50. Taquería Don Beto
2722 East McDowell Road
You can get a small taste of Pueblan-style Mexican cooking here in Phoenix with a visit to Taquería Don Beto. Chef-owner Edilberto “Don Beto” Cabrera, a Puebla City native, is a former textile worker turned taquero. On any given day, you’ll spot him slicing al pastor meat off the trompo and calling out orders from the kitchen.
A highlight is the alambre, grilled beef, bacon, peppers, and onions, lovingly glued together with melted cheese, served with a small stack of corn tortillas for your taco-making pleasure. P.E.
49. Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa
306 West Yavapai Street
You won’t come to Kiss Pollos for carne asada, al pastor, or anything resembling a combo platter. The kitchen ascribes to the philosophy of doing one thing, but doing it very well. What Kiss Pollos does well is the chopped chicken taco, a Sinaloa-California invention that the restaurant offers in several configurations.
Try the Kiss Taco, made with beautifully seasoned, flame-broiled chicken that’s been chopped to smithereens, topped with melted cheese, and served on a couple of corn tortillas. It’s simple, homespun, and very easy on the wallet. P.E.
48. Tacos Tijuana
6710 West Thunderbird Road, Peoria
The word is out about Tacos Tijuana’s fiery orange al pastor. Thin, crisp, char-roasted slices of pork marinated for over a day in an adobo chile marinade are carved off a vertical roasting spit called a trompo that spins slowly inside the trailer. Though the foot traffic on the Peoria corner where this food truck sits is a far cry from the throngs that crowd Boulevard Agua Caliente in Tijuana — where owner Adolfo Torres Jr. first ran tacos from the family cart as a teenager with his father, Adolfo Sr. — the atmosphere is lively, and the tacos are great. S.M.
47. El Burrito Grande
3416 West Buckeye Road
If you close your eyes and imagine a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant on the west side, maybe you’ll picture a place like El Burrito Grande. This small, cash-only restaurant is squeezed ungracefully between a small used car lot and a repair shop on an unglamorous stretch of Buckeye Road.
The dining room, though, is sunny and tidy, and the shy yet friendly couple behind the counter are Beto and Esperanza Figueroa, the restaurant’s owners and co-chefs. They have been at this spot for 15 years, serving everything from homestyle specialties like caldo de pollo (chicken soup) to mariscos. Try the birria (goat) tacos, which are exceptionally juicy and flavorful. P.E.
46. El Horseshoe Restaurant
2140 West Buckeye Road
Since 1994, El Horseshoe — a breakfast and lunch diner on Buckeye Road — has been feeding locals rustic taco fillings like goat stew, chile con carne, mole-doused beef tongue, all made from scratch. Try a taco made with homemade machaca beef. When it’s ordered, the dried, seasoned beef is heated in a pan with corn oil. That gives it enough moisture to bring it back to life, but not so much that the beef loses its signature chewiness. S.M.
45. Tacos Sahuaro
2320 North 32nd Street
Where do you go when you want to feel like you’re having dinner at your tia’s house? You go to a place like Tacos Sahuaro, an east side Mexican restaurant that’s been a landmark on 32nd Street for nearly a decade. The restaurant offers about nine taco meat options daily, including standards like carne asada, pollo asado, and al pastor, as well as harder-to-find offal like buche (pork stomach) and an extra-spicy chicharrón. Try the carne asada — the grizzled, bubbly nubs are both juicy and crispy, and kissed with a smoky char that evokes memories of a thousand backyard barbecues. P.E.
44. El Pollo Correteado
2904 West McDowell Road, #2
In addition to slices of marinated red onion, salsa, deep-fried-until-blistered green chiles, and lemon wedges, every order of mesquite-grilled chicken at the family-operated El Pollo Correteado comes with a stack of warm corn tortillas. To make a taco, pick up the hot juicy drumstick and strip the meat off, pinch by pinch. Add a few slices of pickled red onion, salsa, chili, and a squeeze of lime, fold, and enjoy.
