In recent years, Phoenix has become a legitimate Mexican food town, full of restaurants owned by families from every Mexican state. Tacos are everywhere — take a drive down 16th Street in Central Phoenix (unofficially Taco Central) to be convinced. Restaurant owners have learned you can put pretty much anything in a taco, and it will be good — mesquite grilled carne asada, pork cooked on a vertical spit, grilled octopus, even Korean fried chicken. Here are Phoenix’s 15 top taco destinations.Read More
15 Top Taco Destinations in Phoenix
Phoenix taco shops dish out a wide variety of tacos filled with everything from carne asada to chapulines
Small, family-run Analilia’s is all about the birria, offered in a handful of permutations: birria fries, birria grilled cheese, birria ramen, birria en caldo (broth), and, most importantly, quesabirria tacos, which just might be the best version in town. Jammed with juicy shredded beef and dipped in consommé, the corn tortillas are griddled until they’re crisp, faintly blackened, and oozing with mild, melting cheese. A few other solid taco options (pastor and shrimp, for example) are also available, but birria’s the boss.
The Torres family sold tacos in Mexico for 20 years before coming to Arizona and starting out with a taco truck in Peoria in 2016. Now they have six brick and mortar locations in metro Phoenix, so clearly, they’re doing something right. They make everything from scratch daily and keep it blessedly simple, offering just two meats — carne asada and al pastor — which serve as fillings for mulitas (quesadillas made with two tortillas, one on the top, one on the bottom), vampiros (tortillas topped with meat and cheese and grilled until crisp), burritos, and of course, tacos. Tacos are built on homemade corn tortillas (flour tortillas cost 25 cents extra) along with cilantro, onion, guacamole, and spicy tomato-based salsa. Check out the grab-and-go menu which offers meat by the pound with all the fixings.
Customers line up all day long for a crack at Ta’ Carbon’s excellent tacos, filled with charcoal-grilled meat that’s charred, smoky, and sublime in its simplicity. Carne asada is the restaurant’s claim to fame, but don’t sleep on the Taco Hazz (carne asada with green chile and melting cheese), the campechano (a meaty mixture of flank steak, chorizo and crispy chicharrónes), or the ultra-tender huevos de becerro (calf testicles). Load up on salsas and other taco trimmings at the elaborate salsa bar.
Fry Bread House
Do beans, cheese and lettuce enfolded in puffy fry bread constitute a taco? 100 percent. Arizona’s indigenous peoples have been eating their own delicious versions of the taco for more than 100 years. In 1992, Fry Bread House founder Cecilia Miller of the Tohono O’odham Nation created a gathering spot for Natives to enjoy the hearty, Mexican-influenced food they grew up on, but customers of every stripe soon discovered how good her food was, including the folks at the James Beard Foundation, who gave them an America’s Classics award in 2012. Although there are eight tacos on the menu, most offer some combination of beans, cheese, lettuce, and beef with additions such as Hatch chile, sour cream, or onion.
Chef-owner Lawrence Smith and his wife Aseret Arroyo dispensed flamboyantly creative tacos from a food truck until they found a charming, light-filled brick and mortar connected to the recently rehabbed Egyptian Motor Lodge on Grand Avenue. Here, the frequently changing menu is far more extensive, but tacos always make an appearance. Among the options: tender birria de lengua, which is tucked inside a crisp squid ink-mottled corn tortilla and served with stinging chile de arbol, or mashed potato tacos, encased in seriously crunchy shells, with a mouth-boggling black garlic hot sauce.
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This cute little taco shop, with its fancy backbar and mural of Frida Kahlo, also offers real-deal tacos. Monterrey-born chef Suny Santana — with backup from his chef-partner Aaron Chamberlin — turns out nine different options, each served on a handmade corn tortilla (or flour tortilla in the case of the carne asada-filled Sonoran) with a slice of cucumber and wedge of lime. Choose among such outstanding selections as juicy barbacoa and the costra (carne asada with caramelized cheese and caramelized onion). Don’t miss the fabulous carnitas, made from pork shoulder and pork belly cooked in their own juices (along with a bit of spices, orange and beer), until the meat achieves sticky unctuousness.
Love that down-and-dirty street taco vibe? Customers get it in spades at this no-frills taco joint, where the smell of burning mesquite fills the air, the Santa Maria grill stays loaded with meat, and the staff hustles to get the food out quickly to the ever-present crowd. Almost everyone loves the smoky, charred-at-the-edges carne asada, but cabeza, barbacoa and al pastor also brim with flavor and juices.
