Following Baja Fresh’s ethos set in 1990 as a healthy take on fast food, never-frozen meats sizzle atop the grill before they're tucked into made-to-order tacos and burritos. Grilled corn and flour tortillas embrace fish, carnitas, chicken, and steak, and smoky queso fundido sidles onto nachos and into burritos. Between bites, chips scoop up salsa made from farm-fresh produce rather than poured out of a can or fabricated in a space-age replicator. A complimentary salsa bar ensures no mouthful goes unspiced, and guests can scoop up their favorites as they await their dine-in, takeout, or catering orders.
At Manny's Mexican Restaurant, a familial spirit permeates the air and is reflected in the menu's hearty homemade dishes that cross borders with Mexican and Southwestern flavors. The combination plates mix and match traditional Mexican entrees such as flautas, tacos, and enchiladas, while the kitchen crew returns to Arizona by deep-frying burritos filled with meats and beans to make filling chimichangas. At the outdoor cantina, bartenders—like jockeys on stilts—reach for top-shelf tequilas such as Patrón or Hornitos when mixing their signature margaritas. Southwestern paintings and mosaic tiles capture the sunlight as it bounces about the expansive indoor dining room and outdoor patio.
Calico Jack's Cantina blends Tex-Mex cuisine with an atmosphere of all-night dance parties and music-fueled celebrations. Murals of Mexican calaveras dot the yellow walls as diners sup on hearty meals of carnitas, burgers, tacos, and salsas and dips. Revelers crowd the floor to rhythmically move to tracks from a live DJ or step up on one of the two full-service bars for delivering raucous toasts or taking first place in a height contest.
Voted the Best Neighborhood Mexican restaurant in the West Valley by the Phoenix New Times in 2009 and 2011, Pedro’s Mexican Restaurant serves lavish portions of Mexican food made with authentic recipes. Crispy chimichangas and chicken burros were particular favorites, along with stuff quesadillas, which the Phoenix New Times called "pure hedonism."
La Perla Cafe is more than a restaurant—it's one man's American dream come true. Joe Pompa and his wife, Eva, both grew up in the Jerome-Clarkdale area of Arizona. As a young man, Joe worked in the copper mines before becoming a champion middleweight boxer. Thinking of their future, Eva asked him to leave his boxing career behind and study electronics, so Joe took correspondence courses and eventually earned his degree. He took a job with Goodyear Aerospace to provide for his family, but he couldn’t let go of his lifelong goal to become self-employed. Joe knew that between his business acumen and his wife Eva's cooking—which she first learned in her native town of Santa Rosalia in Chihuahua, Mexico—they could make a go of it.
In 1946, the pair moved to Glendale and opened La Perla Cafe. Close to 70 years later, the restaurant still serves the same subtly spiced food inspired by Mexico's Chihuahua region, making tortillas by hand daily. The walls are decorated with a colorful mosaic, scenic prints, and framed boxing posters from Joe's heyday. Green plants weave in and out of a yellow arch, unlike a certain fast-food chain's yellow arches, which are wrapped with hamburgers. On the weekends, mariachi bands bring the space to life and sing classics such as "México Lindo y Querido."
Arizona shares more than a border with the Mexican state of Sonora. Though they belong to different countries, the two states share the same desert topography and, thus, many of the same culinary traditions. Valle Luna highlights and celebrates these traditions with a menu of Sonoran–style tacos, sopas, and pedazos inspired by the rare genius of its founder, Tia Rita. Surprisingly, Valle Luna’s story began not in Arizona but in upstate New York. Tia journeyed to Syracuse in the 1970s, bringing with her the recipes she gleaned from her childhood in the Sonoran Desert. After earning a number of awards and accolades in New York, Tia returned to warmer climes and founded the original Valle Luna on West Bell Road in Phoenix, where her food continued earn rave reviews until her passing in 2008. Today, Tia's family carries on her legacy at three locations spread across the Valley. They’ve even added to her original menu, crafting such genre-defying dishes as Mexican potato skins, choco tacos, and salsa-stuffed piñatas.