Courtesy of Sanctuary Camelback Mountain
Jeff Ficker
December 19, 2014

Stop. Back away from the deep-fried, cheese-covered cliché you think is Mexican food. Like other national culinary powerhouses, Mexico offers a rich and amazingly diverse collection of regional cuisines, inspired by local ingredients and traditions. Arizona’s border with the Mexican state of Sonora led to a proliferation of the region’s comfort foods in the 20th century, from tacos and tamales to refried beans. Within the last decade, though, a crop of innovative chefs has rescued Scottsdale’s Mexican restaurants from this limited palate, introducing—and reimagining—regional dishes from Oaxaca, Puebla and Baja. The Phoenix area has hundreds of Mexican restaurants, and many of the most traditional ones are located outside of Scottsdale. The chefs at the restaurants highlighted below strive for a mix of authenticity and quality, and filter it through a contemporary lens. Any “best” list is sure incite some controversy—especially when it comes to Mexican food in Arizona—but I can promise you a great meal any of these spots.

Barrio Queen

La Hacienda

Chef Richard Sandoval regularly earns kudos for his high-end take on Mexican cuisine: grilled trout with Poblano cream, lobster tacos, and chicken in a pistachio mole. You’ll find more than 200 tequilas at the bar, including nightly artisan tastings that will give you a deeper appreciation of the Southwest’s much-loved spirit.

The Mission

Los Sombreros Cafe & Cantina

Owner Azucena Tovar draws upon her Central Mexican roots in crafting a deliciously original menu. For something on the lighter side, try the fig and panela cheese salad, and salmon with mango pico de gallo. Locals love the homey patio and braised meats, like pork carnitas and spicy lamb adobo.

Distrito

Mexico City’s street food gets an Iron Chef makeover from Jose Garces at his Scottsdale outpost. Hand-painted Dia de los Muertos skulls, glittery tabletops and boldly colored patterns provide a suitably vibrant backdrop for the satisfying collection of innovative small plates and tacos. Early risers should pop in for the restaurant’s popular breakfast.

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