decades-old mainstays of family-run AZ-Mex. This Sunnyslope institution will fill their chimis with any of the burro fillings you request, but the default option is a choice of chicken, ground beef or shredded beef. It's simply presented — topped with sour cream and excellent guac, a handful of yellow cheese and a smattering of cool vegetables — to better keep the focus on a gorgeously blistered, crisp shell. El Bravo's tortillas are atypically thick and tender, producing a more typical crunch in the center, while the folded ends play almost like crisped frybread, steamy and resilient with a little give. And the fillings at El Bravo are far better than most, tender and flavorful and perfectly seasoned.

If you're serious about tamales, there's an entire space dedicated to the Latino food item in North Phoenix. Martha Castillo has run the family-owned Tamale Store for several decades, and it's fair to say there's a cult following for her tamales in metro Phoenix. What makes The Tamale Store unique is its special attention to the customer base. The red and green pork chiles are a favorite among tamale connoisseurs, but that doesn't mean Castillo ignores the vegetarian and gluten-free tamale lovers. Sometimes there are seasonal tamales like piña colada in the summer and yes, of course, pumpkin tamales in the fall. Let's be clear: All of these tamales are handmade and encased in a real corn husk to make certain the taste is authentic. Castillo admits that she omits lard — which other makers believe is a key ingredient — from her tamales. She wants to make a healthy and modern tamale that all will be willing to try.

Tirion Morris

When ordering from the massive menu at Los Reyes de la Torta, be prepared for a mountain of food. This restaurant, which has locations in North Phoenix and Tempe, serves football-sized sandwiches filled with layers of ingredients piled impossibly high. And there are more than a dozen flavors to choose from, including the most popular option, the Del Rey. This giant sandwich comes loaded with ham, mozzarella, pork sirloin, breaded beef, a sausage and chorizo omelet, tomato, caramelized onions, avocado and chipotle sauce. Whew. We recommend sharing with a friend so you can squeeze in a creamy mango or banana agua cremosa, made with sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk and topped with a tiny umbrella.

When it comes to tortillas, Carolina's has leaned into this approach since opening in 1968: Go big or go home. The tortillas, which clock in at a healthy 16 inches, are made from little balls of dough in stores every morning. The no-frills, fast-casual chain of family-run restaurants focuses on the food, which has been the key to its success reaching into its sixth decade. The flour tortillas are so sought after that the restaurant offers them on their own. You can buy a single one, six or a dozen at a time. Get a buttered one to add some clarified richness to your meal. It's worth the additional 70 cents. They'll be happy to turn your tortilla into a burrito, too. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Before there was quesabirria with its oozing puddles of cheese, vats of red oil and packaged ramen noodles, there was plain ol' birria de res. And before there was birria de res, there was birria de chivo. And for those who appreciate the dish's less-Instagrammed ancestry, there's no better place for birria than Hola Cabrito. The menu includes tacos and tortas and such, but the indispensable dish at this South Phoenix fixture is a simple plate of goat meat — lean or fatty, your choice — served roasted and tender, alongside a bowl of consommé. The broth is clean and clear with a ruddy color and meaty, chile-laced depth that pops once you garnish it with onion, cilantro and a bit of salsa. The meat, meanwhile, is knee-buckling. Its gaminess carefully tamed, the goat meat is tender and intense, heavily scented with chiles and spices. Ordering it tatemada-style adds a symphony of textures once it's seared to an aggressively crunchy crisp on the griddle. When birria is this good, it doesn't need greasy overkill and street-cart theatrics to blow your mind.

Driven by drippy, greasy TikTok videos and a commitment to flagrant excess, Tijuana-style quesabirria has so swiftly and thoroughly infiltrated the mainstream that even Taco Bell has hopped on the bandwagon. But for all its ubiquity, quesabirria is still best enjoyed at Birrieria Tijuana, the first to introduce birria's upstart young cousin to Phoenix. Like most quesabirria joints, Birrieria Tijuana eschews the more classic goat in favor of beef, sporting the requisite amount of goopy cheese and shirt-seeking red juice. But a modicum of restraint, careful assembly and a consommé more focused on layers of flavor than oil content make this quesabirria a standout. The birria quesatacos, in particular — tender, stewed meat folded into a ruddy, stained shell that maintains its crispy crunch — bring a depth of flavor and texture that their sloppier contemporaries lack. They might not look as good on an Instagram reel, but they're a whole lot more enjoyable to eat.

At Mexican restaurants with menus boasting craveable tacos and bursting burritos, simple quesadillas can often be the boring option. But that's far from the case at Caminero Mexican Restaurant in Peoria. These suckers are massive. We're partial to the fajita quesadilla, which comes packed with chicken or beef, bell peppers and onions all melted together with molten cheese, served with a side of guacamole and sour cream. In the beef option, large chunks of carne asada are served medium-rare, more like chunks of an expensive steak than you'd expect from a little hole-in-the-wall joint. The peppers are fresh and snappy, and the tortilla is crisp and golden. The best part is there's plenty to take home and enjoy again for leftovers. Stop in to Caminero, slide up to the counter past the old-timey murals and order a quesadilla to remember.

Shelby Moore

Too often, chilaquiles play like Mexican junk food, a mere excuse to pile 17 ingredients on a plate. Or worse, they're little more than breakfast nachos — eggs and meat dumped on a pile of crispy corn chips. What makes the chilaquiles at El Horseshoe sing is their perfect simplicity. The kitchen toasts raw, day-old tortillas in oil to order, adds a bright red or green salsa, mixes in some melty cheese, then tops it all with a little crumbled cotija. The result is a dish that captures and puts the focus on the essence of chilaquiles — the unique squishy-crisp texture that results when you simmer crunchy chips in fresh salsa for just the right amount of time. Topping them with an egg sure won't hurt, but these chilaquiles have a subtle elegance that doesn't want for a thing.

Patricia Escarcega

The titans of Tucson have come and gone, other notable stands have flashed and faded, and the nighttime streets of Phoenix are ever more crowded with carts and food trucks slinging Sonoran hot dogs. But somehow we keep coming back to popular longtime favorite El Caprichoso. The dog is top-notch, at least in the way it skillfully captures the style's lo-fi sensibilities. Wrap a cheap hot dog in crisp bacon, swaddle it in a pillowy sweet bun and bury it in every Mexican-themed ingredient you can think of. But El Caprichoso's dog is more balanced than its chaotic template might suggest, and the bun is always griddled to a gorgeous, golden crisp. And then there's the vibe — the ragtag crowd of West Valley families, post-party revelers and second-dinner night owls that hungrily tuck into their dogs as a hot desert breeze blows through El Caprichoso's brightly lit tent. There is nothing more Phoenix than this.

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