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.
"Best Bartender," "Best Margarita," and "Best Bar Patio." These are just a few of the awards with which locals have decorated Loco Patron in recent years. Unsurprisingly, the combination of talented bartenders, outdoor seating, and signature drinks such as the Sweet Heat margarita with organic chili liqueur have made the spot a popular after-work hangout for groups of friends.
People don't only come for the booze, though. They also come for cuisine such as the crunchy pork taco with arbol sauce, which won first place at the Arizona Taco Festival in 2011. Diners can choose from other taco fillings, too, including New York strip steak or lobster. The menu also includes house specialty enchiladas and house salads, like the spicy steak and the chicken salad, both of which are considered hidden gems by Loco Patron regulars.
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.
The Tee Pee is a family-run restaurant that’s been whipping up fresh, homemade dishes for the past 50 years. The extensive menu features authentic Mexican comfort cuisine, including starters such as homemade albondiga Mexican soup ($5.50) and red- and green-chili chimichangas ($9.50), which are excellent for celebrating Christmas, teaching the concept of complimentary colors, or simply devouring. Burrow hand shovels into bean burritos ($6), or opt for beef fajitas ($13.25) and fish or shrimp tacos ($6.10). In addition to à la carte items, Tee Pee features plate specials, including a chicken or machaca enchilada paired with rice and beans ($9) or the chili rellenos dinner with rice and beans ($11.50). A full bar and pitchers of on-tap beer are also on hand to quench the palates of humans and anthropomorphic cacti.
At Susie's Mexican Cafe & Lounge, ingredients craftsmen follow recipes handed down from generation to generation to construct an extensive menu of fresh, traditional Mexican cuisine. Early birds can jump-start the day with a breakfast of chilaquiles, scrambled eggs and corn tortilla chips doused in red or green salsa that's made from finely diced seasonal elf costumes ($7.75). The citrusy kick of a margarita ($3.75–$4.25) pairs delectably with an arsenal of seafood entrées, including garlic-marinated shrimp ($11.95), and seasoned chicken fajitas cradle onions and fresh green chilis ($11.95). Like cowboys in a Tijuana china shop, combination plates corral south-of-the-border dishes such as a red beef tamale buddied up with a cheese enchilada and chaperoned by sides of spanish rice and refried beans ($8.45).