Editor's note: This story was originally published on October 19, 2018.
East side, west side, and smack dab in the middle. Everywhere you turn in the Phoenix area there are great Mexican dishes. From burros and birria to tacos and tamales, we've put together our choices of where to find the 32 best Mexican dishes in the Valley. Call it a treasure map.
Best Breakfast Burrito: PHX Burrito House
4140 North Seventh Avenue
The paths to breakfast burrito nirvana at Phoenix Burrito House are many, but however you choose, you'll end up in the same place. Machaca provides the fastest, warmest, and most direct route. The strings of beef have a robust animal flavor, the element that unites the many others jammed to dangerous capacity within the hot flour walls of this football-size meal. A toasting brings out nuanced flavors from the tortilla, and heady warmth. Salsa is cool and fresh. Potatoes are warm and give minimal resistance to your eager chomping.
Best Chilaquiles: Gallo Blanco
928 East Pierce Street
Although many chefs are content to smother tortilla chips in red sauce, chef Doug Robson of Gallo Blanco takes a different approach with his chilaquiles recipe. Served as a short stack of oven-crisped corn tortillas, the Gallo Blanco chilaquiles are pasted together with a blend of melted Chihuahua and Oaxaca cheese, and then topped with two fried eggs. The tortillas soak up the kitchen's lovely, fire-roasted tomatillo salsa. The Gallo Blanco take on this classic Mexican brunch staple is decadent and not to be missed.
Best Salsa: Casa Corazon
2637 North 16th Street
The salsa bar at Casa Corazon in central Phoenix is a thing of beauty. You'll find nearly a dozen house-made salsas and fresh taco garnishes, enticingly well-organized and bearing unique flavors that will have you making return trips during your visit. Don't miss the creamy, blended pineapple salsa, or the bracingly fresh serrano pepper salsa. For extra heat, try the smoky morita salsa. It doesn't hurt that the restaurant makes its own fresh tortilla chips, which is further incentive to make multiple trips to the salsa bar.
Best Beans: Tacos Chiwas
1923 East McDowell Road
The cheesy rajas, beefy desebrada roja, and peppery picadillo get top billing at Tacos Chiwas, midtown Phoenix's beloved Chihuahua-style taqueria. But it would be a mistake to leave without trying the restaurant's excellent frijoles charros. Whole pinto beans are simmered in a broth flavored with bacon, hot dog slices, onions, and fresh cilantro. The result is a velvety, richly layered stew that's a meal all on its own. Beans are a staple of most Mexican restaurants, but they're rarely as memorable and delicious as they are here.
Best Guacamole: La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop
1919 North 16th Street
Guacamole doesn't get much more flavorful, fresh, and baroque than the rendition you'll find at this popular taco shop. La Santisima's ultra-fresh, chunky guacamole features a base of freshly smashed avocados, cilantro, onion, and tomato. Diced jicama adds texture and crunch, while diced mango and cranberries add pops of fruity sweetness. It's served with a side of thin, crisp tortilla chips, perfect for shuttling the creamy and delicious pastiche into your mouth.
Best Tortilla: La Sonorense Tortilla Factory
5403 South Central Avenue
The flour tortillas at La Sonorense Tortilla Factory in south-central Phoenix are fashioned out of four basic ingredients: flour, shortening, salt, and water. They are pressed into thin, par-cooked disks, which means they puff up enticingly when you warm them up over fire. Thin and pliable, La Sonorense's tortillas have the kind of richly buttery profile that makes them good enough to eat all on their own. Not surprisingly, many metro Phoenix restaurants and food trucks source their tortillas from La Sonorense.
Best Nachos: Cocina 10 at Crescent Ballroom
308 North Second Avenue
Why are the nachos at Cocina 10 so good? They start with a base of thick, hot tortilla chips, which are layered with refried pinto beans and glued together by melted cheddar and Oaxaca cheese. They're topped with cilantro and fresh pico, and finished off with a thin lashing of sour cream and a sprinkling of cotija cheese. A fresh mound of guacamole is served on the side, which you can dig into at your own pace. Every crisp mouthful is palpably crispy, fresh, and delicious.
Best Quesadilla: Machete Azteca
6709 West Indian School Road
Have you ever eaten a machete? These Mexico City-style quesadillas are about 2 feet long and hand-molded to approximate the size and shape of the namesake blade. They're thick and sturdy, built on house-made corn tortillas and stuffed with cheese-smothered fillings that include chicharrón prensado (rendered and pressed pig skins); sesos (cow or pig brains, depending on availability); buttery, wilted flor de calabaza (squash blossoms); and huitlacoche, the earthy, inky-black corn fungus that has been a culinary staple in Mexico since pre-Colombian times.