Tacos Chiwas (Multiple Locations)
Husband-and-wife team Armando Hernandez and Nadia Holguin from the state of Chihuahua lit up the taco scene when they opened their first tiny taco shop in 2016. They later moved to larger digs, adding a bar and playing a soundtrack of Latin Urban. The place is cool without being tragically hip. Everybody has their own personal favorite taco here, whether it’s carne asada, pastor, carnitas, barbacoa, pollo, or calabacitas (Mexican squash, corn, onion and asadero cheese), but for the record, here’s where you’ll find the crispiest, best tripas (tripe) in town and a signature taco chiwas (think beef, ham, jalapeño, Anaheim chile, and asadero) that rocks.
Alongside Chris Bianco, Barrio Cafe’s Silvana Salcido Esparza is the face of the Phoenix food scene. The James Beard Award nominee has gone against the grain of the usual northern Mexican food in the Valley with Barrio Cafe, which features an array of Southern Mexico’s delicacies. While her chiles en nogada (a traditional stuffed poblano dish) have become synonymous with her cooking, Esparza’s Tecate-battered fish tacos — so crisp but light — make them a must-have dish. — Steven Totten
Casa Corazon Restaurant
There’s a lot to love at this classy but casual house-turned-restaurant, outfitted with brick walls, handsome tiled floors, corner frescos, and vaulted wooden ceilings. Chips and salsa with a bowl of creamy beans are a complimentary starter, and there’s an excellent salsa bar to spice up all the options on the menu, including taco classics such as carne asada, al pastor, chicharron, chicken, breaded fish, and shrimp, as well as veggie tacos and nopales tacos (grilled cactus pads). Check out the keto-friendly costra de queso — carne asada tucked into a caramelized cheese tortilla — and don’t miss incredible tacos de canasta, the street tacos of Mexico, traditionally kept together in a basket, rendering the corn tortillas soft and supple from the steam.
Decisions, decisions — that’s what customers are faced with at this taco restaurant, elegantly decorated with Mexican art depicting Santisima Muerte, the skeletal figure of Death in Mexico. The menu offers 41 taco options, many of them classic Mexican dishes that work surprisingly well in a taco. Imagine chiles en Nogada with shrimp, beef, or mahi mahi. Owners Felipe Guzman and Cristina Meillon celebrate cultures and regions via the taco as well. Will it be Andalucia chorizo con papa, Mayan cochinita pibil or Aztecan chicken tinga? Expect more dithering at the salsa bar, which lays out an impressive 20 salsas, one of them strawberry.
This neighborhood taco shop and carniceria, which sits in the shadow of the 51 freeway, has been pumping out tacos and other Mexican food basics since 2002. Over the years, it’s earned a slew of awards and a passionate fan base for its nine meat-based tacos, including carne asada, lengua, cabeza and cecina (thin strips of salt-cured beef). But the al pastor tacos, marinated in adobo and slow roasted on a trompo (the vertical spit introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants) are Huicho’s signature dish. Drop by on Taco Tuesday for reduced prices on already affordable tacos.
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Mariscos Playa Hermosa
This lively, brightly colored cantina is one of the best places in town for fresh, well-prepared mariscos. The huge menu, divided into multiple categories to keep everything straight, features 16 tacos. Besides the usual seafood tacos suspects — grilled fish, breaded and fried fish, and shrimp — there are lobster tacos, excellent mar y tierra tacos (combining grilled steak, shrimp and mozzarella) and messy but good grilled octopus tacos overflowing with tender, caramelized octopus, melting mozzarella, tomato, onion, red cabbage, crema, cilantro, queso fresco, and spicy zarandeado sauce. Don’t fill up on the complimentary chips (so fresh and crunchy they’re irresistible) or the complimentary ceviche tostada.
Although chef Richard Hinojosa’s menu features Mexican food standbys such as guacamole, grilled street corn, ceviche, and tacos, only a few of them are conventional. Hinojosa gets a little wild (in a good way) with the tacos, combining unusual ingredients to excellent effect. Crowd favorites include crunchy lamb tacos (with cotija, pickled red onion, cabbage, jalapeño, and what he calls “birria sauce”) and strip steak tacos (with soy-pickled shimejis, fresh horseradish, karashi mustard, and cilantro mojo), but the taco that steals the show, is the Korean fried chicken, combining compressed cabbage, pickled jalapeños, gochujang (Korea’s salty, spicy ketchup), and mojo de cebollin (an herb-y garlic and green onion sauce) with crunchy, spicy chicken.
El Original Tacos Jalisco
Old Town Scottsdale is thick with flashy, expensive restaurants, so a humble taqueria like Tacos Jalisco provides welcome relief from the glitz and glam. It’s been a neighborhood favorite since 1996, thanks in large part to the Reyes family’s simple, homey food, offered at ridiculously low prices. The restaurant is famous for its carne asada, marinated in mesmerizing adobo, but all the classics — al pastor, carnitas, chorizo, tripas, lingua, and cabeza — are here.