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Southwestern Essentials: 5 Great Mexican Restaurants

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Consider this your not-so-definitive guide to some of the best Mexican food in the region. Image courtesy Penca.
Consider this your not-so-definitive guide to some of the best Mexican food in the region. Image courtesy Penca in Tucson, where you can find these amazing tacos in real life.

Finding your favorite Mexican restaurant is a rite of passage for Southwestern residents. When this writer moved to Tucson from Seattle, my idea of Mexican food was cheese, cheese, more cheese and a good dollop of sour cream. Suffice to say, my world was rocked when I had my first Mexican meal in the desert.

It takes a good while to become an expert, though, so I’ve taken some (totally unscientific) polls to determine the best of the best in the Southwest. Our staff’s top picks:

Café Pasqual’s

A bit of a Santa Fe institution, Pasqual’s is pretty much what you’d expect from a Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe—in the best way possible. For 35 years, they’ve been serving a mix of New Mexican and Mexican food using fresh, seasonal, organic and naturally raised foods.

Dish to try: Mole enchiladas filled with zucchini, tofu and spinach.

Miguel’s Baja Grill

Initially, we were hesitant to believe that Moab is home to stellar ceviche and fish tacos. But Miguel’s is doing Baja-style food, and doing it well. Sometimes, it’s best to ignore your instincts.

Dish to try: Nopolo-style ceviche – a blend of fish, onions, cilantro, tomatoes and lime juice.

Penca

Tucson is home to a slew of noteworthy Mexican restaurants—it is the birthplace of the chimichanga, after all—but lately, we’ve been really digging Penca, a newer spot in downtown T-town that’s killing it with traditional Mexico City cuisine.

Dish to try: Chile en nogada – a roasted chile stuffed with pork, plantain, apple, almonds and dried fruit.

Tacos los Altos 

This taco shop on Route 66 in Flagstaff is the opposite of fancy. But don’t let the lack of décor scare you away—the food is worth it.

Dish to try: The horchata. It isn’t technically a food, but this traditional sweet rice milk is a must-try.

The Pepper Pot 

The tiny town of Hatch, New Mexico, is the self-proclaimed green chile capital of the world, so you better believe it is home to some of our favorite Mexican food.

Dish to try: Red enchiladas. If they’re good enough for Anthony Bourdain, they’re good enough for us.

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