Best Tortillas 2023 | Carolina's | La Vida | Phoenix

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.

There are a lot of reasons to visit Las 15 Salsas Restaurant Oaxaqueño, from its cheerful and welcoming patio to its smoky mezcal cocktails. But the real draw is the mole. And here, that's not just one dish. The moles come in black, red, yellow, green and a stewed version called estofado. As stand-alone dishes, the moles come with rice and tortillas and either chicken or pork. But the rich, spicy sauces can also be found throughout the menu, tucked into tamales or empanadas, spooned over enchiladas or served with chips to dip. Though there are many good options to try, we prefer the Moles de Fiesta, a shareable sampler platter with stripes of black, red and estofado mole. The black mole has the characteristic sweet, chocolatey flavor, while the red packs some serious heat. However you enjoy them, dipped, scooped or spooned, these moles transport diners straight to Oaxaca.

Tirion Morris

The guacamole at Scottsdale restaurant Call Her Martina is about so much more than the avocado. Yes, the guac itself is creamy, well-balanced and delicious. But the cascade of ribeye chicharrones poured overtop along with a scattering of pomegranate seeds takes this dip to the next level. All together, the combination is smooth, salty and savory with pops of sweetness, and good enough to eat on its own. Pair this decadent dip with a craft cocktail at this upscale, swanky Mexican restaurant. Grab a seat at the bar and tuck in as you enjoy the people-watching during an evening in Old Town.

To the uninitiated, Mexican sushi can be a bit of a shock. As we wrote in 2016, it's a "Mexican-Japanese fusion concept whose hallmark is the deep-fried sushi roll, stuffed with unconventional ingredients like steak and bacon and generously garnished with boldly flavored sauces." The best examples of the genre that we've found are in Phoenix at Sushinola Roll's two locations. The Sushinola Roll menu is divided into three main sections: natural rolls, bread rolls and baked rolls. Like traditional sushi — and traditional Mexican food, for that matter — Mexican sushi tends to use a core group of ingredients in many different menu items. We love the Crispy Roll, which blends spicy crab salad, seaweed, shrimp, avocado, cucumber, cream cheese and rice, topped with breaded shrimp, spicy eel sauce, crispy onions and chipotle sauce. The quintessential Mexican sushi roll is the Cielo, Mar Y Tierra (Sky, Sea and Land), a heavily breaded, dense combination of avocado, cucumber, cream cheese, chicken, meat and shrimp. Make sure you come hungry.

Lauren Cusimano

Ask anyone in town for a Mexican seafood recommendation, and Mariscos Playa Hermosa will likely be their response. And for good reason: This colorful spot has earned its place at the top of the Phoenix mariscos mountain. The massive selection of always-fresh seafood spans cold ceviches and aguachiles to bacon-wrapped shrimp, saucy seafood entrees and whole fried fish. Seafood dishes pair perfectly with drinks such as the Spicy Mami, a watermelon and chiltepin blend; the La Ofrenda, a black-colored margarita; or the absinthe mojito. Bring a crowd and plan to share at this high-energy spot. On weekends or occasions, plan ahead and reserve a table because although Mariscos Playa Hermosa is large, big groups often fill up the space with birthday parties and celebrations.

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