Having grown up in Los Angeles and having a Mexican-American father, I have always had a love – and high standards – for Mexican food. A self-proclaimed fiend for variety, I also love to get to know a destination by sampling its local cuisine. So, when I moved to Phoenix five years ago, I set out on a quest to try as many local restaurants as I could as quickly as possible. While I have had many wonderful experiences in general, many of which are documented in my blog about Arizona patio dining, Mexican food in Phoenix has provided me many standout experiences – all of them unique, all of them delicious.
In fact, in many ways, just as the residents of the Phoenix metro area come from places across the country, bringing their unique perspectives to a growing and dynamic metro area, the Mexican food in the area is varied, memorable and shapes the local culture in a meaningful way.
While there are many spots that serve us flavorful and affordable Mexican cuisine, here are just a few of my favorite spots:
With striking Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) iconography on the exterior and throughout the quaint interior, this spot serves up some of the most savory tacos around. Despite the vast selection of seafood, including shark, you can’t go wrong with the shrimp tacos “Condesa style,” served with garlic, spinach, mushrooms and cheese. Don’t leave without sampling the huge varietal of salsas, including unexpected flavors such as creamy pecan, spicy sesame and rich peanut. The margaritas also have a nice citrus kick and pack a punch for the price.
This little hole-in-the-wall joint in Chandler is family run and has been in this locale for longer than locals can remember. The carne asada and fish tacos can’t be missed, and neither can the unique and flavorful stuffed rice crisps. Prices are astronomically low given the value and flavor, but don’t forget to stop by the ATM before visiting this cash-only establishment.
Tucked into the modern, trendy Clarendon Hotel, Gallo Blanco is a Central Phoenix favorite for fresh Mexican food made with top-notch ingredients and an extensive cocktail menu, including the zesty Picoso, made with spicy peppers, muddled pineapple and tequila, and a fantastic red wine sangria. The establishment is particularly exciting – and crowded – on Tuesdays, when happy hour goes all night long, and Wednesdays, when a live flamenco band livens up the atmosphere.
This distinctive white and blue building is hard to miss with its nautical décor, enticing patrons to sample the seafood. You can’t beat the spicy but creamy sauce that covers the shrimp in the Camarones Culichi or the Camarón y Filete Empanizado, a delicately breaded fish and shrimp served with rice, beans and salad. Don’t forget to sample the variety of hot sauces on the table, many of which are specially crafted to complement seafood dishes.
These great spots are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the selection of local Mexican dining in metro Phoenix. And what could be a better way to celebrate a day of active fun – from poolside lounging to hiking to golf – than with a basket of chips and salsa, a savory main dish and a cool, refreshing margarita.
Christine Olivas moved to Phoenix in 2008 and has made it her mission then to try as many restaurants in Arizona, as quickly as possible. A self-proclaimed foodie, she appreciates great cuisine and cocktails, even more so when they can be enjoyed outdoors in Arizona's gorgeous weather.