Located in the heart of the Southwest, it's no surprise that the options for good Mexican food in Phoenix are plentiful. However, the local Mexican food scene has never been quite this diverse. A Mexican food renaissance in the desert? Perhaps.
From the gourmet, Mesoamerican-inspired tacos of La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop, to the hot and cheesy grub you'll find at the Carolina's Mexican food take-out window, Mexican food restaurants in Phoenix run the gamut, offering something for every mood and palate.
When you're in the mood for family-friendly dining, head to south central Phoenix for lunch or dinner at Comedor Guadalajara, a spacious sit-down restaurant with a huge selection of of Mexican food staples. Fast service and great lunch specials make this a popular destination on this part of town.
For a fun, funky Mexican eatery, head to the north-central Phoenix neighborhood of Sunnyslope, where you'll find a huge array of street tacos at Santos Lucha Libre. The lucha libre-inspired decor adds to the fun, but the real star of the show here are delicately seasoned grilled meats stuffed inside fresh corn tortillas.
In central Phoenix, be sure to stop by Barrio Cafe, a perennial favorite with Phoenix-area foodies. The kitchen puts a modern spin on Mexican food classics, with mouth-watering results. Try the Cochinita Pibil, one of the house specialties.
The Original Carolina's Mexican Food
This South Phoenix institution has been dishing out some of the best home-style Mexican food for decades. Don't be fooled by the humble exterior and lackluster dining area: the food is hot, tasty, and top-notch. Tacos, burros, flautas, chimichangas, tostadas, and tamales: all your favorites are here, made to order. As if that wasn't enough, you can eat well here with the spare change in your pocket. Perfect for a quick and affordable meal on the go, Carolina's continues to draw regulars craving down-home, no-nonsense Mexican food. Great for a quick breakfast, lunch or dinner. Don't forget to sample the famous tortillas. (602-252-1503)
PHX Burrito House
What could be more "southwest" than a killer burrito? That's the house specialty at the PHX Burrito House, a mom-and-pop cafe tucked away inside a charming bungalow off 7th Avenue. The homemade burritos manage to be both hefty and delicate, with fresh, pillow-y tortillas wrapped around succulent meats, veggies and cheeses. One of the house specialties is the winning shrimp burrito, stuffed with grilled shrimp served with avocado, lemon juice, cabbage, pico de gallo and hot sauce. Other burrito options include grilled chicken, pork carnitas, steak, beef, and shredded beef. Not in a burrito mood? The eatery also dishes out tasty quesdillas, tacos, and salads. ((602) 265-1274)
Los Reyes de la Torta
Mexico City-style tortas have landed in Phoenix, and you'll find them at Los Reyes de la Torta, a casual eatery featuring some of the best Mexican-style sandwiches in town. These award-winning sandwiches feature a variety of quality meats and cheeses, served on a perfectly toasted and buttery bolillo roll. For the truly adventurous--and hungry--the King Carlos V is a monumental torta and a challenge to even the most voracious eaters. Even if grilled, stuffed-to-the-gills sandwiches are not your thing, be sure to pay a visit to the juice bar. You'll find a huge selection of traditional, fresh-squeezed fruit juices that are refreshingly good. ((602) 269-3212)
Popo's Fiesta Del Sol
Hearty portions, fresh salsa, and creamy, cheese-topped beans are on the menu at Popo's Fiesta del Sol, a popular family-friendly Mexican restaurant on Phoenix's westside. Festive decor and a huge menu of Mexican staples make this a popular choice for happy hour, too. There are even gringo-friendly eats like rib-eye steak and burgers. If you can't decide what to order, take a peek at the Popo's specialty menu for a winning selection of combo platters. The fiesta platter comes with a cheesy chile relleno, machaca taco, rice and beans, and flour tortillas. When you're ready to chow down, don't miss the Monster Burrito, two flour tortillas stuffed with rice, beans, pico de gallo, grilled onions, bell peppers, and cheese. ((602) 354-7738)