If restraint or DIY taco-building isn’t your thing, it’s equally fun to treat the pollo asado as most El Pollo Correteado patrons appear to: diving straight in, and using the tortillas for cleanup. S.M.
1011 West Main Street, Mesa
The hardest thing about eating at Adrian’s is finding a table. Most of the restaurant’s regulars, though — and Adrian’s has a lot of regulars — will tell you that the tight quarters are a small inconvenience for eating at this well-worn local spot. There are five taco meats available most days, including carnitas, barbacoa, carne asada, lengua (beef tongue), and chicken. The carnitas, especially, are extra-savory, brimming with ultra-rich flavor. What’s the secret to the killer carnitas? “Love,” owner Luis Mosqueda says. “And we squeeze a little bit of orange juice into the spice mix.” P.E.
42. La Fiesta
19 East Main Street, Avondale
Over the years, La Fiesta, a small tortilla factory and marketplace with locations in Avondale and Buckeye, has become as known for its prepared meats as its fresh corn tortillas. You’ll usually find nine taco options on the menu. Highlights include tripas — the savory, chewy intestines are sliced into thick tubes, lightly crisped up, and bathed in a beautifully salty red chile sauce. Pollo, often one of the least exciting options on taco menus, is wonderful at La Fiesta — soft, tender, and smoky. P.E.
41. Taquería Lucy
2712 West Buckeye Road
Taquería Lucy is a longtime neighborhood food truck in south-central Phoenix, a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it kind of spot squeezed in between a junkyard and a Circle K gas station. The taco selection covers all the usual bases (carne asada, pollo, pastor), along with some deep offal cuts, like a slinky and deliciously melty buche taco. Tacos are served on fresh-made corn tortillas that are pliable and tender, yet sturdy enough to hold lavish amounts of sizzling, chopped-up steak, or perhaps bundles of extra-rich, drippy cabeza (beef head). P.E.
40. Tortas Ahogadas George
9550 West Van Buren Street, #17, Tolleson
You’ll find nearly 20 different taco configurations at this Tolleson spot, including two specialty tacos designed to transport you to the streets of Guadalajara: tacos de barbacoa and tacos dorados. The restaurant makes tacos de barbacoa in the traditional fashion, meaning they’re stuffed with carne de res adobada, a finely shredded, chile-sluiced beef. The tacos are pan-fried, dampened slightly in their own sauce, and finished off on the griddle. Tacos dorados, meanwhile, are the taco analog to the torta ahogada. Guadalajarans seem to have a fondness for drowning their food in chile sauce, and this dish is no exception — the crispy tacos are soaked in a fragrant, garlicky salsa. P.E.
39. Taquería El Chino
1803 West Van Buren Street
Rafael Ung of Taquería El Chino takes a lot of pride in his carne asada, using only ribeye cuts, as opposed to the more common (and cheaper) flank or skirt steaks, and cooking his steaks over a traditional mesquite charcoal grill. But don’t pass up the menu’s selection of braised meats. You’ll find tacos featuring turkey, pork, red and green chile beef, batches of cheek and tongue, and a combination of beef lip, cheek, and tongue — all cooked to a rich, nearly paste-like consistency. S.M.
38. Joe’s Tacos
@joes_tacos on Instagram
When fans of Joe’s Tacos need to track down a plate of the mobile taqueria’s “toasted tacos,” they turn to Instagram and Facebook to find out where the truck is parked.
The toasted tacos are made from fresh-pressed corn masa, which is griddled with a layer of cheese. The toasted taco began as a humble cheese crisp that a line cook whipped up on a whim, which sparked the idea of cooking a taco cheese-side-down until a caramelized crust formed. As you can guess, it worked, and now you can order the crispy cheese shells with the truck’s standard fillings, which include carne asada, al pastor, lengua, or cabeza. S.M.
