Carlos O’Brien’s began in 1978 as one restaurant in a Phoenix strip mall, but the popularity of its generously portioned Mexican comfort foods steadily garnered a loyal following and allowed the owners to expand to three full-service locations. All three restaurants exercise the same dedication to creating hearty entrees from beyond the border, browning the edges of veggies in trans-fat-free oil and grilling meats over a pile of smoldering habanero peppers. Meals include overstuffed chimichangas with machaca beef and sizzling fajitas with seasoned pork. The chefs’ silken guacamole and savory enchilada sauces add extra layers of homey flavor.
Flavors from Oaxaca, Cuba, and Yucatan add depth to the menus at Fuego Bistro restaurants, three gourmet Mexican oases that pride themselves on their modern culinary touches. Among the warm reds and yellows and inviting black wicker chairs at the original Fuego Bistro, diners dig into ancho-dusted salmon croquettes and a seafood chili relleno with lobster cream-chili sauce.
At Ticoz Resto-Bar, the chefs draw from traditional Central American, South American, and Mexican recipes to whip up modern interpretations of authentic dishes such as tamales and enchiladas. Their menu includes grilled chicken doused in sherry chipotle sauce, street-style corn and flour tacos, and the cheesy housemade corn chips of Nachos Montana, named for the state's cheese-covered founder. Behind the bar, bartenders craft signature cocktails and martinis to complement the menu's innovative Latin flavors.
Meals and merriment unfold in an intimate lounge outfitted with dark woods, earth tones, and scarlet chairs and booths. Candles and a string of overhead lights illuminate a relaxing outdoor patio warmed by a space heater.
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.
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.
At Mi Patio Mexican Food Restaurant, chefs set out plates filled with quesadillas, tacos, tostadas, and chimichangas. The Baja spinach and feta cheese chimi—deep-fried and oven-baked—features a housemade cream-cheese sauce and rice. Cucumber sauce, baked zucchini, and rice hides inside the gyros chimi, and housemade red and green chile sauces slather enchiladas and tamales, all made from scratch. The chefs also festoon party trays with flautas, tacos, and cinnamon apple raisin chimichangas, which are perfect for games of hot potato once the potato gets cold.