Comedor Guadalajara, situated on a quiet stretch of Central Avenue, has been catering to South Phoenix Mexican food-lovers for more than 40 years. The Sonoran-style menu is straightforward but consistently delicious. Tamales, burros, flautas, and chiles rellenos all make an appearance here, but the specialty at Comedor Guadalajara are their parrilladas--large, sizzling platters of grilled meats and seafood served with vegetables and special garnishing. This is a popular place to grab lunch, but it's also a family-friendly restaurant with a large and lively dining room. The kids menu features small burritos, chicken nuggets, and even small portions of menudo on the weekend. ((602) 253-8299)
Santos Lucha Libre
The fun, funky Mexican-themed dining room at Santos Lucha Libre Tacos is half the fun of visiting this north Phoenix taco shop. The other half is picking through the menu to pick out lunch or dinner. Everything is made-to-order fresh and excellent here, including tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and extensive salsa bar. Enjoy an authentic Mexican soda with your meal, and don't forget the side order of guacamole. The main reason to visit Santos Lucha Libre is the sheer pleasure of sampling the street taco menu. The friendly and helpful staff will provide small bite-sized samples of the various succulent meats for your tasting pleasure. ((602) 943-1156)
Taqueria El Fundador
Rumor has it that some of the best Al Pastor burritos can be found just east of downtown Phoenix at El Fundador Taqueria. The small family-owned restaurant might be labeled as a typical west Phoenix hole-in-the-wall for some, but the kitchen delivers hot and delicious Mexican food nirvana for Phoenix foodies in the know. While it might be difficult to choose the best Al Pastor in Phoenix, the one here certainly has its merit: savory, spicy and fall-off-the-bone pork spit-grilled pork is wrapped in a pillowy soft tortilla. The results are nothing less than delicious. The menu features an eclectic pick of burritos, tacos, stews, quesadillas and other Mexican food staples, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a bad pick in the bunch. The dining room is small and nondescript, but the food speaks volumes. ((602) 233-9818)
Mariscos Playa Hermosa
Mariscos Playa Hermosa specializes in quality, Sinaloan-style Mexican seafood. Quality ingredients, excellent customer service, and fresh, inventive presentation combine for a memorable and totally authentic dining experience. Specialties include the seven seas soup, crab enchiladas (stuffed with real crab meat), seafood cocktails, octopus in garlic sauce, and some of the tastiest ceviche in town. No matter what you order, make sure to sample the green guacamole style salsa, made from scratch daily and served with warm, crunchy tortilla chips. If you are having trouble deciding what to order, opt for the house special molcajete, which comes with shrimp, octopus tomatillo sauce, beef, chicken and fried fish. (602-462-1563)
La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop
La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop - formerly known as La Condesa - is not your run-of-the-mill taco shop. Here you'll find fresh produce sourced from local farms and combined with the unique and traditional flavors of Mexico: bright green tomatillos, chipotle chiles, Oaxacan cheese, and soft, pillowy tortillas, all combined to create startling and delightful flavors. The menu is small, but you can't go wrong with any of the seven specialty tacos. There are also specialty quesadillas, burritos and combo plates. Artful, authentic and always tasty, the tacos here are exquisite. A great part of the allure of La Condesa Gourmet Taco Shop is the excellent salsa bar. It's impossible to try just one. (602.254.6330)
Since it opened, folks have been clamoring to this hopping, no-reservations-accepted restaurant for its inventive southern Mexican and Southwestern cuisine. Abandoned are bland burritos and tacos in favor of lush, richly layered flavors achieved with zesty chiles, authentic cheeses, and complex moles. Start with guacamole prepared tableside (peppered with fresh pomegranate fruit) and then consider cochinita pibil, a delectable slow-roasted pork dish. Grilled steaks, seared duck breast, and seafood enchiladas are also much-requested. Plus, there's no better dessert than deep-fried fritters with goats' milk caramel - ask anyone. The restaurant also delivers a winning margarita, perfect for a long, leisurely afternoon with friends. (602-636-0240)
About Patricia Escarcega
Patricia Escarcega has lived in the Arizona desert since she was a teenager. She works as a writer and editor in Phoenix with her four dogs and two cats.
She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona and is working on a novel about growing up in the 1990s.
Read more about Patricia Escarcega here.