37. Taqueria El Gallo de Lagos
730 East Brown Road, Mesa
Taqueria El Gallo de Lagos is the kind of under-the-radar taquería that you might drive past for years before you finally take notice of it. The Rea family, who own and run the small restaurant, are proudly Jalisciense — note the Chivas fútbol banners throughout the small restaurant. There are five types of taco meats — asada, birria, al pastor, buche, and pollo — plus house specialties like handmade gorditas. Consomé de birria, served with a stack of tortillas, is a popular item on the weekends. For a straight taco fix, though, try the buche — the pork stomach is cut into melty, slippery cubes that are easy to love. P.E.
36. Tacos Huicho
1941 East Oak Street
The little taco shop and carnicería has nine meat options for tacos, including thin strips of salt-cured beef called cecina. But it’s probably best known for al pastor. At least twice a week, owner Mauricio Mena rests pork in a bright orange marinade of chiles and seasonings, then loads the meat, along with a pineapple, onto a long, sturdy metal spit. Once packed with pork, it weighs over 80 pounds, requiring two employees to transport it from the kitchen prep sink to the roasting station. There it will begin its long, slow spin in front of the roaster. The result is some of the best al pastor tacos in town. S.M.
35. Puffy Taco Shack
16426 North Greasewood Street, Surprise
What is a puffy taco? It’s a classic Tex-Mex taco whose defining feature is a light and airy tortilla shell, which is produced by dropping a thin round of fresh, uncooked corn masa into hot, sizzling oil until it turns puffy and airy. Three nights a week, you’ll find Sylvia Rivera, the owner-chef of the Puffy Taco Shack, making and selling these tacos out of a small white trailer parked next to her home in Surprise. Apart from being a friendly and chatty host, Rivera is also a talented, self-taught chef. These crisp yet tender “puffies” are heavenly, and every taco is paired with a selection of beautifully seasoned meats. P.E.
34. Ni de Aqui Ni de Alla
114 West Adams Street
Lorenzo Santillan proved his engineering prowess 12 years ago, when he and his Carl Hayden High School robotics team beat MIT in an underwater-robots competition (the underdog triumph was immortalized in the movie Spare Parts). Now, Santillan has switched to the cooking arena. He and business partner Luis Aranda are the team behind the food truck Ni de Aqui Ni de Alla, which currently offers a simple menu of carne asada, al pastor, and tripas tacos. Although the truck is new, Santillan is already serving up damn good tacos. S.M.
7345 East Shoeman Lane, Scottsdale
In 2014, brothers Ahmad and Naser Alatrash, along with their then-business partner Miguel Sanchez, set up shop as Wadaa Street Tacos, squeezed into what was formerly a small office adjacent to Scottsdale’s clubbiest venues. The taco shop filled the void of late night, cooked-to-order tacos in Old Town, and now the Alatrash brothers are extending their reach with a sleek, new fast-casual location in north Scottsdale.
The highlight at Mr. Mesquite is the restaurant’s signature mesquite grilled chicken and steak tacos, which at the Old Town location continues to attract club-goers and the occasional celebrity. S.M.
32. Señor Ozzy’s Tacos y Mariscos
6644 West Buckeye Road
Ozzy and Diana Perez launched this west side food stand after moving to Phoenix from L.A. a few years ago. The signature taco is the camaron con queso, a shrimp with cheese taco. It starts with a yellow corn tortilla on an oiled grill, loaded with a blend of Monterey jack cheeses, shrimp, and sautéed onions and tomatoes, and seasoned with garlic and paprika. They add a squirt of their house chipotle sauce, fold, and serve. It blurs the line between a quesadilla and taco. S.M.
31. Tacos Jalisco
3060 North 68th Street, Scottsdale
Tacos Jalisco is a popular Old Town Scottsdale gem with a large menu. A clear favorite is the carne asada, though. The juicy, coarsely-chopped asada sings; it’s marinated in the same spices the restaurant uses for its famous red adobo salsa.
According to owner Patricia Alvarez, what really makes Tacos Jalisco special is the salsa bar. The house salsa, made fresh daily, is smoky and complex. The recipe is a closely guarded family secret, made with 11 ingredients, only two of which have been confirmed: chiles de arbol and tomatillos. S.M.
