Budget Beat: Asi Es La Vida

It took my living in Phoenix nearly four years and countless trips up and down 24th Street to stop at the Mexican restaurant with the goofy/charming hand-painted sign that depicts a blue parrot and the words "Asi Es La Vida." The two-story building just north of Osborn Road looks just odd enough that it's going to scare away diners looking for more familiar-feeling Mexican food experience.

When I finally popped in for a quick and cheap burrito about two months ago, I expected a glorified taquería in this obviously repurposed edifice. I was surprised -- pleasantly -- that it was a totally different scene: not quite upscale, but certainly nicer (and pricier) than your run-of-the-mill Mexican joint. It's a cozy little dining room -- dimly lit, nice tablecloths and flatware, tasteful Mexican art on the wall, a small bar that separates the dining room from the kitchen, a guitarist subtly seeking Mexican folk songs and Spanish-language versions of old American pop tunes.

In short, I felt I'd found a true diamond in the rough -- an unheralded, untrendy, and uncrowded mid-range restaurant where you could eat unique, made-with-care Mexican food and have a comfortable, quiet conversation. There's gotta be a hitch, you say. Well, yeah, there is: No booze and, like I said, it's not really budget-y -- until now.

There's a sign outside Asi Es La Vida touting the restaurant's $7.95 lunch specials. Not the cheapest lunch in town, but considering the quality of the meals and the dining experience, it's still a darn good deal.

I went with some co-workers recently, and we were all quite happy with our meals. Two of them ordered the $7.95 tortas, those big Mexican sandwiches served on amazing

The menu contained one or two other selections for $7.95, as well as some more expensive seafood-based dishes that got as high as $13.95. I should also note that the freshly made guacamole is out of this world, if a bit expensive. And the fruity agua frescas are dynamite, too. Try the watermelon -- addictive.

If you're looking for a change from run-of-the-mill sandwich shops or the dreaded fast food, and you want a lunch experience that's slightly a cut above, in terms of atmosphere, I highly recommend you check out Asi Es La Vida.

Asi Es La Vida
3602 North 24th Street

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

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