Category Archives: Mexican food

Going With My Gut in Nogales, Arizona

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Great, affordable Mexican seafood at Cocina La Ley in Nogales, Arizona

Before I hit a new town or city on a road trip, I usually do considerable online research on the best places to eat. But sometimes it’s best to just wing it.

Such is the case when we approach Nogales, a city of 20,000 on the Arizona-Mexico border south of Tucson. The critters in the car are hungry, and Nogales is only five minutes away.

Just time for a quick “best restaurants in Nogales” search on TripAdvisor. Up pops Cocina La Ley, where one reviewer said he was the only gringo in the place. Perfect.

So off a main street we turn onto a little gravel road past an auto body shop to a little slope-roofed concrete building, with a bunch of cars around it. Double perfect.

Inside, we join the fast-moving lunch line and order mainly shrimp and breaded fish tacos, for about $2 apiece; the place is also noted for its shrimp-laden cocteles (cocktails) and soups. No sooner do we take our seats at a table, than the food arrives on Styrofoam plates. We adorn our little tacos with toppings such as pico de gallo and squirts from bottles, ranging from mild to searing, and dig into our excellent fare.

 

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Delicious seafood tacos

Seeing our plates quickly cleaned, our sharp-eyed server/table cleaner orders us a few more tacos, which again appear out of nowhere. We hardly have time to soak in the busy atmosphere of local families enjoying their meals.

So, thanks to TripAdvisor for leading us to a wonderful, inexpensive lunch. But don’t take every review seriously. “This isn’t a place for ambience,” one visitor commented. Au contraire. The place is dripping with it.

Cocina La Ley
226 West 3 Street, Nogales, Arizona
Daily 8 am-4 pm
520-287-4555

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Best Road Trip Food & Drink of 2018

Sought and Found 4

Best Coffee: Caleb and Kitty Leung make exacting coffee in their gorgeous Sought and Found Coffee Roasters in Calgary, Alberta

Vancouver Island 4

Best coffee mugs: Katy Fogg’s sublime, hand-thrown mugs, at Tin Town Cafe in Courtenay, B.C.

East Calgary 13

Best brunch: Deane House, Calgary

La Baguette muffin

Best muffin: La Baguette, Revelstoke, B.C.

Edmonton coffee 21

Best doughnut: Made-to-order Portuguese-style doughnut at Edmonton’s Ohana Donuterie

Southeast Arizona 36

Best Bakery: Don Guerra’s Barrio Bread in Tucson, Arizona

Vancouver Island 17

Best bakery treat: Focaccia bread at Fol Epi in Victoria, B.C.

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Best sandwich: Meat balls on ciabatta at Meat & Bread in Calgary

Southeast Arizona 11

Biggest Feed. A tie: Sandwiches for three (three days!) at Salt Lake City’s Grove Market

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And the Oinker At Bubba’s Big Bites in Chilliwack, B.C.

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Best Mexican: Owner James Nelson and his made-to-order corn tortillas at El Norteno in Grande Prairie, Alberta of all places

Southeast Arizona 231

Best hot dog: Can’t beat the Sonoran hot dogs in parking lot Ruiz in Tucson

Sunshine Coast 49

Best beer: Belgian-style Townsite Brewery in Powell River, B.C.

Vancouver Island 27

Best burger: Chucks Burger Bar, in Sydney, B.C.

Edmonton coffee 6

Best complimentary breakfast: The Le Creuset pots were the clincher at Hyatt Place Hotel in Edmonton

Atco Cafe 6

Best restaurant architecture: ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe in Calgary

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Best farmers’ market: cSPACE in Calgary

Market Bistro Canmore 5

Best service: Brande at Market Bistro in Canmore, Alberta

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Best gas station experience: Maverick in Fillmore, Utah

Monkman iPhotos 17

Best foraged food: Wild huckleberries on Monkman Pass Trail near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

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Best dining experience: As always, incomparable Carmen making fresh tacos in Hamer, Idaho

Pictures From a November Road Trip to Southeast Arizona

 

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November is a perfect time for hiking in Tucson

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Hoar-frosted lines on the long, glorious drive down the I-15 in Montana

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Never too soon to promote Christmas: Willard Bay State Park north of Salt Lake City