30. Taqueria Los Yaquis
705 West Camelback Road
Taquería Los Yaquis is run out of a food trailer permanently parked outside Charlie’s Phoenix, one of the busiest gay bars and nightclubs in town, thus earning its nickname: “Gay Tacos.”
Every weekend, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, when the truck is open from 7 p.m. until 4 in the morning, the cooks in the trailer chop freshly cooked steak and chicken with big cleavers at freakishly high speeds. Hungry night owls vie for dishes, especially the Sonoran-style chopped-meat tacos. S.M.
5834 West Camelback Road, Glendale
Ta’Carbon has been slinging hearty Sonoran-style tacos for years. Their specialty, unsurprisingly, is carne asada, which they stuff in generous quantities into burritos, quesadillas, and tacos. The asada is well-seasoned and rich, but what keeps you coming back are the salty, cheese-laden variations, like the Taco Hazz, which features green chile and oozing, melted cheese. Ta’Carbon is also one of the few places in town where you’ll find huevos de becerro. Calf-testicle tacos, anyone? F.C.
28. Helio Basin Brewing
3935 East Thomas Road
Helio Basin Brewing serves “authentic Arizona food” — a welcome break from traditional bar foods like pretzels and burgers. Chef Tamara Stanger highlights tacos on the menu, allowing her to explore Arizona-specific ingredients in a familiar format. Tacos feature tortillas made with a yellow Native American-grown Pima corn varietal, and wheat tortillas blended with spent grain from the brewery. One taco might be topped with coffee-rubbed tri-tip; another might feature chicken coated in a mesquite honey glaze. There’s also a seasonal-vegetable taco, using the likes of roasted summer squash from Crooked Sky Farms, mushrooms, and tepary beans. S.M.
27. Sonora Taco Shop
1009 South Seventh Street
This tiny taco shop sits on an industrial corner of Buckeye Road and Seventh Street, within view of Chase Field. Though it might be tempting to go for the carne asada, the chicken is where it’s at. Smoky, well-seasoned chicken thighs are chopped and trimmed of fat, grilled to golden perfection, and so flavorful that they make a killer taco unadorned. Add a mist of lime and a splash of the spicy, tangy green salsa, and they are elevated to epic. F.C.
26. Mercado y Carniceria Cuernavaca
2931 North 68th Street, Scottsdale
Carniceria Cuernavaca is a modest operation, but that doesn’t stop the little market from bustling to capacity on most days. Carne asada is the most popular item, but cecina is also a signature dish. It’s sprinkled generously with salt and allowed to cure in the sun for up to an hour, where it will partially cook, turning brown. The result is tender, salty beef with crunchy edges. The tacos are served with wedges of lime and a unique, tangy salsa made from adobo chiles and roasted tomatillos. There is also a puree of adobo chiles and seasonings that have been steeped in oil until they turn a deep, dark shade of red. It’s an uncommon condiment and shouldn’t be missed. S.M.
25. Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca
1830 West Glendale Avenue, Suite C
Many thought that they had seen the last of Restaurant Atoyac when the popular neighborhood spot closed in 2014. But after a change in management, the restaurant is back, which is good news for fish taco lovers. The batter for the fish is restrained — not puffy and crunchy beyond reason — letting the white flaky fish make itself known beneath a crispy, airy shell. S.M.
24. Paquime Street Food
17 East Dunlap Avenue, #101
For taco lovers, Paquime Street Food in Sunnyslope has become best known for its special treatment of carne asada. Few and far between are the casual eateries that will let you choose how pink your carne asada comes out, but Paquime offers your steak tacos well-done, medium, or rare. Blood-lovers be warned: The meat is so thin that even rare winds up looking more medium rare, which is exactly how most picky carnivores like it. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to order carne asada this way. S.M.
23. The Rez
1502 Grand Avenue
Every Tuesday night, outside of Grand Avenue’s Bikini Lounge, you’ll find chef Renetto-Mario Etsitty working The Rez, a mobile-catering version of his brick-and-mortar restaurant, previously located on Roosevelt Row. Try his savory, stew-topped Navajo tacos. The airy, Navajo-style fry bread is topped with spiced meat-and-bean chili. There’s also a vegan “three sisters” version, made using the traditional Native American trinity of beans, squash, and corn. S.M.
