The floral and fauna of the Sonoran Desert are a gentle reminder that Phoenix is but a three-hour drive from Mexico. While there’s no denying the country’s cultural influence in the Valley of the Sun, it’s the fresh, exciting, Mexican-inspired food that stands front and center.
Regional Mexican cuisine fuses almost seamlessly with Phoenix’s colorful street art and diverse landscape. Whether tacos, enchiladas, or churros are what you’re craving, the cosmopolitan hub of Arizona is home to a parade of places worth trying. These are seven of the best Mexican restaurants in Phoenix.
James Beard-nominated chef Silvana Salcido Esparza brings her Mexican roots to the table at this folk-art covered hole-in-the-wall eatery in Central Phoenix. Succulent meat dishes such as cochinita pibil (marinated pork wrapped in a banana leaf and slow roasted) will satiate even the hungriest appetite. On the lighter side, the fish tacos are wonderfully bright yet flavorful, and the table-side guacamole peppered with pomegranate seeds proves that even a traditional Latin staple can have a creative approach. Churros rellenos (filled with goat’s milk caramel) might seem a bit excessive, but dessert lovers won’t want to pass these up. Barrio Cafe stocks more than 250 tequilas for your drinking pleasure, so of course, a margarita (or two) is a must.
2814 N 16th St
Ladera Taverna y Cocina
This Sunnyslope eatery boasts a cozy interior and spacious patio with a fireplace for warming your bones on chilly desert nights. Start off your evening with a trio of salsas, a lentil avocado salad, and the elotes (corn) with chipotle aioli, chili powder and cotija cheese. Follow your starters with the barbacoa beef tacos and the crispy red snapper for a main course. While you’ll want to toss back one of Ladera Taverna’s tasty craft cocktails to complement your meal, don’t miss $5 drinks like the El Santa (a whiskey sour with a Mexican twist) from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday during happy hour.
8729 N Central Ave
This unique taco restaurant serves two-bite street tacos, that, although tiny, burst with flavor. Choose from 36-hour beef short rib, pork belly, or Korean fried chicken, but not before you start off your dining experience with ceviche – made from fresh whitefish of the day. Other frontrunners include the queso with tortilla chips, chorizo, and roasted poblano, and the watermelon jalapeño salad. Stocking more than 50 tequilas, an impressive collection of Spanish wines, bottled, canned, and draft beers, plus a lengthy list of bourbons, CRUjiente provides plenty of alcoholic options to quaff with your tacos.
3961 E Camelback Rd
It was here that owner Pete Bugarin created his interpretation of the chimichanga when he adorned the Mexican delicacy with sour cream, guacamole, tomatoes, onions, and cheese. Is there any other way to eat a chimichanga? Opened in 1969, the old-school Sonoran eatery continues to crank out traditional tostadas, enchiladas, flautas, as well as pork carnitas and ranchero burros (flour tortillas filled with beef or chicken, topped with goodness and baked). Well-liked by locals for the friendly and attentive service, La Piñata offers “fiesta hour” on Saturdays and Sundays – when bloody Marys and margaritas are just $5 and Mexican beers will set you back only $3.
5521 N 7th Ave
Farm-fresh ingredients are the foundation at this funky gastropub located in a former church. Taco Guild marries Old World flavors with New World styles and prides itself on cooking with organically and locally-grown products whenever possible. Before tacos, start with the healthier grilled romaine salad and toothy grilled street corn. Stick to traditional Mexican eats when you order the savory al pastor pork tacos, or try the appetizing annatto-braised chicken enchiladas. Be sure to save space for a piece of the utterly yummy tres-leche cake – an indulgent but heavenly finale.
546 E Osborn Rd
Los Dos Molinas
Only owner and chef Victoria Chavez and her daughters have taken to the kitchen since this New Mexican restaurant opened in the 1970s. (You won’t find assembly line cooking here.) Los Dos Molinas translates to “the two grinders,” a name that was derived from two old chili grinders given to Victoria and husband Eddie Chavez by their grandparents. Serving up super spicy, sweat-inducing fare, Los Dos Molinas cooks peppery dishes like Adovada ribs and blue corn tamales, both of which pack punch if you can take the heat. Meanwhile, the crowd-pleasing Phoenix cafe also prepares a bevy of milder dishes like bean and beef tostadas and garlic shrimp, apropos for aromaphobics. Besides the South Central location, find Los Dos Molinas outposts in Tempe, Uptown, and Ahwatukee.
8646 S Central Ave
Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva
Chef Esparza is at it again – this time with her quaint 27-seat restaurant in the original Braggs Pie Factory – offering the only Mexican tasting menu in Phoenix. A terrific value at $49 for six courses and $21 additional for wine pairings, the lineup presents delicious dishes like pan-seared cobia with roasted white corn puree, corn, jalapeño and pineapple escabeche. If the fixed menu isn’t your choice, go with a la carte plates instead. Luscious and satisfying, the chiles en nogada (roasted poblano pepper filled with chicken, apple, pear, dried apricot and pecans in an almond cream sauce) is Esparza’s must-try signature dish. Tasting or not, unique flavor profiles and artistry in plating combined with the staff’s attention to detail ensure an extraordinary meal.
1301 N W Grand Ave