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For a taste of traditional Mexico, it’s hard to beat the freshly made tortillas and pan dulces (literally, sweet bread) found at Arizona’s many authentic tortillerias and Mexican bakeries. And forget about guilt. These friendly, family-run places all harbor the spirit, if not the actual presence, of a Mexican grandmother who suggests that you’re too thin and that you really need to keep up your strength.
The original native flatbread that the Spanish encountered in Mexico – not to mention the original gluten-free wrap – corn tortillas are among the staples of Alejandro’s in south Tucson. They come in a variety of sizes, and an on-site carnicerita purveys meaty fillings like spiced shredded pork.
Soft, stretchy flour tortillas draw locals to the homey Anita Street Market near downtown Tucson. Kids especially like the warm gorditas (little fat ones), made with cottage cheese and fresh milk.
La Sonorense sells distinctive corn and flour tortillas, including a whole-wheat variety, out of a modest shop in Phoenix. You can also buy corn masa and par-cooked flour disks to recreate them at home from semi-scratch.
Tortillas Rosario is named for the abuelita (grandmother) whose recipes inspired the business. If you can’t get to the Phoenix storefront, you can find their products in several specialty markets; those that focus on Indian food feature Rosario’s chapatis, an Asian cousin to tortillas.
Founded in 1940 as a tortilla and tamale factory, La Fonda in Yuma remains true to its roots, employing a tortilla maker from Mexico skilled in the traditional methods of everything from corn kernel soaking to chip frying.
A longtime favorite in Safford, Mi Casa caters to purists with handmade corn and flour tortillas, but also offers blueberry, apple cinnamon and tomato-basil flavors, as well as tortilla chips sprinkled with sea salt.
The Spanish introduced wheat bread and, during their brief reign, the French brought rich pastries, but Mexico put a unique spin on its popular baked goods. For example, at La Estrella, a South Tucson institution with a newer downtown branch, you’ll see pan dulce with creative shapes, such as the ombligo (bellybutton), named for the little knot in its center, and elote, corncobs with individually etched kernels.
Savory Mexican menu standards get a sweet touch at La Purisima in Glendale, where regulars line up for the likes of flautas filled with pineapple and tostadas sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. You’ll also find south-of-the-border takes on such American favorites as chocolate cupcakes and jelly rolls (called niño envuelto, or wrapped-up baby).
Azteca in Phoenix expanded the family’s original 1957 bakery to a restaurant serving hearty Mexican breakfasts and lunches, but you can still accompany your morning coffee with such French-inspired favorites as mantecadas, a cross between a muffin and a madeleine cookie, and croissant-shaped cuernos (horns).
Tucked away in the little town of Cottonwood in the Verde Valley, Romero’s Panaderia offers all the traditional treats of the big cities. Savor sweet rolls like the shell-shaped conchitas, topped with sugar in different colors, or fruit-filled empanadas in flavors like apple, apricot and lemon.
Story last updated January 4, 2018.