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Four tacos on a white plate in the sun.
Tacos at Gallo Blanco.
Gallo Blanco

12 Essential Mexican Restaurants in Phoenix

A dozen Phoenix restaurants that celebrate regional Mexican food, including one historic spot that rocks it old school

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Tacos at Gallo Blanco.
| Gallo Blanco

When it comes to great Mexican food, Phoenix has traditionally been off the national radar, its sombrero-decorated restaurants churning out the same standards, mantled in melted cheddar, year after year. The good news is, the region’s reputation as a destination for Mexican dining has ticked way up in recent years, thanks to a spate of regional restaurants — some upscale, others casual, many family-run — showcasing Mexico’s rich diversity of cuisines.

Nowadays, it’s easy to find dazzling specialties from Sonora, Chihuahua, Mexico City, Baja, Oaxaca, and the Yucatan. Here are 12 valley restaurants that express Mexico’s culinary range, including one bustling old-timer that still rocks it old school.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Analilia’s Riquezas

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It’s all about the birria at this friendly, family-run storefront, where the juicy, red chile-flavored stewed beef in question is offered in a half dozen deliciously different formats — atop French fries, in a bowl with consomé, rice and beans, or ramen, in a burrito, or in a grilled cheese sandwich built on buttery Texas toast. Every vehicle has its merits, and while the menu does offer other meats (namely, pastor and carne asada), a word to the wise: Don’t miss the quesabirria taco or a fat, griddle-blistered pizzadilla, oozing with cheese and, of course, birria.

A big, golden-colored quesadilla sliced into eighths.
Pizzadilla at Analilia’s Riquezas.
Nikki Buchanan

Ta’ Carbon

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These no-frills West Valley taco spots claim to serve the best carne asada in town, and the locals who keep them packed surely agree. Cooked over mesquite on a Santa Maria grill and tucked in supple tortillas, the smoky, succulent meat is further enhanced by adornments from the neatly kept salsa bar, stocked with crisp, finely chopped cabbage, lime wedges, verduras, avocado cream, pickled onions, and excellent salsas. Loyalists swear by the Hazz taco, a luxurious combo of steak, green chile, and cheese, but don’t sleep on the barbacoa, lengua, tripitas de leche and, if you have the cojones for it, huevos de becerro (tender, springy calf testicles). 

Testal Mexican Kitchen

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Located just up the street from Bacanora, tiny Testal is named for the doughball that becomes a tortilla, and, indeed, tortillas are made fresh daily here, to be used as wrappers for messy, open-ended burritos, made the traditional Chihuahuan way. Try these two classics of the state: comforting deshebrada (shredded beef and potatoes) and chicharron (spicy, softened pork rind in salsa verde with pinto beans). Then wash everything down with an agua fresca you’ve likely never run into before — refreshing Iskiate, composed of chia seeds, lime juice, and agave nectar.

Bacanora

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Chef Rene Andrade’s tiny, bright pink restaurant — an ode to his native Sonora — is one of Phoenix’s hottest new places of the past year for a slew of reasons. To name a few, there’s the blackened elote; juicy, spatchcocked chicken; and flame-licked steaks, all cooked over mesquite on a custom-made Santa Maria grill. Small-plate specials might include a radish and cucumber salad (made with local ingredients), aguachile (containing Sonora’s fiery chiltepin pepper), or grilled octopus, which is among the best in town. Taken first or last, a shot of bacanora (Sonora’s agave-based spirit), presented with cinnamon, piloncillo, and smoke, is a showstopper.

Chicken on a grill with char marks.
Grilled chicken at Bacanora.
Rene Andrade

Presidio Cocina Mexicana

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Home-style Michoacán-inspired cooking is the premise at this comfy family-run restaurant housed in a midtown strip mall. Regulars swear by the breakfast menu, which includes chilaquiles and house-made chorizo, but there are many standouts, including elote, enchiladas, juicy, crisp-edged carnitas and cinnamon-dusted horchata.

