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."
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.
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."
Arriba's team culls chilies grown in Hatch, New Mexico to assemble made-from-scratch New Mexican fare depicted on an extensive menu. Culinary tourists can take a trip to the border via the White Sands chimichanga plate—covered by a unity of spicy ground beef, green chili, and chicken guisado ($11.59)—or by way of the machaca green-corn tamales, which brandish machaca beef and a crown of green sauce ($10.99). Entrees typically come chaperoned by beans and rice, for a meal more multifaceted than a swiss-army knife glued to a smartphone. Dishes range in spiciness from “snappy” to “meltdown,” but can be prepared by mild by request, with the Santa Fe fajita salad ($11.99) falling in the former category and the eight-ounce steak Tampico ($17.99) dwelling in the latter category. Diners can also satiate smaller appetites with individual tamales or tostadas from the à la carte menu.