In the Valley there's amazing Mexican food from the mom 'n' pop hole-in-the-wall to blow-your-mind haute cuisine, Mexican-style. You would think that with such a wealth of delicious and accessible Mexican food on every corner, there would be no need for a "Worst Of..." list. You would be wrong.
What follows is a list of the ten worst places we have ever eaten "Mexican" food. Learn from our mistakes, and avoid these bland, Meximerican monstrosities that have the gall to call themselves Mexican restaurants. (You'll note that Filibertos and Taco Bell did not make the cut, because as much as it shames us to admit it, such fast food joints have their time and place. And that time and place is last call on a Saturday night.)
10. Julio G's If neon lights and faux '50s flair could compensate for flavor, Julio G's would be the Mexican food king. Because that's really all this place has going for it. The menu is ridiculously expensive for such standard deep-fried Meximerican fare, smothered in melted cheese and regret. We'll put it another way: if we found ourselves at Julio G's, we would order the cheeseburger before anything else on the menu.
9. El Portal Mexican Grill El Portal in downtown Phoenix (specifically, in the bottom of the Cronkite School building) must be banking on the fact that a hungry college student will eat almost anything. Perhaps most students don't care so long as the tacos are at least a little crunchy, the shredded meat inside reminds them of chicken, there's a hint of yellow-ish or orange "cheese," and a smattering of tomato bits to make it a "healthy" lunch choice. El Portal's food isn't so much bad as it is bland, and the presentation is sloppy right down to the loosely rolled burritos on the verge of flopping apart. The colors of the beans, vegetables, and meats are all muted like bad cafeteria food, and they'll take any chance they can to top your meal with a combination of cheese, grease, and more grease. Mexican food could be worse. Unpleasant flavors would certainly be worse than no flavor at all.
8. Jordan's Mexican Food Jordan's has been around since the '50s, and the décor and menu reflect that step back in time to when Mexican food had to be dumbed down for the gringo palate. With one foot in Jordan's, it's evident that business is suffering and the entire joint is several decades behind the times. The building boasts three separate dining areas as if waiting for a hundred people to descend, despite never being close to half-full. The salsa tastes like ketchup, and every dish is smothered in what seems to be the same bland-tasting sauce and cheap processed cheese. There's nothing authentic or delicious on the menu here, unless you too are nostaligic for the mid-century modern cooking of the '50s and '60s. (Tomato aspic, anyone?)
7. Tee Pee Mexican Food Provided your idea of Mexican food is under-seasoned ground beef tacos tossed in a preformed taco shell, just like the Ortega supermarket meal kit, you'll love Tee Pee's Mexican food! If you're looking for a place to bring Aunt Irene from the Great White North, where everything is smothered in cheese instead of flavor, you'll love Tee Pee's Mexican food! If your idea of salsa is closer to tomato sauce (hold the chiles), or if you have ever seen someone mix cottage cheese or sour cream into their "guacamole," you'll love Tee Pee's Mexican food! Seriously. Unless you're from the Midwest and have never pronounced the double "ll" in quesadilla correctly, or if you've reached an age of seniority where you don't have sensation in most of your taste buds, avoid Tee Pee. It had its time and place, and that was several decades ago.
6. Restaurant Mexico From beginning to end, every one of your visits to Restaurant Mexico will end in heartbreak. The staff is warm, friendly, and extremely personable, which is why we feel terrible for calling out their Mexican food as bland and poorly executed. But we've got to serve the reader. We want to like you so badly, Restaurant Mexico, but the way to begin a meal is not with a watery tomato puree posing as salsa and a puny bowl of chips (because you know few will venture into that salsa for long). We have to give you props for not doing the standard Sonoran-style Mexican food, but then our rock hard sopes, greasy tacos, and soggy enchiladas start to tip the scales. You're a Tempe institution, Restaurant Mexico, but with food like that, we do everything we can to steer clear of your little street front on Mill.
5. Pancho's Mexican Buffet The only time we ever ate at Pancho's was on a lark. We had a coupon and wanted to try what has been resoundingly called the worst Mexican food in the Valley. Even with a two-for-one coupon, we paid too much for Pancho's buffet. Although the deep fried taquitos only vaguely tasted of freezer burn, everything else on the menu was nigh inedible, from the gelatinous white chicken enchiladas to the overcooked rice and flavorless refried beans. The only redeeming quality was the tiny Mexican flag on the table, which we never got to raise because there's no way we wanted more of that hot garbage. Maybe that's how they keep prices down? By ensuring that there's no way in hell you're going back for seconds.
4. Blue Adobe Grille If Chuy's or Chevy's is your idea of real Mexican food, and you like paying double the price of what you would at one of those grody cantinas, Blue Adobe Grill should be the next restaurant on your radar. Although it's self-described as New Mexican, with state pride branding throughout the menu, the food is surprisingly lacking in hatch chile kick, and we had to search deep for a dish with sopapillas. If you find yourself at Blue Adobe Grill, just order the Lazy Tacos. At least then you won't be let down by greasy TexMex masquerading as New Mexican cuisine.
3. On the Border Usually you don't find this caliber of Mexican food unless you're a captive audience in a Midwestern airport, subject to monstrous sweet-n-sour "margaritas" and greasy Meximerican food to kill the hunger pangs. In a state brimming with knock-your-socks-off authentic Mexican food, it baffles us how anyone ever ends up at On the Border. You are not a baby bird that requires regurgitated TexMex to sustain your feeble body. You are a grown ass adult that deserves better. Stop by the "scary" roadside Mexican joint instead and fumble your way through Spanglish 101. Or if you're stuck in suburbia, even Filiberto's beats On the Border. You have no excuses for your insolence, suburbanites. Quit supporting bland, commercialized Meximerican food.
2. Sandbar, Flickas, Chronic Cantina, Dos Gringos, San Felipe's Cantina The only time you should be eating at any of these drinking establishments is when you're already three shots into the cheap stuff (Cuervo 4 lyfe!) and guzzling Coronas like that piss water's going out of style (e.g. Gringo de Mayo). Just say no to cantina fare.
1. Macayo's Macayo's represents everything evil about bland, artery-busting Meximerican food in the Valley. Macayo's must have some serious kitchen magicians working 'round to clock, because they somehow manage to make a 3000+ calorie plate of food taste like nothing more than a mirage of Mexican flavors. We don't understand why everything is deep fried and smothered in cream cheese called "Baja sauce" when it's clearly more fit for your morning bagel schmear. Or why the guacamole is an oozing, gelatinous mass of green goop that must be cut with corn syrup and other fillers, because it tastes nothing like an avocado. Although the soggy tomato flecks do add a splash of color to a quivering mass of baby poop green guac.
God save Arizona if Macayo's wins their advertising bid to make the chim-in-i-changa our official state food.