Given its proximity to Mexico, it isn’t surprising that Arizona is home to some amazing Mexican restaurants. From authentic, traditional south of the border eats to creative, modern Mexican dishes, and from decades old restaurants to new additions, our round up features 10 of the best Mexican restaurants you’ll find in Arizona.
Barrio Café dishes Courtesy Barrio Café
Cafe, Restaurant, Mexican, $$$
Barrio Café is a multi-award winning neighborhood restaurant serving authentic Southern Mexican eats. It was opened by Wendy Gruber and chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, who is a four time James Beard Award nominee and named one of MSNBC’s Top Nine Mexican Chefs. The restaurant is located in downtown Phoenix amidst the Calle 16 murals, a community art project initiated by chef Silvana and local artists. Barrio Café’s laid back, colorful space welcomes guests to try chef Silvana’s famous dishes like chiles en nogada – roasted poblano pepper stuffed with chicken, apple, pear, dried apricot and pecans in almond cream sauce topped with cilantro, queso fresco and pomegranate seeds.
Though it more broadly describes itself as Latin American, The Mission’s beautiful space and much raved about Mexican dishes make it a worthy contender nonetheless. Try tableside-made guacamole, the smoked pork pozole soup and its hand-pressed corn tortillas stuffed with fillings like battered mahi mahi, slow-braised pork shoulder and Tecate skirt steak. The Scottsdale restaurant opened in 2008 with chef Matt Carter and restaurateur Brian Raab at the helm and has been named Phoenix New Times’ Best Upscale Mexican. With stunning design details like its Himalayan salt brick wall, softly-lit chandeliers and fireside patio it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful Mexican restaurants in Arizona.
Located in beautiful Sedona, Elote Café is the product of chef Jeff Smedstad’s extensive travels through Mexico learning about the country’s cuisine to perfect his own take on authentic Mexican eats crafted from locally sourced, organic produce from the Sedona and Verde Valley region. Elote Café ha received a Foodist Award for most Uniquely Arizona restaurant, making it a must try for any foodie in the state. Some not to miss dishes include the Elote appetizer (fire-roasted corn with spicy mayo, lime and cotija cheese), the braised lamb adobo with sweet and spicy ancho chile sauce and the pastel de elote dessert – a Veracruz-style sweet corn cake with vanilla bean ice cream and Dulce de Leche.
Chef and owner Suzana Davila combines her creative take on Mexican cuisine with casual-upscale dining in the heart of downtown Tucson with Café Poca Cosa. This award winning urban bistro with a contemporary, chic design first opened its doors in 1984. Suzana, a native of the Sonoran city of Guaymas, brings the flavors of her homeland to a twice-daily changing menu printed in Spanish and English on a chalkboard that features dishes such as pollo mole negro (chicken in black mole sauce) and asada brava (steak marinated in lime and chilli).
A truly legendary restaurant, El Charro Café was established way back in 1922 and boasts the honor of being the USA’s oldest family run Mexican restaurant in continuous operation. It is not surprising then that Gourmet Magazine listed the venue amongst the nation’s ’21 Most Legendary Restaurants.’ Serving handcrafted Sonoran cuisine made from locally sourced ingredients, El Charro Café is credited as the birthplace of the chimichanga – a recipe created by its first owner Tia Monica Flin – and its reputation and history attract diners from across the globe. Today, El Charro Café has two further locations in Arizona, though its original branch in historic downtown Tucson is the place to be for guests wanting to see where it all began.
Nestled among the art galleries of Scottsdale’s Old Town, Frank & Lupe’s is a vibrant, laidback restaurant serving authentic Mexican fare in a colorful and welcoming space. Opened more than 25 years ago, Frank & Lupe’s is beloved by locals and visitors alike, and with its casual, unpretentious vibe and affordable, approachable eats, it’s easy to see why the restaurant is so popular. Guests can choose from a menu full of tacos, burritos, enchiladas and other classic Mexican recipes while Frank & Lupe’s charming, lively patio with full outdoor bar is great for sampling a margarita on sunny days.
Based within the grounds of the luxury, award winning Boulders resort in north Scottsdale, The Spotted Donkey Cantina’s Mexican fare and extensive, high end tequilas have cemented the restaurant as a local favorite. A luxuriously rustic dining room dominated by wooden beams, plush seats and warm tiled floors or large outdoor patio with beautiful desert views welcome guests to try some of the restaurant’s creative dishes. The honey and pan-seared sambal salmon tostadas with black bean-mango salsa and avocado vinaigrette is not to be missed. For tequila fans, its exclusive double-barrel Reposado from Mexico’s Herradura distillery is a must try.
For delicious, gourmet tamales there is only one place diners should head to when dining out in Tucson – the Tucson Tamale Company. The restaurant’s hand-rolled steamed tamales, of which there are over 30 varieties, are so in demand that Tucson Tamale Company has opened two more local branches, a catering arm and even a mail-order tamale service. There’s a tamale to suit everyone on the menu – spicy chipotle beef for meat lovers, the ‘Bisbee’ (with soy chorizo, potato and pinto beans) for vegetarians and vegans, dessert tamales for diners with a sweet tooth, and even a number of gluten-free options.
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The Joyride Taco House arrived in Gilbert in 2013 and opened a second location in central Phoenix later that year. The restaurants quirky, laidback vibe is quickly making it a local favorite for casual eats. Joyride Taco House, as its name would suggest, specializes in tacos and serves made to order corn tortillas with 13 varieties of fillings to choose from ranging from spicy chicken tinga and braised beef to ahi tuna and veggie. Throw in a few of its signature fire-roasted salsas, which includes the fiery charred habanero, and a few margaritas for a perfect casual Mexican meal.
La Hacienda is a restaurant from acclaimed chef-restaurateur Richard Sandoval, the Mexico City-born Culinary Institute of America trained ‘father of modern Mexican cuisine.’ Located at Scottsdale’s Fairmont Hotel, La Hacienda has been the recipient of many accolades including the AAA Four Diamond Award three years running and its fresh, modern take on Mexican cuisine has captured the attention of critics and diners alike. A classic, chic dining room and charming patio heated by fire pits invite guests to try executive chef Forest Hamrick’s exquisite creations like the huachinango- adobo grilled Pacific snapper with Mexican quinoa, poblano cream and chimichurri.