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Good Mexican in Phoenix area?

Good evening, Southwest Chows! I am coming in to the Phoenix area in a few week's time to visit my mom, and want to take her out to a nice, authentic Mexican restaurant for her birthday. She lives in the Phoenix area, so Tempe, Mesa, Chandler or Scottsdale (or Phoenix proper) would be ok. Thanks!

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  1. A worthwhile request, but two problems as phrased:

    1) You've described a huge territory. Phoenix is over 500 square miles in size. Add in the suburbs you have mentioned and you're easily at over 1,000 square miles. Please be more specific about where you'll be staying and how far you are willing to travel.

    2) Mexican is easily the most popular type of cuisine in Phoenix. There are probably several thousand Mexican restaurants of all types scattered around the metro area. Please tell more about what you are looking for. Possibilities include the following:

    Sonoran border food (the local style)
    Tex-Mex
    Interior Mexican
    Mexican Seafood
    The cuisine of a particular state or region (Oaxaca for example)
    Tortas
    hole-in-the-wall ambience vs. more refined ambience

    1 Reply
    1. re: silverbear

      Agree with silverbear, this is a hard one to narrow down. Like asking for decent coffee places in Seattle :)

      Report back with a bit more detail and we're happy to provide lots of recommendations!

    2. actually, I think you gave us a bit of information there. Nice: meaning, its her mom's birthday, so negativo on the hole in the walls, and she'd like the expectation of good service and be willing to pay a bit more, and authentic, as in- not a chain.

      I have a few suggestions:
      1. Richardsons, which is not strictly Mexican, but a lovely restaurant featuring "New Mexican" food (read: spicy) where you will get great service, enjoy a lovely atmosphere and eat amazing food, and its not overly expensive. Its dark and lovely, and has a great beer selection (if that's the way your mom swings).
      2. Barrio Cafe- really upscale authentic mexican, in a not great area, but the restaurant itself is quite lovely and completely worth it. The experience is great- the food wonderful.
      3. Padre's- a little more lighthearted, but still upscale authentic mexican, but a louder, more raucous venue than Barrio, and a little bit more American flavored.

      All feature websites and multiple, multiple reviews here. Good luck!

      1 Reply
      1. re: hzp

        To that list, I'd add Los Sombreros in Scottsdale, which is a bit more casual than than Barrio, but still a fine option for a birthday celebration.

        -----
        Barrio Cafe
        2814 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85006

        Los Sombreros Cafe & Cantina
        2534 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85257

        Richardson's Cuisine of New Mexico
        1582 E. Bethany Home Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85016

        Padre's Latin Grill
        1044 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ

      2. Thanks everyone for your recs. To be more specific; I don't really know the Phoenix area, so I was trying to cast as wide a net as possible (I did imagine given the locale there would a fair choice of Mexican restaurants available - I live in SoCal so I know what you mean about the huge number of choices) but I should've been clearer on what I am looking for.

        Hzp was spot on; since it's a special occasion, I don't want a 'hole in the wall' type of place, though I know quite often these truly do offer the most 'authentic' food.

        I am not really interested in Southwestern-style Mexican, though I am sure it is delicious in its own right, and would love to try it sometime on my own. What I really wanted was to surprise my mom with a restaurant that serves a similar type of Mexican food to that which both she and I grew up with (we both grew up in Chicago).

        My great-grandma was from Chihuahua, but the kind of Mexican food I grew up with was not really region-specific as far as I know. It was probably more inland Mexican though than seafood (though I do personally love some of those dishes from the Veracruz region). And it's not really border-style food I'm after either, since I didn't grow up in this region. So a nice place (mid-level is ok, doesn't have to be too upscale, just clean) with a mix of different regional styles from Mexico, as close to authentic as possible would be wonderful. Lol, hope I'm not being too picky now. :-0

        10 Replies
        1. re: FoodieKat

          uh ok. im not being snarky - just trying to get the gist :

          1. nothing local food wise, im assuming aka 'southwest' or 'border'
          2. special occasion
          3. authentic
          4. no seafood
          5. not region specific
          6. chicago style?

          i guess i'm confused as to what that might be. i really am not being snarky - i'm just trying to figure out what your specific requests might be. what exactly is non-region specific mexican food like you grew up on in chicago like???

          1. re: winedubar

            To answer your questions:
            1. Correct, I'm not looking for southwest or 'border' style Mexican cuisine.
            2. Yes, it's for a birthday, so I would prefer somewhere more upscale than a hole in the wall.
            3. Authentic. Yes, not Americanized Mexican.
            4. Seafood is fine; I just meant that the Mexican food I grew up with didn't have a heavy emphasis on seafood (ie Baja or Veracruz), so a place that only specializes in seafood dishes isn't what I'm looking for.
            5. Yes. I wasn't seeking any particular regional style of Mexican food. That is exactly what I meant. I am open to suggestions.
            6. No. As far as I know, there isn't a 'Chicago-style' of Mexican cuisine. I simply meant that since we grew up in the Midwest US, we weren't exposed to either the 'border' or 'southwest' influenced styles of Mexican food. So I am not looking for this now.

            Sorry for any confusion.

          2. re: FoodieKat

            Another possibility, which I forgot to mention is Such is Life/Asi es La Vida, which is upscale and has dishes more typical of the interior of Mexico.

