Once you discover Richardson’s (1582 E. Bethany Home Rd., 602/265-5886, 11 a.m.–midnight Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–midnight Sat.–Sun., $10–28), you’ll be a convert to New Mexico’s own Southwestern cuisine: roasted chiles, gooey melted cheese, and smoky, grilled meats. You could easily make an entire meal of a small salad and the jumbo shrimp quesadilla with red pepper sauce and cheese, or the must-try posole, a spicy stew of hominy and pork in a zesty red-chile broth. Of course, then you’d miss out on the enchiladas and Pasta Heidi’s green chile linguine in a smoky chipotle cream sauce.
In the same plaza, the compact Dick’s Hideaway (6008 N. 16th St., 602/265-5886, 8 a.m.–1 a.m. Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–1 a.m. Sat.–Sun.) offers the same menu, but in a dark, rustic setting that feels a bit like a modern saloon. Pull up a stool at the polished copper bar and order a drink from the extensive beer and wine list. Both restaurants serve fantastic brunches.
You know your enchiladas are good when the president of the United States shows up at the door. George W. Bush ate at the Tee Pee Mexican Restaurant (4144 E. Indian School Rd., 602/956-0178, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Sun., $6–13) in 2004, but Phoenicians have been coming to this hole-in-the-wall for authentic Mexican food for almost 50 years. The Tee Pee is known for its chile rellenos, which come to the table as an intimidating, but tasty, mountain of cheese and chile peppers. The menu is affordable and diverse, but be prepared for tight quarters. The original orange booths are separated by a single divider, which means you’ll get to know your neighbor. Oh, and President Bush dined on two enchiladas, rice, and beans.
Chef Vincent Guerithault and his eponymous Vincent on Camelback (3930 E. Camelback Rd. Ste. 204, 602/224-0225, 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5–10 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 5–10 p.m. Sat., $30–36) are local classics. The James Beard Award winner combines Southwestern ingredients with French technique. The elegant restaurant is perennially popular for its signature appetizers—like duck tamale with Anaheim chile and raisins—creative entrées, and delicious selection of Grand Marnier, tequila, lemon, and raspberry soufflés.
The casual, hip vibe and deliciously simple menu inspired by Mexican street food have made Gallo Blanco Café and Bar (401 W. Clarendon Ave., 602/274-4774, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 7 a.m.–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., $4–11) a popular choice for locals. Start with the made-to-order guacamole and the elote callejero, grilled corn on the cob with fresh cotija cheese and smoked paprika. You’ll also want to sample the small homemade tacos, which range from seasonal veggies to cochinita, local pork marinated in achiote, oranges, garlic, and guajillo chiles. The small bar and restaurant in The Clarendon Hotel is also a great spot for an inexpensive breakfast, like the egg sandwich, topped with spicy chorizo and fresh avocado.
One of the best things about being a border state is the quality of the Mexican food. Via de Los Santos Mexican Café (9120 N. Central Ave., 602/997-6239, 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Fri., 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Sun., $6–17) is no exception. The café, known for its quality margaritas (which start at $2), boasts a selection of more than 200 different tequilas. But it is the food that keeps the patrons coming back. Beloved for its low prices and tasty Sonoran-style Mexican dishes,this Sunnyslope eatery is frequented for its well-marinated chicken enchiladas and the deep-fried perfection of its machaca chimichangas.