Best Taco: Tacos Sahuaro
2320 North 32nd Street
This family-run east-side taquería offers nine mouth-watering taco options. You'll find popular standards like carne asada, pollo asado, and al pastor, as well as harder-to-find offal like buche (pig stomach). The carne asada is a highlight, the steak chopped up into bubbly, slightly crisp nubs. Don't miss the chicharrón tacos, served homestyle and soupy; the melty slivers of pork skin are irresistibly tender and spicy. And though it might seem like one of the least exciting options on the taco menu, the pollo asado tacos are a revelation.
Best Enchilada: Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup
4031 East Camelback Road
3313 North Seventh Street
Gadzooks has become synonymous in metro Phoenix with succulent, made-to-order enchiladas. The fast-casual scene at Gadzooks is efficient yet friendly, and the selection of fillings and toppings is top-notch. Options for fillings include guajillo-braised short ribs, green chile pork shoulder, and even beer-braised bison (available during lunch only). Top your enchiladas with the house-made smoky red sauce, or the tangy green sauce. Then pick your cheese — Chihuahua or asadero (or both).
Best Chimichanga: El Norteño
1002 North Seventh Avenue
Since 1981, El Norteño has been dishing out consistently delicious Sonoran-style Mexican grub near downtown Phoenix. Machaca — intensely flavored dried, shredded beef in a bright, pungent chile sauce — is the house specialty. Perhaps the tastiest way to enjoy El Norteño's machaca is with an order of the restaurant's freshly fried chimichangas. These crackly skinned, deep-fried burritos are a marvel of texture — notably crisp on the outside, and stuffed with soft, fragrant, saucy shredded beef on the inside.
Best Burrito: Rito's Mexican Food
907 North 14th Street
15643 North Reems Road, Surprise
Rito's Mexican Food isn't fancy, but this Mexican hole-in-the-wall has become a lunchtime institution for good reason. Namely, there's the allure of Rito's terrific green chile burrito. It features an ultra-savory, saucy blend of tender beef and spicy green chile, all contained inside a buttery flour tortilla. This is a drippy, messy, two-napkin kind of burrito. But it's a small inconvenience for an extravagant amount of flavor.
Best Tamale: The Tamale Store
15842 North Cave Creek Road
This family-run tamale shop in north Phoenix makes tamales the old-fashioned way: with lots of elbow grease. All tamales are handmade in small batches, using a house-made, lard-free masa featuring a flavorful blend of canola and olive oil. Don't miss the pork red chile, stuffed with shredded pork in an earthy red chile adobada sauce. The shop also makes several unique varieties, including a sweet-savory Arizona Cornbread and Colby Jack tamale. You'll also find vegetarian and vegan options, along with two or three rotating seasonal varieties.
Best Torta: Los Reyes de la Torta
9230 North Seventh Street
4333 West Indian School Road
The Mexican torta is a little under-appreciated in metro Phoenix, where norteño-style tacos and burritos prevail. You can remedy this injustice with a visit to Los Reyes de la Torta, a local micro-chain that specializes in Mexico City-style sandwiches. There is nary a bad torta on the menu, but a highlight is the mammoth Torta King Carlos V, which is stuffed with a thin pork sirloin, breaded chicken, sausage, ham, and an egg omelet. It's lubricated with melted cheese and dressed with avocado, chipotle sauce, and a smear of beans.
Best Torta Ahogada: Tortas Ahogadas George
9550 West Van Buren Street, #117, Tolleson
Tortas ahogadas are the marquee specialty at Tortas Ahogadas George, a casual counter-service restaurant located in a Tolleson strip mall. Owners Jorge and Maritza Santoyo, natives of Guadalajara, Mexico, make these "drowned" torta sandwiches in traditional Guadalajara fashion. Thick, crusty birote bread is sliced and stuffed with chopped, fried pork topped in a sweet tomato sauce and a smear of refried beans. The sandwich is then submerged in a fiery, lip-numbing red salsa.