            The other places mentioned in this thread have websites that you can access through the place links in my earlier post. The menus on the sites should give you an idea of what kinds of dishes they typically offer.

            For Asi es La Vida, you will just have to call to find out what they are cooking these days, as they have no online presence.

            -----
            Asi Es La Vida
            3602 N 24th St, Phoenix, AZ 85016

            1. re: hohokam

              I think Asi Es La Vida hits the nail on the head, as does Barrio Cafe. They are both more upscale, and spotlight traditional southern Mexican food rather than the Sonoran that is prevalent in Arizona.

              Los Sombreros tries to do the same thing, but I've never been very impressed with the food or the level of comfort there.

            2. re: FoodieKat

              A really nifty place would be Tradiciones, hidden away in the mercado on the west side of the large Ranch Market at 16th and Roosevelt Streets. It has an outdoor grill (mmmm- lovely mesquite) and a really fun atmosphere. Good food, too. Several people have told me, too, that Barrio reminds them a great deal of some restaurants in DF Mexico. For reasonably good Mexican food in the Mesa area - and an incredibly interesting blend of Mexican antiques - there's always Rancho de Tia Rosa at McKellips just east of Lindsay (www.ranchodetiarosa.com) - Dennis Sirrine's family comes from Juarez, he's a culinary school grad and it seems works very hard to bring some authenticity to his menu. Of these three, Barrio is decidely more upscale.

              1. re: Alice Letseat

                i LOVE tradiciones, and recommend it often, but it isn't upscale enough for me to take my mom on her birthday....

                not really sure on the chicago link... i mean, almost anything here in town is going to be more authentic than chicago mexican food (actually the idea of chicago mexican food scares the living daylights out of since when i lived back east the options were dismal).

                you've got good suggestions. since richardsons is out, i'd say choose between barrio, padres, and los sombreros. the deciding factor of those might be atmosphere and location.

                although frankly, if your mom LIVES here.... i'm willling to bet she has a place she really likes already. might just ask her :)

                1. re: hzp

                  Aha, but you see, she said she hasn't yet found a really good, authentic Mexican restaurant in the Phoenix area. So that was why I wanted to set this challenge. To be fair, she doesn't eat out a lot, so there is only a limited range of places that she's tried.

                  I read reviews of Tradiciones, and while it looks great, I agree that it seems like maybe more of a place for lunch rather than a special dinner. But they do serve sopes, so I am definitely going to try and make a point of dining there while in town. I love sopes. :-)

                  Actually, there happens to be a lot of excellent, authentic Mexican restaurants in Chicago too. Chicago has one of the largest populations of Mexican-Americans in the country, so that may have something to do with it.

                  1. re: FoodieKat

                    hzp, I must concur with FoodieKat that Chicago has become a hot spot for gourmet, authentic, region-specific Mexican food. In the Chicago area, celebrity chef Rick Bayless helped to pioneer the movement of cooking region-specific Mexican dishes using authentic ingredients, but now there are dozens of really great places (the smell of fresh cooked, handmade corn tortillas permeates the air in more than one Chicago neighbourhood). If you spend some time on the Chicago board, you will see what I mean (posters there are more than a little enthusiastic in their descriptions of the lamb in mole negro served at 'Sol de Mexico.')

                    Also, Gourmet magazine dedicated a cover story last year to authentic Mexican cuisine in Chicago, comparing it favourably to Mexican food in other large American cities. Bottom line: Chicagoland now boasts a Mexican-American community numbering anywhere from 500,000-1,000,000, depending on which stats you choose to believe.

                    1. re: anewton

                      sounds good... haven't spent a wealth of time in chicago, but i lived on the east coast for years and would often hear "a great new mexican place opened up" only to find salsa made mostly with ketchup. found a decent place on the cape this summer... but still... it amazes me what passes for "mexican" in most places.

                      1. re: hzp

                        I found that to be the case too when I lived in England. When I first moved there I dined at a 'Mexican' restaurant that actually served Cheez Wizz in their 'nachos' (ugh), but the quality of Mexican food is gradually improving, and moving further away from the strictly 'Tex-Mex' influenced foods (Chili's is still popular though :-(). I guess it depends not only on the population but also on the local tastes. When I visited NY I didn't notice a lot of Mexican eateries but I know the population is growing so maybe that will change soon. I did have some yummy Cuban food though, and dined at a wonderful Asian/Peruvian fusion restaurant (Sushi Samba). :-)

            3. From what I have read so far, I think Los Sombreros would be the best choice for you. Have a wonderful visit with your Mom :)

              4 Replies
                1. re: hollyeve

                  I agree, Los Sombreros would be my choice, but, I've never been to Asi Es La Vida. I think Barrio has great food, but, bad acoustics. When I take my parents there, I am frustrated by the inability to conduct a conversation. Los Sombreros can also be a bit uncomfortable. Don't let them seat you at one of their small tables for two, unless it's outside. Sopes used to be on the menu, and they've also been a special appetizer. I also tend to avoid seafood at Los Sombreros.

                  1. re: johnseberg

                    Based on all of the discussion, I would second (third? fourth?) the Los Sombreros recommendation.

                    1. re: boingo2000

                      Well let me throw out a little sniff - if you want more upscale Los Sombreros would not necessarily be so. Barrio. The bar is entirely separate, you can't see the corona signs...what else? On service alone, you'd want Barrio. And in terms of decor...My recollection says Asi Es..., but it's been a whle.