Phoenix has fallen under the radar for a long time nationally when it comes to tacos, with the food world looking to Southern California or Texas instead. Thankfully, that’s only given the city’s taco makers more time to hone their craft. Whether it’s a well-smoked carne asada from the southern neighbor state of Sonora, a painstaking carving of al pastor, or a taqueria designed for a suburban teen “VSCO girl”, Phoenix is a taco destination. A three-mile drive down central Phoenix’s 16th Street could more than satisfy even the most critical of taco lovers, but the city has far more to offer. Here are the top destinations for tacos in Phoenix.Read More
11 Top Taco Destinations in Phoenix
Whether it’s stellar carne asada, smoky and tender pollo asada, or refried pinto beans in fry bread, the city has plenty to offer
Ta’Carbon is almost worth visiting purely for its name, which is a play on words of the Mexican saying, “Está cabron” (used amongst friends to mean anything from “that’s awesome” to “that’s tough”). But the true reason people come to this westside restaurant is almost exclusively for the carne asada. Behind a flurry of employees at the counter, heaps of smoky, well-cut carne are piled onto tacos from the mesquite. This can only be improved by ordering the Taco Hazz, a mix of melted cheese and green chile.
Fry Bread House
Phoenix residents have long argued over whether or not fry bread counts as a taco, but Arizona’s indigenous peoples had customized and mastered the “Indian taco” long before it was introduced to modern audiences. Fry Bread House owner Cecilia Miller of the Tohono O’odham Nation has made her Melrose District spot the epicenter of Indian fry bread, which serves as a soft and filling blanket for homemade refried pinto beans with cheese and lettuce.
Cocina 10 at Crescent Ballroom
Pizza legend Chris Bianco’s time in Phoenix has rubbed off on him, and it can be seen in his development of the menu at downtown Phoenix’s Crescent Ballroom. The music venue and bar offers Mexican food that can stack up against any taqueria, with standouts like the barbacoa, al pastor, or fish tacos. Regardless of the order, ask for their molcajete salsa, always perfectly mixed with a kick.
While most are drawn to the Instagram bait that covers the walls, Monterrey-born Chef Suny Santana does an impressive job bringing the taqueria flavors to trendy Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix. A classic carne asada will satisfy, thanks to the handmade flour or corn tortillas, but the barbacoa is what makes the trip worth it — especially with some frijoles a la charra or chicharrones on the side.
Carolina Valenzuela is the O.G. of the Phoenix’s Mexican food scene. Since 1968, the smell of freshly made tortillas has attracted diners far and wide. After more than 60 years, having only three options for tacos — shredded beef, chicken, and machaca (the one to get, featuring dried meat mixed with spices and rehydrated) — has not slowed business in the least.
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Alongside Chris Bianco, Barrio Cafe’s Silvana Salcido Esparza is the face of the Phoenix food scene. The James Beard Award winner has gone against the grain of the usual northern Mexican food in the Valley with Barrio Cafe, which features an array of Mexico’s southern delicacies. While her chiles en nogada (a traditional stuffed poblanos dish) have become synonymous with her cooking, Esparza’s Tecate-battered fish tacos are crisp but light, making them a must-have dish.
Maybe it’s because owners Felipe Guzman and Cristina Meillon are from Guadalajara, one of the most metropolitan cities in Mexico, that La Santisima offers such a wide array of regional dishes. The seemingly endless menu options, huge salsa bar, and gigantic servings may be overwhelming at first, but it’s hard to go wrong. Noteworthy tacos include the Andalucia, with potato and chorizo, the Baja Sur dogfish shark taco, or some surprisingly impressive vegan and vegetarian options like La Condesa, with poblano and mushrooms.
If a taco shop’s litmus test is how nondescript the location seems, Tacos Huicho takes the cake. Situated in a dead-end street against the massive wall of the 51 freeway, Cuernavaca natives Maria Torres and Mauricio Mena make the best al pastor in the city. The couple layers their pork with chiles and pineapples and throws it on the spit twice a week to roast and carve, where it can weigh up to 80 pounds.
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Chef Richard Hinojosa has said that his Arcadia joint isn’t a Mexican restaurant. Upon first glance at the menu, his statement rings true: Hinojosa’s innovative take on dishes include a Korean fried chicken taco topped with gochujang and mojo de cebollin (a sauce made from chives), and handmade tortillas fused with ingredients like cilantro or cardamom. The potato taco is equally noteworthy thanks to its legitimately spicy taste, which stems from a secret hot sauce and mashing of poblano chiles in the potato.
Old Town Scottsdale is covered from head to toe in flashy restaurants that prefer to be labeled as “concepts,” so the traditional taqueria style of Tacos Jalisco is a welcome respite. Despite the growth of the surrounding area, the spot has been a neighborhood favorite since 1996, thanks to the Reyes family’s carne asada. Its standout taste is thanks to the red adobo salsa in which it’s cooked, though the family has refused to reveal how it’s made.
Backyard Taco (Multiple Locations)
Owners Ruben and Maricella Alvarez hail from the coastal city of Mazatlán, but rather than opting for the famous mariscos for which their hometown’s known, they mastered the art of mesquite grilling. With two locations in Mesa and one in Gilbert, Backyard Taco has some stellar carne asada — but it’s their smoky and tender pollo asada tacos that make them the best of the East Valley.