Tacos Chiwas

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Husband and wife team Armando Hernandez and Nadia Holguin (she’s a classically trained chef) bring the meat-centric home cooking of Chihuahua to their small but mighty menu, featuring, among other things, melting beef cheek barbacoa (smoked for over 12 hours), tender lengua, and crispy fried tripas — all tucked in handmade corn tortillas and doctored up at the salsa bar. Their mini empire (three locations) may have been built on tacos, but puffy flour gorditas, laden with rajas (chiles and cheese) picadillo, or deshebrada roja (shredded red chile beef) make equally satisfying comfort food.

A gordita stuffed with bright red meat and another stuffed with green salsa verde meat and a white rectangular plate.
Gorditas.
Bill Addison

Barrio Cafe

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When chef Silvana Salcido Esparza (a James Beard nominee and semi-finalist many times over) opened this art-filled, white-tablecloth restaurant in 2002, she rejected the usual Mexican restaurant tropes to illustrate how sophisticated Mexican cooking could be, mashing pomegranate-studded guacamole tableside and plunking down baskets of bread and butter instead of the requisite chips and salsa. Her regional menu still features smoky, achiote-rubbed cochinita pibil from the Yucatan, nut- and dried fruit-studded chiles en nogada from Puebla, and velvety chicken mole, which may be draped in one of four different classic Oaxacan sauces. Start with a fun cocktail (the restaurant’s tequila selection is enormous) and finish with dessert churros, crunchy with sugar and drizzled with goat’s milk caramel. 

                                               

Casa Corazon Restaurant

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Vaulted ceilings, shiny tiled floors and corner frescos lend an upscale vibe to this pretty, coral-colored cottage, offering a range of regional specialties such as chicken tinga, cochinita pibil, Veracruz-style fish, and a dripping-in-juices flat-iron steak, served with green bean-like nopales cactus that’s worth the splurge. Because the menu is extensive, it’s also possible to eat well for less on ceviche tostadas, burritos, enchiladas, gorditas, and the like, including fantastic tacos al vapor, dipped in red chile and lightly steamed. 

Thee tacos on a plate next to another taco that’s been dipped in red sauce.
Soft tacos and tacos al vapor at Casa Corazon.
Nikki Buchanan

Mariscos Playa Hermosa

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It’s always a day at the beach at this 16th Street stalwart, Phoenix’s favorite Mexican seafood restaurant painted in eye-popping colors. The multi-page menu featuring 25 appetizers alone offers every Mexican seafood classic you can imagine — raw oysters, shrimp cocktails, seafood tostadas and soups, grilled or fried fish — as well as a slew of surprises, including mango habanero aguachile, hot lava steak, paella brimming with grilled shrimp, grilled octopus and mussels, and El Peligroso, a pricy seafood challenge amped up with fiery Carolina Reaper and ghost peppers that earns you a t-shirt if you can eat it.

Gallo Blanco

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Gallo Blanco, Mexican slang for “white guy,” is an apt name for both chef Doug Robson, who grew up near Mexico City, and his Mexican-influenced restaurant, housed in a light-filled, ‘20s-era building in the Garfield neighborhood. Robson is justifiably famous for his chunky guacamole, brightened with orange segments, and top-quality tacos (including standout, seasonally changing fish tacos), and tortas — most notably the Naco, layered with carne asada, avocado and fried eggs. But he also turns out preternaturally rich-tasting flapjacks and puts a Mexican spin on Southern shrimp and grits.

A metal tray shown from above with dishes of guacamole, chips, and three salsas.
Guacamole, chips, and salsa at Gallo Blanco.
Nikki Buchanan

Cocina Madrigal Tacos + Tequila

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Owner Leo Madrigal worked as a corporate chef for Southwestern-themed Z’Tejas for 30 years, so it’s not surprising that his own menu — which offers Mexican standards but moves well beyond them — exudes a similarly sophisticated vibe. Charred romaine lettuce salad, beef tenderloin with Gorgonzola-jalapeno butter, and chicken pasta made with jalapeno linguine and chipotle cream sit alongside birria enchiladas, al pastor tacos, and churros.

Los Olivos Mexican Patio

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Named for the olive trees that Scottsdale founder Winfield Scott planted back in the day, this atmospheric, old-school Mexican restaurant, owned by the Corral family for 74 years and counting, was saved from the wrecking ball by Barry Goldwater’s secretary, who considered it a Scottsdale landmark — and she was right. The traditional AZ-Mex food offers few surprises, but it’s still tasty and satisfying — particularly the green corn tamales, steak picado, zippy red salsa made with chile de arbol, and the cheese crisp, an Arizona signature fashioned from house-made flour tortillas.

