Best Transition to Brick and Mortar 2023 | Chilte | La Vida | Phoenix

Best Transition to Brick and Mortar


Beloved food truck Chilte set down roots earlier this year at the recently revamped Egyptian Motor Hotel on Historic Grand Avenue. Its permanent location is hip, eclectic and comfy. It matches the rock 'n' roll vibe of the motel while still feeling distinct, and distinctly Chilte. Owners Lawrence Smith and Aseret Arroyo have grown the menu with the added space, offering bold new options like prawns in chocolate aguachile and a seasonal quesadilla with grasshoppers. Chilte's hand-pressed squid ink tortillas, stuffed with birria, are served alongside a savory miso consommé. And, with a full bar program, cocktails add another punch of flavor. We're partial to the Carajilllo, a coffee-based creation with notes of chocolate, orange and lavender. And we're by no means the only ones who love Chilte; Bon Appétit magazine recently named it one of the best new restaurants in the U.S.

Patricia Escarcega

At the end of a strip mall off Thomas Road, Presidio Cocina Mexicana churns out some of the best burritos, chilaquiles and breakfast tacos in the city. The small restaurant features a long row of bar stools overlooking the open kitchen and coffee bar. Booths and a few stand-alone tables line the rest of the narrow space, and on weekend mornings, almost every seat is filled. This restaurant serves Michoacán-style fare, which materializes at brunch in the form of spicy salsas, hearty tamales and warming pozoles. Start your day with a steaming bowl of rich, red-tinted soup or opt for the classic huevos rancheros, served with creamy refried beans, fried potatoes and chorizo, and spicy ranchera salsa. Pair it all with a hot caramel latte or a cool and creamy horchata at this upbeat and welcoming spot.

Tacos Veganos looks like any of the modern taco spots in town. There's a quick service walk-up counter, a menu shown on flatscreen TVs hanging overhead, fridges filled with bottles of Jarritos soda, modern industrial decor painted bright hues and groups of friends sharing buckets of Modelos. But what sets this place apart is that the menu is entirely plant-based. Vegan food is a centuries-old tradition in Mexico, and this trendy taco spot blends the old and the new perfectly. Try the always-Instagrammable birria tacos waiting to be dunked in bright red consommé and scooped up with birria ramen noodles, or the colorful margaritas with Tajin rims and fresh fruit toppings. Dress up your dinner with an array of fresh and satisfying salsas for a meal that does not miss the meat.

Chris Malloy

Stop in during the multiple happy hours at Casa Corazon for one of the best after-work treats in the Valley. The Mexican restaurant, located inside its recognizable and adorable historic house on 16th Street, offers happy hour discounts from 3-6 p.m. every weekday. During those three wonderful hours, chips and bean dip are free, tacos are $4, beers are $5 and wine and margaritas are $6. Load up on tacos filled with carne asada, chicken and al pastor, or up the ante with the Tacos de Canasta al Vapor. In this dish, the whole taco is dipped in a red chile sauce and filled with melted cheese, shredded beef and red onions. These tacos, plus their discounted prices, will make happy hour-loving hearts sing at Casa Corazon.

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.

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