Let's get one thing straight: Phoenix tacos can run with the best of 'em. We're looking at you LA, San Diego, and Austin. Our taco scene is often underappreciated by outsiders and it's high time that misconception gets put to bed.
Need we remind you that the Valley is home to the nation’s first taco festival, more than its fair share of nationally recognized taquerias, and even a James Beard Award-winning taco connaisseur? To help you make the most of your Taco Tuesdays (and Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and any day that ends with a "y") we’ve rounded up our top spots and wax poetic about their must-try tacos.
Old Town Scottsdale Diego Pops has been a favorite of the Arizona Taco Festival and is one of the trendiest spots in Scottsdale’s booming nightlife neighborhood, so it's worth checking out. If you do -- and you should -- order up the braised pineapple pork taco. It wonderfully mixes of the tropical flavor of pineapple relish with a smoky pork -- kind of like the name suggests. While a simple choice, that cotija cheese and house slaw topping takes it to a whole new level.
Central Phoenix (& Gilbert) This fun, upbeat spot is home to some of the simpler, yet most satisfying tacos in the Valley. The menu’s crown jewel, the Standard, features chicken, avocado, Mexican slaw, and just the right amount of spice from the aji amarillo, the Standard is made on a corn tortilla and comes in at just under $4. Sure, it's... standard, but dammit. It's worth it.
Scottsdale (& Other Locations) Blanco Tacos & Tequila isn't where you go for the most authentic tacos in town, but the ingredients they use do make for one damn tasty taco. Especially the chipotle shrimp, housing chopped cabbage, pico de gallo, and fresh lime. It's zesty, spicy, and it's worth every penny.
North Phoenix Modern Margarita flawlessly lives up to its name with every dish. It adds a modern twist to everything on the menu, from tacos to the margaritas (and even the burgers). A perfect example: the fish taco. It features beer battered mahi mahi and lime-spiked aioli. Yes, there’s a time and place for a simple taco, but the complexities of this one are too good to pass up.
Central Phoenix While the artsy, Downtown Otro Cafe is often touted for its great breakfast menu, its dinner menu should not be overlooked, and speaking of overlooked -- veggies are often forgotten in the taco world. In fact, they’re usually just an afterthought, but not at Otro Café. This restaurant boasts a great veggie taco that's never exactly the same (read: the ingredients change). So you'll never be bored with the same old creation.
Central Phoenix It’s hard to find a Mexican food restaurant that can compare to Barrio Cafe -- the first concept created by Arizona legend and James Beard award-winning chef, Silvana Salcido Esparza. And while all the tacos are amazing, it’s the Pescado taco with its fresh cabbage,avocado, and beer battered fish that deserves some extra praise. In a sea of fish tacos (!), it's hard to stand out. But this one definitely does.
Glendale If you’re looking for authentic Mexican food and tacos that'll make you forget you’re still in the US, head on over to Restaurant Atoyac. Among the many great options is the Tacos de Lengua, which translates to cow tongue. But wait! Hear us out: it tastes much better than you think. Plus it's only $2.25 anyway.
Glendale This Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives alumni has mastered simple, mouth-watering Mexican food. Our top pick is the Baja Sur Dogfish Shark Taco. It’s simple yet flavorful, but what's most exciting is that if you order it you're eating a taco made from a shark. A beer battered shark. One that tastes delicious and not at all like chicken. Using locally-sourced produce and tortillas imported directly from Mexico, La Santisima is as authentic as it gets.
Central Phoenix This humble taqueria might not look like much, but seated at a plastic picnic table eating on styrofoam plates, you’ll enjoy some of the best tacos the Valley has to offer (hence its near-5-star reviews across all corners of Al Gore's Internet). We recommend the classic grilled chicken tacos with the perfect mix of cilantro, salsa, and guacamole. Plus, the price is beyond right at just a dollar.
Central Phoenix Thanks to its nearly limitless tequila options, incredible dining area inside an 1890s-era church, and of course, lots of gourmet tacos, Taco Guild is one of the top taco spots in the state. While it has a lot of great taco offerings, from the Korean fried chicken to the Cubano, we recommend the fan-favorite chipotle cherry taco. It’s topped with bleu cheese and chile aioli, which might sound a little strange, but after one order it'll likely become your go-to.
Central Phoenix This eclectic hippie paradise boasts a beach vibe (complete with the VW van and a welcoming smiley face sign), an always friendly staff, and great food. The standout of which is a shrimp taco, one of the freshest in the Valley -- and not just because of that ocean vibe. It's topped with (an addicting) chipotle mayo sauce, feta cheese, cabbage and pico de gallo, so be ready for a mouthful of flavor.
Phoenix This casual taco shack has everything you need and none of the over-the-top additions you don’t for the perfect, quick taco experience. Plus, the breakfast taco proves that this food knows no boundaries. If you're in the vicinity of Speedy Street Tacos, you can get all different variations around the clock. There's a vast selection on the menu, but start with the egg, steak, and cheese taco. It's a safe bet. Of course, the plain egg & cheese, and chicken versions aren’t bad either.
