The #1 question I get from out-of-towners traveling to the valley? “What are the best Mexican restaurants in Phoenix??” Well, there are plenty of options.
Here in AZ, we’re lucky to have a slew of chefs who are interested in exploring the variety of cuisines across the regions of Mexico. They use authentic flavors, family recipes, and regional heirloom ingredients to craft amazing, complex dishes. Your Phoenix travel guide is woefully incomplete without at least one Mexican meal.
Mexican cuisine in America is a food genre that sparks a lot of opinions – and showcases a lot of interpretations and variety. You may be familiar with Cal-Mex, New Mexican, and Tex-Mex (yes, my personal fave)… but are you familiar with the cuisine that is heavily influenced by our (Arizona’s) neighboring Mexican state of Sonora? Keep reading as we explore some of the best Mexican restaurants in Phoenix that include some of these Sonoran-influenced gems!
Bacanora is one of the must try restaurants in Phoenix right now. Chef René Andrade–who is from Sonora and named the restaurant after the agave spirit grown in that Mexican state–serves up dazzling wood-fired Sonoran comfort food on Grand Avenue in downtown Phoenix. The tiny, bright space became an immediate favorite among locals upon opening last year, and their nomination for Best New Restaurant at this year’s James Beard Awards has only made it more difficult to snag a reservation (you can secure a reservation online now). If you’re lucky enough to see the tomahawk ribeye or the tuétano on the menu when you go – get it. And be prepared for a giant feast!
From the freshest award mention, to a legacy Phoenix chef! James Beard Award-nominated Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza opened Barrio Cafe in 2002, and twenty years later the restaurant is still one of the most beloved spots for Mexican food in Phoenix. Chef Silvana traveled all across Mexico to compile a menu of some of Mexico’s most beloved dishes, like cochinita pibil from the Yucatan, chiles en nogada and mole from Puebla, and tlayudas, traditional Oaxacan style tacos. Barrio Cafe–not to be confused with the chain called Barrio Queen–is a charming space in central Phoenix on 16th Street that also has a very impressive collection of fine equilas and other agave spirits.
Where to eat in Phoenix if you’re craving tacos? While there are many options, Tacos Chiwas is hands down a fan favorite. First opened in 2016 by husband and wife team Armando Hernandez and Nadia Holguin, their locations in Central Phoenix, Chandler, and Mesa all serve up family recipes from their native Chihuahua, passed down through generations. Like many northern states, Chihuahua is known for their cattle industry, so much of the cuisine is meat centric. The delicious el pastor and carne asada at Tacos Chiwas are served not only in the form of tacos, but also in burritos, gorditas, and quesadillas. Try the lengua tacos – they’re tender and flavorful!
Award-winning taquero, Chef Richard Hinojosa (who also hails from San Antonio), and business partner Jason Morris dish out some mean tacos and libations. Order the salsa trio that includes salsa verde, pasillo, and habanero, guacamole and chips, queso and chips, or one of the specialty crunchy tacos of potato, beef, lamb, and pork. Wash it all down with the Premier CRU Margarita, voted best in Phoenix. I have said this before, and I will say it again, the margarita is the best in town, hands down. If you disagree, let’s go and test it out together.
Otro Cafe – and sister restaurant Gallo Blanco downtown – have become some of the best local Mexican restaurants in Phoenix for good reason! Otro Cafe’s mix of playful, eclectic dishes results in a large menu with plenty of amazing options for the whole family. It’s a mixture of traditional and new world styles, grounded in Mexico City-style cuisine. Owner Chef Doug Robson was raised in Mexico City and went to high school in my home town of San Antonio, so yes I have a soft spot for him and his delicious food. While the dinner at Otro Cafe is great, you simply must visit them for brunch. Their flapjacks, Consuelo del Sur, and Naco Torta are all unmissable. Get there early on the weekends to avoid the long wait!
It’s hard to find a restaurant more truly “family-run” than Los Olivos. Three generations of the Corral family have worked to make the restaurant a favorite for Mexican food in Phoenix since they left their native Mexico in 1919. The beautiful and unique space that has been in operation since 1953 boasts delicious Sonoran cuisine perfect for a comforting family dinner. While the previous four restaurants I recommend for more adventurous eaters, Los Olivos is perfect for those who may not be comfortable with trying bone marrow or beef tongue. Start with cheese crisps or nachos and don’t miss the fajitas or chimichangas.
New to town!!! One thing I miss the most about Tex-Mex is breakfast tacos. No, not a breakfast burrito, but a breakfast taco: they are smaller, don’t sit like a bomb in your gut all day, are served on either corn or flour tortillas, and you can order more than one. They are nearly impossible to find in this desert town, but now I am in luck, for Torchy’s Tacos, a chain out of Austin, has arrived. To me, nothing is more comforting that two bean and cheese tacos for breakfast, but try several, like the migas (scrambled eggs, tortilla strips, cheese, green chilies, pico de gallo, and avocado) or the wrangler, with scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheese and brisket. My only issue is that you have to wait until they open at 10 am to get them. At least it is progress!
Taco Chelo is a collaboration between three talents: Chef Suny Santana from Monterrey, Mexico, Artist Gennaro Garcia from Sonora, Mexico, and Chef Aaron Chamberlin from Mesa. The menu at Taco Chelo–whose name comes from Chef Suny’s mother Consuelo, nicknamed “Chelo”–is simple and delicious. The tacos, ranging from beer battered fish, to vegetable, to carne asada, are served on corn tortillas made by Chelo herself. I really think the fish tacos are as good as some I have eaten in Ensenada. Good to know: Wednesday special are al pastor tacos, and on the weekends from 11-3 they have a special brunch menu with items like chilaquiles and breakfast tortas.
Bonus: BARCOA Agavería
While not a restaurant, if you are a fan of agave spirits, a visit to BARCOA in downtown Phoenix is a must. Housed in a 1928 historic building with an unassuming entrance off an alley, BARCOA–whose name refers to the tools that extracts the agave plant–highlight the world of heritage agave spirits. Book a tequila tasting with co-owner Dave Tyda for a truly exceptional experience. For more on BARCOA, check out my article from A Taste of AZ magazine here.
Hopefully the word of this Texas girl has convinced you about the best Mexican restaurants in Phoenix. For more delicious food of all types and even more of the best local restaurants in Phoenix, check out my Local Guide to Food & Fun in The Valley.