The Essential Mexican Food Court in Metro Phoenix

click to enlarge So much Mexican food. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
So much Mexican food.
Patricia Escarcega
Welcome to The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.

46: The Food Court at Mercado de los Cielos

Carne asada from La Cosinita. Pizza-shaped, Oaxacan tlayudas topped with shredded beef from Tacos y Burritos Mexico. Freshly whipped fruit licuados from La Carreta de Lily. Thick, sturdy Mexico City-style machetes sealed together with cheese and squash blossoms from Macheta Azteca. Platters of Sinaloan-style sushi rolls garnished with pico de gallo at Sushi-Lynn. Oh, and over at Aldo's Hot Wings, you can get 50 hot wings for $29.99.

Such are the gastronomical wonders of the food court at Mercado de los Cielos, the Latin American-inspired marketplace situated at the southern end of the Desert Sky Mall in west Phoenix. Back in the '80s and '90s, this space used to be a muzak-plagued Mervyn's department store where west-side kids and their parents did their back-to-school shopping. Today, it's a thriving food court of mostly Mexican restaurants, a veritable pig-out destination that attracts large crowds on the weekends. If you love regional Mexican dishes, served in a lively, convivial setting, you can't do much better than this. The hardest part is choosing what to eat – and finding a table on a Sunday afternoon.

The Essentials so far:

50: Tequila Sunrise at the Arizona Biltmore
49: "Dragon" Dumpling Burger at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour.
48: Dizzy Fig Empanada at Republica Empanada
47: Linguini carbonara at Avanti