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.
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).
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.
Blue Agave's menu features upscale, authentic Mexican cuisine that rotates to include fresh, seasonal ingredients common to the region. Take off your shoes and glide across the floor to your tile-top table beneath exposed brick walls decorated with relics of turquoise and terra cotta affectations. Once seated, you can start with chicken flautas with serrano chiles and mole chatino ($7) or a platter of mussels with smoked chile cream sauce and habanero rouille ($10). Try to practice your pronunciation with dishes such as the enchiladas en salsa de huitlacoche with chihuahua and cotija cheese and agave rice ($15) or the chuletas de cordero, spicy lamb chops with ancho-port reduction and sweet-potato puree ($28).