I-40 passes into Arizona and crosses through Petrified Forest National Park before it reaches Winslow, AZ of The Eagles fame. In what could generously be referred to as the center of town, a block down from Standin’ on the Corner Park is Las Maria’s, a simple, yet delicious, Mexican restaurant. The menu is nothing extraordinary looking and it is cash only, but the burrito is not like anything that the East Coast or the DC area has to offer. Arizona has something special; that is to say, Mexican food.
From Winslow, I-40 continues its way through the high plains desert, approaching Flagstaff. Conifer trees begin to appear, first sporadically, cast along the side of the highway, as if by some haphazard hand, slowly growing into a forest at the foot of Arizona’s tallest mountain, Humphrys Peak. Flagstaff, sitting at its base, seems to be perpetually in its shadow.
From here, I-17 breaks off to the south, beginning what can only be described as the long descent into Hell. Slowly at first, the conifers disappear from beside the highway and the majestic peaks penning in the thin strip of pavement fall flat into a long plateau. This is where the true descent begins. On the average June day, Flagstaff will hover temperately in the mid-70’s. It may even require a sweatshirt in the evenings. As I-17 cascades down the plateau, an unhappy driver could reach their hand up to feel the heat begin to radiate off the windshield like an oven. Often entering the low to mid-120’s, Phoenix is a little different than its sibling up in the mountains.
Stepping out from the car in downtown Phoenix is like stepping into the oven. At least, this would be the case, if my cars A/C could actually counteract the ungodly heat.
Phoenix has three seasons: Spring, Summer, and HELL. Right now, this is Hell.
In Phoenix, I-17 takes a jog to the west of downtown and then turns east, passing south of the city. Speeding through the south, numbered streets begin to spin off 7th Ave, close to Kiss Pollo, which we will hear more about at later date, then passing Central Ave, 7th St, and 16th. This is where our journey begins.
Phoenix not only different from Flagstaff in climate, but also in culture. Despite the nagging question, Why does Phoenix feel so white?, the vast majority of the state’s 25% Mexican population lives in the southern half. Though it may be difficult to find all aspects of Mexican culture, the culinary side is well represented.
While Arizona’s temperate climate and gloriously soaring peaks seem to be limited to the north, the abundance of Mexican food is not. One begins to crave, not just the greatly improved cuisine of the Southwest, but perfection itself: the hunt for the perfect taco. This deliciously Sisyphean task may push limits of your waistline, but not the limits of your options. Much like Marco Gutierrez’ nightmare, there is a taco truck on every corner.
The first stop will be La Frontera, a truck in a permanent location near the corner of 16th St and Van Buren. Brace yourselves.