22. Asadero Toro
1715 West McDowell Road
Most folks go to Asadero Toro for the carne asada, which checks off all of the criteria that sticklers demand: thin cuts of steak, seasoned with salt and grilled up before being chopped coarsely. The beefy pieces are tender, with the slightest bit of char from the grill. The meat is served on richly flavorful flour tortillas that are made in-house and warmed on the griddle to order, layered with a thin smear of smoky, pureed pinto beans. S.M.
21. La Frontera #1
151 North 16th Street
La Frontera has been parked at the intersection of 16th and Van Buren streets for a decade, where the truck has become a staple of late-night dining. Highlights include the barbacoa tacos, which are juicy and fatty, requiring a generous squeeze of both hot sauce and tangy avocado to balance out the rich meat. The chicken comes on a bed of sauteed peppers and onions, and is perked up with lime. The carne asada is pretty perfect just the way it is: large, chewy chunks of beef seasoned with plenty of black pepper and a light sprinkle of salt. F.C.
20. Taquería Yaqui
3502 East McDowell Road
There are hole-in-the-wall taquerias, and then there is Taquería Yaqui, a modest restaurant housed in a cube-shaped standalone building on McDowell. Taqueria Yaqui serves popular tostadas topped with mounds of ceviche and loaded with avocado, but their most distinctive dish is their cahuamanta, or manta ray, tacos. The cahuamanta tacos are loaded with chunks of manta ray, topped with cabbage, fresh tomato, and anchored with a cool, snappy shrimp. S.M.
19. Presidio Cocina Mexicana
519 West Thomas Road
The taco menu is a good entry point into the home-cooking of Presidio Cocina Mexican, a sleek, family-run spot in midtown Phoenix. The kitchen not only makes its own yellow and purple corn tortillas, it does so using the ancient method of nixtamalization, which involves soaking kernels in a limewater bath.
A good place to start is the “Three Little Piggies” trio of tacos. It comes with a cochinita pibil taco; an al pastor taco topped with guacamole, pineapple, and tomatillo salsa; and housemade chorizo, for which paprika-laced ground pork is caramelized on the grill. This taco might be the perfect expression of the handcrafted, modern-traditional fare at this Phoenix gem. S.M.
18. Mucha Lucha Taco Shop
7620 East McKellips Road, Scottsdale
A vibrant, Mexican-wrestling-themed dining room awaits visitors at Mucha Lucha Taco Shop, a fast-growing local chain that currently has five locations around the Valley. The taco offerings at Mucha Lucha are vast, with about eight available on a given day. Try the five-street-taco combo, which allows you to mix and match chorizo, green chile beef, barbacoa, chipotle chicken, carne asada, and other stewed and grilled meat options. Highlights include seafood tacos, including massive butterflied shrimp slicked with spicy red chile, and light, flaky white fish tacos encrusted with black pepper. F.C.
17. Casa Reynoso
3138 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
Casa Reynoso is an iconic Tempe Mexican restaurant that opened in 1984 and has become closely associated with strawberry margaritas and cheese-smothered combo platters. You won’t come here for modern Mexican fare, but there’s something endearing and soul-satisfying about the Reynoso shredded beef tacos. The salty beef is loaded into crispy shells, marked with a small patch of melted, shredded cheese, and topped with cold, crisp shredded iceberg lettuce. The warm beef is rich and soft, and the crunch of the shell gives some welcome contrast. S.M.
16. Backyard Taco
1524 East University Drive, Mesa
Backyard Taco is loyal to the Northern Mexico style of mesquite-grilled carne asada and pollo asado, which relies heavily on mesquite wood for flavor. The mesquite-grilled tacos are delivered with crispy texture and hints of smoke. The tacos are garnished in the traditional way, with just a scattering of minced cabbage and onion. S.M.