Analilia’s Riquezas

A big, golden-colored quesadilla sliced into eighths.
Pizzadilla at Analilia’s Riquezas.
Nikki Buchanan

It’s all about the birria at this friendly, family-run storefront, where the juicy, red chile-flavored stewed beef in question is offered in a half dozen deliciously different formats — atop French fries, in a bowl with consomé, rice and beans, or ramen, in a burrito, or in a grilled cheese sandwich built on buttery Texas toast. Every vehicle has its merits, and while the menu does offer other meats (namely, pastor and carne asada), a word to the wise: Don’t miss the quesabirria taco or a fat, griddle-blistered pizzadilla, oozing with cheese and, of course, birria.

A big, golden-colored quesadilla sliced into eighths.
Pizzadilla at Analilia’s Riquezas.
Nikki Buchanan

Ta’ Carbon

These no-frills West Valley taco spots claim to serve the best carne asada in town, and the locals who keep them packed surely agree. Cooked over mesquite on a Santa Maria grill and tucked in supple tortillas, the smoky, succulent meat is further enhanced by adornments from the neatly kept salsa bar, stocked with crisp, finely chopped cabbage, lime wedges, verduras, avocado cream, pickled onions, and excellent salsas. Loyalists swear by the Hazz taco, a luxurious combo of steak, green chile, and cheese, but don’t sleep on the barbacoa, lengua, tripitas de leche and, if you have the cojones for it, huevos de becerro (tender, springy calf testicles). 

Testal Mexican Kitchen

Located just up the street from Bacanora, tiny Testal is named for the doughball that becomes a tortilla, and, indeed, tortillas are made fresh daily here, to be used as wrappers for messy, open-ended burritos, made the traditional Chihuahuan way. Try these two classics of the state: comforting deshebrada (shredded beef and potatoes) and chicharron (spicy, softened pork rind in salsa verde with pinto beans). Then wash everything down with an agua fresca you’ve likely never run into before — refreshing Iskiate, composed of chia seeds, lime juice, and agave nectar.

Bacanora

Chicken on a grill with char marks.
Grilled chicken at Bacanora.
Rene Andrade

Chef Rene Andrade’s tiny, bright pink restaurant — an ode to his native Sonora — is one of Phoenix’s hottest new places of the past year for a slew of reasons. To name a few, there’s the blackened elote; juicy, spatchcocked chicken; and flame-licked steaks, all cooked over mesquite on a custom-made Santa Maria grill. Small-plate specials might include a radish and cucumber salad (made with local ingredients), aguachile (containing Sonora’s fiery chiltepin pepper), or grilled octopus, which is among the best in town. Taken first or last, a shot of bacanora (Sonora’s agave-based spirit), presented with cinnamon, piloncillo, and smoke, is a showstopper.

Chicken on a grill with char marks.
Grilled chicken at Bacanora.
Rene Andrade

Presidio Cocina Mexicana

Home-style Michoacán-inspired cooking is the premise at this comfy family-run restaurant housed in a midtown strip mall. Regulars swear by the breakfast menu, which includes chilaquiles and house-made chorizo, but there are many standouts, including elote, enchiladas, juicy, crisp-edged carnitas and cinnamon-dusted horchata.

Tacos Chiwas

A gordita stuffed with bright red meat and another stuffed with green salsa verde meat and a white rectangular plate.
Gorditas.
Bill Addison

Husband and wife team Armando Hernandez and Nadia Holguin (she’s a classically trained chef) bring the meat-centric home cooking of Chihuahua to their small but mighty menu, featuring, among other things, melting beef cheek barbacoa (smoked for over 12 hours), tender lengua, and crispy fried tripas — all tucked in handmade corn tortillas and doctored up at the salsa bar. Their mini empire (three locations) may have been built on tacos, but puffy flour gorditas, laden with rajas (chiles and cheese) picadillo, or deshebrada roja (shredded red chile beef) make equally satisfying comfort food.

