Welcome to the 2018 edition of 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.
18: Red chili burro and sopapillas from Los Dos Molinos
At Los Dos Molinos, the menu leads with a prominent warning: "Food is spicy. You order it, you own it!"
Since the 1970s, Los Dos Molinos has been a pilgrimage site for lovers of unapologetically spicy New Mexico-style home cooking. I'm talking tear-inducing, level-five, chile-laced dishes that seem to aim for pain and pleasure in equal measure.
Los Dos Molinos was started as a humble taco shop by Victoria and Eddie Chavez in the eastern Arizona town of Springerville in the 1970s. Eventually, the Chavez's expanded the restaurant to Mesa, and then south-central Phoenix. Until recently, there were five locations of Los Dos Molinos, including four in the Valley and the original location in Springerville.
The Springerville location closed earlier this year, and, with this week's news that the Ahwatukee outpost has closed, the Los Dos Molinos dynasty might seem like a fading empire.
Tell that to the spice-loving crowds who pack the ornately decorated dining rooms on any given night, though. For many longtime Valley locals, Los Dos Molinos is a way of life.
The best way to experience Los Dos Molinos is by visiting the south-central Phoenix location, which looks as if it's been there forever, but has only been open since the 1980s.
The restaurant is situated in a historic white adobe home, a proverbial white dove on the desert, near the entrance to South Mountain Park. The house is as storied as the food: The Chavez family rescued it from the wrecking ball in the 1980s, and, before that, the ranch house is said to have been a funeral home and a '60s-era commune. The most legendary fact about the old adobe, though, is that it was the private residence of silent Western movie cowboy Tom Mix in the 1930s.
You can feel the history inside the funky, colorful dining room, where chile peppers hang from the walls and the chandeliers are fashioned out of beer bottles. Not everything on the menu is spicy, but you'll have to order carefully if you want to avoid singeing your tongue.
You really shouldn't leave Los Dos Molinos, though, without trying something that scares you even just a little bit. For this, we recommend a beefy, robust burro swimming in the house red chili sauce. The sauce is made using (what else?) extra-hot New Mexico Hatch peppers, and it has an earthy, buttery, smoke-tinged quality. The shredded beef is merely a spongy conveyor, a middle man delivering bright doses of pungent heat.
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Los Dos Molinos is also known for its dark, rich adovada ribs, and margaritas so big you could drown in them. For dessert, don't miss the quintessential, old-school New Mexican restaurant dessert: sopapillas, puffy fried dough tossed in sugar and cinnamon, and served with honey on the side. It's a retro dish with such enormous appeal, it seems ripe for a hipster takeover.
Will your palate get a little scorched at Los Dos Molinos? Probably. Will your food be slicked in glossy heaps of melted cheese? Most definitely. Will you have fun, and go back whenever you have a specific itch for spicy, pungent New Mexico-style cooking? Yup.
Los Dos Molinos, 8646 South Central Avenue, 602-243-9113; Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.
1044 East Camelback Road, 602-528-3535; Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday. 260 South Alma School Road, #137, Mesa, 480-969-7475; Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.
50: Soul food platter at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
49: The Bear at Short Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Doughnuts
48: Grilled squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer
47: I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10
46: Coffee made from ROC2 beans
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff
44: Zookz at Zookz
43: Jade Red Chicken at Chino Bandido
42: Tasting menu at Quiessence at The Farm
41: Single-origin Papua New Guinea Bar at Zak's Chocolate
40: Green chile at Casa Reynoso
39: Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company
38: Hand-pulled noodles from China Magic Noodle House
37: Carne adovada sliders at Dick's Hideaway
36: Crispy Pig Ear and Amaro cocktails from Crudo
35: Chile-laced specialties from Cafe Ga Hyang
34: Martinis at AZ88
33: Nooner at Duck & Decanter
32: Eggs Maximilian at Harlow's Cafe
31: Beef Tacos from Asadero Norte De Sonora
30: Orange Blossom from Huss Brewing Company
29: Rye bread from Yasha From Russia
28: Scotch Beef and Mashed Potatoes from Tarbell's
27: Griddled Corn Cakes and Ramona Farms Super Food Salad at Phoenix City Grille
26: Soup from Reathrey Sekong
25: Lamb tongue sandwich at Haji Baba
24: The Special at Grand Avenue Pizza Company
23: Red chile at Elmer's Tacos
22: Marranitos at La Purisima Bakery
21: Kronuts from Karl's Bakery
20: Beef pies at Chou's Kitchen
19: Bavarian pretzels & schnitzel at Haus Murphy's
18: Red chili burro and sopapillas from Los Dos Molinos