Best Carne Asada: Taqueria Los Yaquis
705 West Camelback Road
This popular roadside taco stand is the unofficial late-night restaurant of Charlie's Phoenix, the country-themed gay bar and nightclub near the corner of Camelback Road and Seventh Avenue. Crowds line up nightly for the taqueria's juicy carne asada tacos, which are sold for a whopping $1 a pop. The steak is beautifully charred, chopped to smithereens, and deposited on a lightly greased corn tortilla that's topped with the requisite chopped onions, cilantro, and house-made salsa. Remember to bring cash — no plastic is accepted at this taco stand.
Best Pollo Asado: Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa
306 West Yavapai Street
This cheery south-central Phoenix Mexican restaurant specializes in juicy, mouth-watering chicken tacos. The chicken tacos are made from pollo asado that's been marinated for 24 hours in a secret Sinaloa-inspired spice blend. The meat is finely chopped, delivered on corn tortillas in slightly smoky, blisteringly-hot, meaty nubs. The result is pollo asado tacos that are well-seasoned, intensely flavorful, and all-around unforgettable. Don't miss the signature Kiss taco, two smallish corn tortillas topped with grizzled bits of chicken blanketed in melted white cheese.
Best Al Pastor: Tacos Calafia
8258 West Thunderbird Road, Peoria
It's well worth driving from all corners of the Valley for a taste of Tacos Calafia's Baja-inspired tacos — especially the al pastor. The chile-sluiced pork is rich and extra savory, and skillfully paired with oozing melted cheese and some of the restaurant's house-made, ultra-fresh guacamole salsa. Try it in the house al pastor mulita, which features two freshly pressed corn tortillas stuffed with gently charred slivers of the sweet-savory pork.
Best Birria: Hola Cabrito
4835 South 16th Street
On an average weekend morning, a short line trails out the front door of Hola Cabrito in south Phoenix. What's all the fuss about? It's Hola Cabrito's wonderful birria con consomé, a light stew of chile-rubbed goat meat roasted to a tender finish, then dampened with a meaty, flavorful clarified broth. You can also order your birria tatemada, or charred lightly on the grill, if you prefer. No matter how you take your birria, Hola Cabrito's rendition is deeply flavorful.
Best Offal Taco: Ta'Carbon
2929 North 43rd Avenue
5834 West Camelback Road, Glendale
The Sonoran-style menu at Ta'Carbon features some of the city's best tacos, including standards like mesquite-grilled carne asada, barbacoa, and al pastor. And you'll definitely want to drop in for the taqueria's healthy selection of top-notch offal tacos. Try Ta'Carbon's lush, melty lengua (beef tongue) tacos, and crispy tripitas (beef intestines) tacos. Of course, if they're available, you'll want to try the huevos de becerro (calf fries) tacos at least once. They have a soft, eggy quality and subtle mineral flavor that is surprisingly delicious.
Best Menudo: Menuderia Guanajuato
124 South 24th Street
If you're looking for your next favorite bowl of hangover menudo, look no further than Menuderia Guanajuato. This mom-and-pop restaurant delivers a truly wonderful menudo rojo, which comes generously furnished with melty, extra-savory slivers of tripe and pancita (stomach). The meat is steeped in a fragrant red chile broth with hominy (you also can request it without hominy). The fragrant stew is flecked with fresh cilantro, and comes with your choice of bread or freshly pressed corn tortillas.
Best Pozole: Pozoleria Mexican Food
2801 East Van Buren Street
Metro Phoenix isn't home to a surplus of pozolerias, restaurants that specialize in the quintessentially Mexican pork hominy stew. Thank goodness, then, for Pozoleria Mexican Food, an east-side counter-service restaurant where you'll find some of the best homestyle pozole in the city. There are three varieties to choose from — white, red, and green — and all three are superb. No matter which one you select, it's topped with a crisp chicharrón and some fresh avocado.
Best Elote: Otro Café
6035 North Seventh Street
Elote callejero, or street corn, is a classic Mexican street snack that's become subject to countless interpretations. The version of elote cajellero at Otro Café, though, is one of the best in town. Chef Doug Robson's rendition involves a simple, wood-grilled ear of corn, which is lightly dressed in a salty, savory blend of mayonnaise and cotija cheese. A light dusting of paprika adds a tinge of peppery heat and smoke. Every bite is crisp and juicy, a potent reminder of why elote remains one of Mexico's most classic and ubiquitous street foods.