A gordita stuffed with bright red meat and another stuffed with green salsa verde meat and a white rectangular plate.
Gorditas.
Bill Addison

Barrio Cafe

When chef Silvana Salcido Esparza (a James Beard nominee and semi-finalist many times over) opened this art-filled, white-tablecloth restaurant in 2002, she rejected the usual Mexican restaurant tropes to illustrate how sophisticated Mexican cooking could be, mashing pomegranate-studded guacamole tableside and plunking down baskets of bread and butter instead of the requisite chips and salsa. Her regional menu still features smoky, achiote-rubbed cochinita pibil from the Yucatan, nut- and dried fruit-studded chiles en nogada from Puebla, and velvety chicken mole, which may be draped in one of four different classic Oaxacan sauces. Start with a fun cocktail (the restaurant’s tequila selection is enormous) and finish with dessert churros, crunchy with sugar and drizzled with goat’s milk caramel. 

                                               

Casa Corazon Restaurant

Thee tacos on a plate next to another taco that’s been dipped in red sauce.
Soft tacos and tacos al vapor at Casa Corazon.
Nikki Buchanan

Vaulted ceilings, shiny tiled floors and corner frescos lend an upscale vibe to this pretty, coral-colored cottage, offering a range of regional specialties such as chicken tinga, cochinita pibil, Veracruz-style fish, and a dripping-in-juices flat-iron steak, served with green bean-like nopales cactus that’s worth the splurge. Because the menu is extensive, it’s also possible to eat well for less on ceviche tostadas, burritos, enchiladas, gorditas, and the like, including fantastic tacos al vapor, dipped in red chile and lightly steamed. 

Thee tacos on a plate next to another taco that’s been dipped in red sauce.
Soft tacos and tacos al vapor at Casa Corazon.
Nikki Buchanan

Mariscos Playa Hermosa

It’s always a day at the beach at this 16th Street stalwart, Phoenix’s favorite Mexican seafood restaurant painted in eye-popping colors. The multi-page menu featuring 25 appetizers alone offers every Mexican seafood classic you can imagine — raw oysters, shrimp cocktails, seafood tostadas and soups, grilled or fried fish — as well as a slew of surprises, including mango habanero aguachile, hot lava steak, paella brimming with grilled shrimp, grilled octopus and mussels, and El Peligroso, a pricy seafood challenge amped up with fiery Carolina Reaper and ghost peppers that earns you a t-shirt if you can eat it.

Gallo Blanco

A metal tray shown from above with dishes of guacamole, chips, and three salsas.
Guacamole, chips, and salsa at Gallo Blanco.
Nikki Buchanan

Gallo Blanco, Mexican slang for “white guy,” is an apt name for both chef Doug Robson, who grew up near Mexico City, and his Mexican-influenced restaurant, housed in a light-filled, ‘20s-era building in the Garfield neighborhood. Robson is justifiably famous for his chunky guacamole, brightened with orange segments, and top-quality tacos (including standout, seasonally changing fish tacos), and tortas — most notably the Naco, layered with carne asada, avocado and fried eggs. But he also turns out preternaturally rich-tasting flapjacks and puts a Mexican spin on Southern shrimp and grits.

A metal tray shown from above with dishes of guacamole, chips, and three salsas.
Guacamole, chips, and salsa at Gallo Blanco.
Nikki Buchanan

Cocina Madrigal Tacos + Tequila

Owner Leo Madrigal worked as a corporate chef for Southwestern-themed Z’Tejas for 30 years, so it’s not surprising that his own menu — which offers Mexican standards but moves well beyond them — exudes a similarly sophisticated vibe. Charred romaine lettuce salad, beef tenderloin with Gorgonzola-jalapeno butter, and chicken pasta made with jalapeno linguine and chipotle cream sit alongside birria enchiladas, al pastor tacos, and churros.

Los Olivos Mexican Patio

Named for the olive trees that Scottsdale founder Winfield Scott planted back in the day, this atmospheric, old-school Mexican restaurant, owned by the Corral family for 74 years and counting, was saved from the wrecking ball by Barry Goldwater’s secretary, who considered it a Scottsdale landmark — and she was right. The traditional AZ-Mex food offers few surprises, but it’s still tasty and satisfying — particularly the green corn tamales, steak picado, zippy red salsa made with chile de arbol, and the cheese crisp, an Arizona signature fashioned from house-made flour tortillas.

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