Best Tacos 2023 | El Rinconcito Del D.F. | La Vida | Phoenix

There's no denying that Phoenix is a taco town. From Surprise to Queen Creek, Fountain Hills to Tolleson, the simple taco reigns supreme over the Valley food landscape. Fast food tacos. Vegan tacos. Bougie, overpriced tacos. Tacos served in high-end resorts and from the side of food trucks. Even with endless options, we seem to end up at El Rinconcito Del D.F. most often. It's not for the ambiance, which mostly resembles a church basement. No, the food is the singular draw here, and what a draw it is. The tacos come in two sizes, topped with onions and cilantro. The chorizo emits a pleasant heat without going overboard. Al pastor is perfectly marinated and spiced. Cabeza is rich and tender. They come accompanied with red and green salsas and a few lime wedges. It's all sublime washed down with an ice-cold Mexican Coke or Jarritos snatched from the fridge case.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

For a restaurant that rose from a gutted Dairy Queen to become so beloved by so many Phoenicians, it's a sweet irony that one of its most popular menu items means chubby in Spanish. Gorditas are one of the real stars at the three Tacos Chiwas locations run by the husband-and-wife team of Armando Hernandez and Nadia Holguin. Officially, the menu offers the masa-based delight in five versions: ground beef, shredded beef with either red or green chile, roasted poblano and Anaheim peppers, and beans and cheese. In reality, Tacos Chiwas will create gorditas with any meat on its menu except shrimp, including beef tongue and shredded cheek. At $5 per gordita, try a few to find your favorite. Each one can be devoured in just a few delicious bites. Add a signature cocktail and homemade dessert to really set your meal apart.

Charles Barth

Truth be told, we don't often eat when we make a trip to Crescent Ballroom; the downtown music venue is a frequent destination of ours, though usually it's for a concert and some cocktails. But if we're in the mood for some food, Crescent's I-10 Nachos are our go-to order. Crisp tortilla chips get smothered in refried beans, cilantro, guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream, plus cheddar, cotija and Oaxaca cheeses. The result is a glorious mess with incredible flavor and a stellar chip-to-topping ratio. We recommend snacking on an order accompanied with a cold cerveza while taking in the sights and sounds of downtown Phoenix from the patio.

At Cocina Chiwas, their newest restaurant, Armando Hernandez and Nadia Holguin aren't afraid of a little creativity and refinement, which makes for one helluva plate of chiles rellenos. The duo's take on the classic dish is built on an Anaheim chile that's stuffed with melty queso Menonita and run through an egg-white batter before it's fried to a deep golden brown. The stuffed chile is then paired with a silky-smooth tomato sauce that explodes with intense, pure flavor, drizzled with cool crema and topped with queso requesón, a creamy whey cheese that plays a little like ricotta. Rather than a rustic chile bomb, it's a cool and refined take that might be simple, but it absolutely sings with clarity, focus and flavor.

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.

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