Old Town Scottsdale (& Others) This rapidly expanding concept’s popularity speaks for itself, offering Mexico City-inspired dishes originally conceptualized by the previously mentioned legendary chef Silvana. Like most of the restaurant’s menu items, the Cochinita Pibil taco goes wayyy above and beyond your typical pork taco. It's marinated in sour orange, which gives it that distinct citrus flavor. It's then topped with sour orange onions and perhaps the tastiest pico de gallo in town.
Old Town Scottsdale (& Others) Yes, El Hefe is a great option for a wild night out when you’re looking to drink a little more tequila than you should. But the restaurant also serves excellent food. Case in point: the chicken tinga taco. It offers a little bit of chorizo, some mango passion fruit salsa, and a dash of jicama relish.
Gilbert These tacos are arguably the most authentic you’ll find in Gilbert. They’re made from traditional family recipes that have been perfected over the last 20+ years. The shrimp tacos are straight up and simple, with plenty of shrimp and just enough vegetables. So if you want that "authentic" taco in Gilbert, you've found it.
Arcadia The Henry’s Portobello “Asada” Tacos are a vegetarian's dream. The combination of portobello mushrooms, guajillo chile, avocado, quinoa, tomatillo, cauliflower, and refried beans topped with cotija is a surprisingly delicious mix, one that's more hearty and filling than your typical veggie taco. We even think it’s good enough to convert the most die-hard meat lovers, for one meal at least.
Phoenix You certainly don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy a good vegan restaurant -- or a vegan taco. Even carnivores won't be able to get enough of The Coronado's potato taco. Topped with cotija cheese and a cilantro-lime dressing, this thing might make you question your meat-eating habits… if only for a few minutes.
Central Phoenix Mi Patio has been one of Arizona’s Mexican food go-to's for over three decades, and this sour cream beef taco is one of the top reasons why. It's simple, sure, but it's also a staple. It's full of flavor, packed with delicious beef, and topped with lettuce and cheese (and tomatoes and onions if you ask nicely). Simple, but incredibly effective.
Central Phoenix This cozy, Mexican food mainstay will make you feel like you’re back at grandma’s house -- if you’re grandma’s a taco master. All of the taco variations are top-notch, but the pork in green chile sauce taco is the right move for a number of reasons: 1) the sauce is incredible, 2) the pork is tender, and 3) the combination of flavors in the soft corn tortilla is about as good as it gets at the Burrito House.
Downtown Scottsdale (& Others) This upscale Latin restaurant has earned its chops in the Scottsdale dining scene with its handmade, top-quality, and of course, delicious menu items. And while the selection of tacos is notable as a whole, the pork shoulder taco is the star. Featuring some smoked, braised beef, and a spicy pineapple glaze, this taco is a definite can't-miss. So really, don't.
Central Phoenix and Chandler Despite its humble and unassuming exterior, Taco Chiwas has become nothing short of a sensation in the Valley since its opening in 2016, garnering widespread acclaim and impressive reviews for its freshly prepared tortillas, top quality meats, and great service. Its namesake taco is a go-to, filled with beef, ham, jalapeno, Anaheim chiles and Asadero cheese in a corn tortilla.
North Scottsdale As one of the Valley’s top-rated Mexican food restaurants, it’s impossible to not have a great meal La Hacienda. The warm, Spanish-style restaurant creates the perfect taco eating atmosphere and its selection of menu items doesn’t disappoint the taste buds. For an out of this world bite, try the lobster tacos with Maine lobster and arbol cram on a flour tortilla.
Arcadia This nationally recognized taqueria might look inconspicuous from the outside, but inside is a treasure trove of top-of-the-line tacos and high-quality, creative spirits to go with them. Chef Rich (as seen on Food Network) has concocted a lineup of creative menu items ranging from a duck breast taco with mole verde to a lamb taco. However, if we had to pick one, we’d go for the Korean fried chicken with compressed cabbage, pickled jalapeno, gochujang and mojo de cebollin.
Downtown Phoenix This relative newcomer to the Valley’s taco scene has already made quite the impression thanks in part to its art-focused atmosphere and the huge names behind it, like celebrated Arizona restaurateur chef Aaron Chamberlin. The straightforward menu lets the tacos shine -- especially the popular newcomer the costra taco with carne asada, caramelized cheese, and caramelized onion on a hand-pressed, freshly-made tortilla.
While everybody loves a quick and simple street taco, sometimes you want to enjoy a taco that’s as extra as you are, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at Kai -- Arizona’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant that’s heavily influenced by the state’s Native American roots and local food producers. The Recado Rojo Compressed Lamb Taco coming in at a whopping $50 features locally-produced “gotija” cheese and garbanzo beans with pickled pineapple tomatillo and lamb on aji amarillo and annatto seed chemeith.
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Jamie Killin is a Phoenix writer with a lot to say about Mexican food. Learn about the latest Phoenix happenings on her Twitter at @jamiekillin or Instagram @jamiefayekillin.