Best Mexican Sushi: Sushi Sonora
1400 North 32nd Street
3555 West McDowell Road
Sushi Sonora, one of the first Mex-sushi restaurants in metro Phoenix, makes the kind of cheesy, deep-fried rolls that Mex-sushi fanatics daydream about. The menu is huge, but don't miss the Dinamita ("dynamite") roll, a tempura-battered and deep-fried roll stuffed with cooked shrimp, cream cheese, and avocado. The sushi roll, which resembles a small burrito, is stuffed with carne asada, pollo, bacon, and avocado, all of it glued together with enormous amounts of melted cheese.
Best Sonoran Hot Dog: Lupita's Hot Dogs
16456 North 32nd Street
In a city chock-full of bacon-wrapped hot dogs — the unofficial street food of the Arizona-Sonora borderlands — Lupita's Hot Dogs is a standout purveyor. The bacon-wrapped dogs are grilled to a juicy consistency, and topped generously with well-seasoned beans, onion, tomato, mayo, and melted cheese. The dogs are safely encased in a soft, lightly sweet toasted split-top roll. There's also a full toppings bar where you can heap even more fixings onto Lupita's formidable Sonoran dog.
Best Mariscos Restaurant: Mariscos El Malecón de Mazatlan
3416 West Thomas Road
This modest west-side marisqueria brings the flavors of Sinaloa's famed resort city to the Arizona desert. The menu is enormous, spanning botanas frias (cold snacks), seafood cocktails, aguachile and ceviches, and surf-and-turf parrilladas (beef and seafood served on a small tabletop grill). Don't miss the discada de mariscos, a sizzling seafood platter of well-seasoned calamari, shrimp, sea snail, and octopus topped with grilled onions and peppers.
Best Nopales Dish: Centrico
202 North Central Avenue
Nopales are a staple ingredient of Mexican cooking, yet the cactus pads are still something of a rare find on many Valley Mexican menus. Not so at Centrico, the Mexican cafe inside the historic San Carlos Hotel in downtown Phoenix. The kitchen serves up a terrific steak and nopales taco. The grilled skirt steak is chopped up into blistering nubs, topped with juicy strips of grilled cactus punched up with chipotle salsa, and served over buttery flour tortillas.
Best Tortilla Chips at a Grocery Store: Food City
1940 West Indian School Road
What makes the tortilla chips at Food City so special? The magic is in their consistency — no matter which of the more than 20 Valley locations of Food City you visit, you can leave with the satisfaction of knowing exactly what to expect: a bag of thin, shatteringly crisp tortilla chips. Nicely salted and always fresh, the tortilla chips are the kind of snack food that tends to disappear quickly at family barbecues and picnics.
Best Cafe con Leche: Azukar Coffee
7246 South Central Avenue
This friendly south Phoenix coffeehouse offers a small but strong menu of flavorful and unique Mexican-inspired coffee and tea drinks. Lattes (available hot or iced) are delicious, including cafe con leche, made with Nescafe and espresso. Don't miss the Caramelo Mio, a smooth, velvety drink made with Mexican caramel. The Agave Mesquite, featuring locally made mesquite syrup, has a deep, earthy sweetness. The coffeehouse also offers a small selection of pan dulce and refreshing limonadas.
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Best Churro: Dilla Libre
1339 East Northern Avenue
Looking for the most irresistible churro in town? Head to north-central Phoenix to feast on the signature dessert at Dilla Libre: a cajeta-stuffed churro. The churro is fried to order and tossed in a blend of brown sugar and cinnamon. It's served with a berry dipping sauce on the side, which adds a sweet and tangy element to an already delicious dessert. Crisp, sweet, and slightly chewy, it's a churro that will likely set off every pleasure point in your brain.
Best Paleta: Paletas Betty
96 West Boston Street, Chandler
You can't beat the paleta selection at Paletas Betty, which specializes in producing handmade Mexican ice pops using high-quality fresh fruits. The shop avoids concentrates, powders, and premade juices, and you can definitely taste the difference. Some of the shop's top sellers include sandia (watermelon), pepino (cucumber), and fresa con crema (strawberry and cream). You'll also find unique blends like mango con chile and a creamy arroz con leche (rice pudding).
Best Raspado: Antojitos Mi Pueblo
505 West Dunlap Avenue, Suite H
You haven't really lived until you've eaten a Mexican raspado, which is kind of like a regular shaved ice on steroids. You'll find excellent raspados at this small, north-central Phoenix restaurant and sweets shop. The selection of fruity flavors is extensive, ranging from standards like tamarindo, strawberry, and coconut to salty-sweet blends. The raspados are topped with big chunks of fresh fruit, along with garnishes like shredded coconut and sweetened condensed milk.