15. Taquitos Jalisco
1052 West Broadway Road, Mesa
Not many restaurants in metro Phoenix specialize in the rolled taco, but there is one in Mesa: Taquitos Jalisco. Your taquitos come in increments of three and five, always served under a salad-size portion of lettuce and shredded cheese. As for the dipping, there’s a bright green sauce made from tomatillos, jalapeños, and avocado. It’s deliciously cool, a touch creamy, and packs a nice little kick that elevates the tacos from good to great. S.M.
14. Waldo’s Tacos
11808 North 91st Avenue, Peoria
Waldo’s Tacos is one of the oldest food trucks in the northwest Valley, a pioneering lonchera that has become a roadside staple in Peoria. Part of what makes Waldo’s Tacos so appealing is its extensive selection of taco meats, which includes standards (carne asada, al pastor), along with harder-to-find options like suadero de res, a somewhat esoteric beef cut that’s closely associated with Mexico City-style tacos.
Ask about the “special” taco, otherwise known as el especial. It was created specifically for the steady cadre of law enforcement professionals who stop in nightly for a taco fix. What makes the taco “special” is the addition of cheese, beans, and avocado — simple ingredients that add a whole new tier of melty, savory flavor. P.E.
13. Moreno’s Mexican Grill
Various Valley locations
Moreno’s Mexican Grill is a locally owned, family-run micro-chain that got its start as a humble Sonoran hot dog cart back in 2006, and it’s grown exponentially over the years. The taco selection varies according to location, but all locations feature the restaurant’s most famous taco, an ultra-savory flavor bomb called the Taco Toro. What gives the Taco Toro an edge is that it’s bulked up with smoky tendrils of Anaheim green chile. The peppers, generously lubricated with melted cheese, are conspicuously flavorful and delicious. P.E.
12. Asadero Norte de Sonora
122 North 16th Street
Asadero Norte De Sonora is best known for chicken dinners and mixed grill parilladas, which come with tortillas, a small chopped salad, salsa, and some of the best charro beans in Phoenix. It’s an ideal setup for a make-your-own tacos feast. Other highlights include al pastor, a harmony of crisp and tender bits of pork, punctuated by the sweet tang of pineapple. The barbacoa and cabeza are meltingly tender and rich, and the carne asada can more than hold its own. F.C.
11. Taqueria La Hacienda #1
202 East Buckeye Road
This taco truck sits on an unremarkable corner of Buckeye Road and Second Street, an ideal spot for a quick meal on the way to or from the airport. Taco options include carnitas, carne asada, chicken, lengua, and al pastor. The meats all share a smoky char and are served on warm corn tortillas with a scattering of lettuce, a wedge of lime, a few cucumber slices, and a green chile. But the real reason to head to this unassuming taco truck is for the chicharrón taco, which comes overflowing with crispy pork skin bathed in a distinctly spicy red sauce. F.C.
3313 North Seventh Street
Like a handful of spots on this list, Gadzooks isn’t known for its tacos. But this build-your-own enchilada spot is home to some surprisingly great beer-braised bison tacos. They really come to life with marinated onions, some salty cotija cheese, and a side of spicy green crema. Don’t get your taco fired in the oven with melted cheese — this softens the tortillas beyond a manageable point, calling for forks and knives, at which point you might as well call it an enchilada. S.M.
9. Tacos Chava
2804 West Van Buren Street
The tacos at Tacos Chava include the usual suspects, with the standard grilled chicken, carne asada, lengua, and cabeza. The pastor is where it’s at, though, the roasted pork spiked with bits of grilled chorizo sausage intermingling with sweet, tangy charred pieces of pineapple. This is good. Really good. Especially when slathered with thick, avocado salsa verde. F.C.
8. Tacos Kissi
2720 West Bethany Home Road
Tacos Kissi boasts a name that actually might be misleading. While they do serve al pastor, carne asada, chicken fajitas — you name it — on handmade corn tortillas, no less, the little shop offers so much more. Try the shrimp tacos, which are served in a warm, chunky tomato sauce, served with a bottle of cool, creamy, spicy aioli to drizzle over the top. S.M.
