In 1986, the Tenorio family pooled their knowledge of Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine to create a restaurant that combined authentic, south-of-the-border cuisine with quick service. They named it Filiberto’s after one of their own, Filiberto Tenorio. Since then, Filiberto’s Mexican Food has expanded to three states and 55 locations, but their commitment to fresh ingredients hasn’t changed. Available for dine-in or carry-out, the menu abounds with crispy chicken, beef, and pork tacos, hefty burritos, and combination platters that pair enchiladas, tacos, and chili rellenos with rice and beans or a compatible paper doll.
Only serious Mexican food lovers need apply to dine at La Barquita Restaurant, for these authentic aren’t dumbed down for mainstream palates. The décor is dive, with bars on the windows, but it’s clean and servers are friendly, even to people who are surprised to learn that the savory birria they just devoured was goat stew. One marvelous specialty is the molcajetes, big volcanic rock cauldrons of luscious soups stocked with delights like steak, chicken, chorizo grilled cactus, grilled green onions and ranchero cheese, all in a lavishly seasoned broth, to be scooped with warm flour tortillas, guacamole, salsa and refried beans. Margaritas are potent, in flavors like mango and strawberry.
Anyone who has lived in the Valley for more than a few years knows about this place – or should – since it’s been a favorite landing spot for decades, beloved by diners craving solid, satisfying Mexican food served by friendly, familial staff. Rosita’s Place is certainly not fancy, but it brims with shiny Saltillo floors, yellow walls, lodge pole accents, beer signs and jukebox music. All the classics are in fine form here, from good-and-greasy cheese crisps draped in soft green chile strips to machacha, fried whole fish and gringo favorites like chimichangas or a T-bone steak with fries. Rosita’s is also a good find for breakfast, be it the hangover cure of menudo (available with the hoof still in), or a nice shrimp omelet.
As the Phoenix New Times reported, As? Es la Vida was founded when Judy Anderson, an American vacationing in Mexico, left behind some money to Cozumel cook Moises Treves to help him realize the restaurant of his dreams?which he'd go on to name "Such Is Life" after one of her trademark sayings. (After the story was featured on Unsolved Mysteries two decades later, the pair was finally reunited.)
During the years between, the restaurant gained some ardent fans, and in 2003 some of them bought the spot and gave its name a Spanish translation. The new owners retained the menu of dishes exploring Mexico's diverse regional cooking styles. To name just a few, the Yucat?n Peninsula contributes the slow-roasted orange-glazed pork dish cochinita pibil; the state of Puebla pitches in one of Mexico's most famous stews, mole poblano; and baked fish is prepared Veracruz-style with wine sauce, capers, and green olives. The chefs are also happy to adapt their dishes to be gluten-free and vegetarian-friendly for customers who make special requests or walk in wearing "Gluten Is Gross" T-shirts.
"Their faintly upscale little place is adorable, thanks to brightly colored walls, plants, Mexican art and furniture," Arizona Highways noted when it placed the family owned and operated As? Es la Vida on its list of the state's best restaurants of 2013. Burnished metal lanterns dangle above the tables, and baskets full of ferns and other leafy plants hung from the ceiling add extra color.
Award-Winning Chef | Inventive Mexican Cuisine | 250 Types of Tequila | Calle 16 Mural Project
About the Chef: As the daughter of bakers, Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza has cooked all her life. Barrio Café, her first restaurant, has vindicated this lifelong passion. Since the restaurant opened in 2002, she's been inducted into the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame, featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and nominated three times for the James Beard award. Along the way, the tattooed epicurean hasn't lost an iota of her devil-may-care personality. See, for example, the menu: “Conserve water, drink tequila.”
When to Go: Stop in for Sunday brunch from noon to 2 p.m., when live music pairs with guava mimosas and breakfast dishes such as eggs and chorizo or chilaquiles with chili sauce.
While You're Waiting: Chef Esparza is one of the originators of the Calle 16 mural project, and Barrio Café is one of its cornerstones. Head to the parking lot to admire the vibrant murals of Mexican iconography—including skulls and luchadores—drawn by local artists and muralists who have flocked to the area.
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Chef Esparza also runs Barrio Queen (7114 E. Stetson Drive, Suite 105, Scottsdale), which features 30 types of tacos and 200-plus tequilas.
As might be expected, tortas are a highlight at this family-run counter operation –rumor has it there’s an abuela back there in the kitchen – where ultra-friendly staff prepare quick-service lunchtime meals for hungry locals. Meats range from chicken and carne asada to seasoned and braised pork, al pastor, mole and more, each dressed with requisite pickled jalapeños, carrots, lettuce and avocado. The signature Cubana model is a bestseller at this clean white-tiled walk up, loaded with pork and ham in a filling bit of lunchtime excess – and washed down with horchata. Diners craving soft or crispy tortillas instead of squishy bolillo bread can get tacos or burritos with similar fillings. To finish it all up, a vibrant salsa bar offers great variety.