7. Taquería El Fundador
3245 West Van Buren Street
The tangy, pineapple-heavy al pastor remains a favorite at Taquería El Fundador. But in addition to consistently great al pastor, this family-run operation also makes a smoky, charred asada taco, luscious cabeza tacos, and a chicken taco that is sometimes exquisitely spicy. The corn tortillas used are small and street-size, but the fillings are generously piled on. The joint is cash only, and the best time to visit is on Tuesday night, when tacos are just a buck. F.C.
6. Cahuamanta El Yaqui
3549 West McDowell Road
Cahuamanta El Yaqui serves a strong surf-and-turf menu of Sonoran dishes. Try the macho taco, which features green chile melded to a flour tortilla with melty Monterey jack cheese, piled with simply seasoned carne asada and finished with finely chopped cabbage. It comes with a small cup of runny avocado salsa to drizzle over the top. Though these tacos, packed to the brim, can get a little messy, they are flavorful and satisfying — “macho” seems like a fitting description. S.M.
5. Tacos Chiwas
1923 East McDowell Road
The rajas gorditas might be the most famous dish at Tacos Chiwas, but don’t miss the barbacoa tacos when they’re on the chalkboard menu. Owners Armando Hernandez and Nadia Holguin make their barbacoa using an old barbecue smoker left over from a previous tenant, and it’s revelatory. Chef Holguin cooks her version with tomatoes, onions, and peppers, which flavors the meat while it’s in the smoker. The slow-and-low cooking results in brisket-like barbacoa that’s fall-apart tender, with a buttery texture and charred edges that lend a smoky flavor. S.M.
4. Gallo Blanco
928 East Pierce Street
A delicious new al pastor option has emerged with the reopening of Doug Robson’s much-beloved restaurant, Gallo Blanco. Robson takes pork, marinated in a classic red-chile paste, and throws it over a small wood-fired grill. It’s sliced into thin, short strips that mimic the shape of the shaved version associated with the vertical spit. Next, he finishes the strips of pork in a hot wok-like pan, where they caramelize from edge to edge. The smoky strips are then placed onto small corn tortillas and topped with pineapple — a “new school” al pastor that’s perfect for Phoenix. S.M.
3. El Pastorcito D.F.
5060 West Bethany Home Road, Glendale
El Pastorcito D.F. is a little cash-only restaurant with hand-written signs, but don’t let that stop you from ordering the al pastor. It’s topped with slivers of pineapple and served with a side of a creamy, green jalapeño sauce. On occasion, the tacos are also topped with slices of nopales (prickly pear cactus), which are chewy and green bean-like. There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason as to when exactly your order arrives, or whether it will be topped with bonus nopales. But you’re sure to end up with a fresh, excellent plate of al pastor every single time. S.M.
2. Mariscos Ensenada
2019 North 16th Street
It’s almost worth coming to Mariscos Ensenada for the cheerful décor alone. The 16th Street location features blue and white checkered floors, a big plastic marlin on the wall, and a jukebox in the corner. We recommend ordering a shrimp gobernador. It’s a taco stuffed with shrimp, bell peppers, tomato sauce, and plenty of oregano and paprika. There’s a little bacon, too, and the tortilla is lined with cheese. The result is something like an amped-up shrimp quesadilla — rich, cheesy, smoky, and saucy. S.M.
1. The Original Carolina’s Mexican Food
1202 East Mohave Street
There are only three taco options at Carolina’s: shredded beef crispy tacos, chicken tacos in crispy or soft, and their most famous, the machaca soft taco. The flavorful rehydrated beef comes topped with cheese, tomatoes, and a dollop of sour cream. Look around at the plates of regular patrons and you’ll see them slathering their tacos with red salsa, a pro-move we fully endorse. True, there’s nothing hip about these particular tacos, but Carolina’s has fed a kaleidoscope of local customers, and still does. Eating at Carolina’s in south Phoenix is something every metro Phoenix resident should do. Not only for a taste of the fabulous tortillas, but to experience a piece of local history. F.C.