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Sandwiches for three at Grove Market in Salt Lake City

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Trendy Welcome Diner in Tucson, Arizona

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Feathery cacti at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

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Wild turkeys in southeast Arizona

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Hole in the U.S.-Mexico fence near Montezuma Pass in southeast Arizona

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Sign in Bisbee, Arizona around mid-term elections

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Wintering sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, northeast of Bisbee, Arizona

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Majestic Gadsen Hotel in the border town of Douglas, Arizona

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Superb, eroded volcanic rock pinnacles in Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona

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My first sighting of a coatimundi in Chiricahua National Monument: Three feet from the car window; never paid attention

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Razor-wire fence surrounding U.S. Border Patrol compound, near Willcox, Arizona

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Can’t visit Tucson without a trip to Ruiz’s for a Sonoran hot dog

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Early-morning red rock driving near Page, Arizona

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Power plant near Page, Arizona at dawn

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“Can I park your yacht for you, sir?”

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The Maverick gas station experience in Fillmore, Utah

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Swans along Highway 91 in southern Idaho

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Hoar frost above hot spring along Highway 91

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The incomparable Carmen making fresh tacos in Hamer, Idaho

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Dead great horned owl at a rest stop along the I-15 in central Montana

Mexican poutine in northern Alberta

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Loaded tater tots, or “Mexican poutine” at Grande Prairie’s El Norteno

Grande Prairie’s El Norteno is certainly the best taco shop in northern Alberta, if not a much wider area. I mean, how can you beat corn tortillas that are rolled out and grilled after you place your order? All the fillings are excellent, especially the fish, enhanced by house-made toppings.

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Owner James Nelson and his made-to-order corn tortillas

But owner James Nelson certainly upped the ante when he suggested we try a plate of tater tots, or as he called them Mexican poutine. Yes, it was deep-fried tater tots, loaded with slaw, cilantro and house-made salsa and guacamole and aioli sauce.

The result was surprisingly fresh tasting and fantastic. We hoovered down a plate, alongside a couple of tacos each.

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The tacos at El Norteno are always excellent

It was so good we made a point of returning on our way back through Grande Prairie. The plate of tots disappeared in about a minute.

Note: Grande Prairie’s food scene continues to get more interesting. In the stall next to El Norteno, at the downtown Farmers’ Market, is Off the Wheaten Path, a gluten-free, vegan kitchen offering bowls, wraps, root veggies, and plant-based pizzas. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open when we passed through. Next time.

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Innovative, healthy stuff at Off the Wheaten Path, next door

El Norteno
10032 101 Avenue, Grande Prairie, Alberta
Monday 11 am-3 pm, Tuesday to Friday 11 am-8 pm, Saturday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday
780-978-8093

Off the Wheaten Path
10032 101 Avenue, Grande Prairie, Alberta
Wednesday-Thursday 8 am-4 pm, Friday 8 am-8 pm, Saturday 10 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday to Tuesday
587-343-1848

Great Mexican Tacos in Grande Prairie, Alberta

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Great fish tacos at El Norteno in Grande Prairie, Alberta

I keep finding great Mexican food in the strangest of places. Like Idaho, home of my two favourite Mexican road-food stops: the incredible one-woman show in tiny Hamer and the fantastic fare at Morenita’s in Idaho Falls.

You can add to that list El Norteno, way up yonder in the northwest Alberta city of Grande Prairie. As an oil and gas/farming centre, GP is well stocked with steakhouses, pizza places and lounges. But tucked inside a downtown farmers’ market is a little stall churning out tacos.

Now, these aren’t just any tacos, but Ensenada Baja-style tacos, which apparently means corn tortillas, batter-fried fish and no lettuce. The most impressive thing for me is that once you place an order, the sole guy running the show grabs a mound of masa harina (corn dough) and runs it through a tortilla press before flipping the resulting disks on the grill. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

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Fresh-pressed corn tortillas with every order

Meanwhile, he’s flash frying basa filets and charbroiling pork loin, which are placed inside the grilled tortillas and topped with onion, cilantro and house-made salsa and guacamole. Good, flavourful stuff.

At about $12 for three, filling tacos, it’s not Mexican food-truck cheap, but still good value for northern Alberta. And yes, the corn tortillas start falling apart as they are crammed into our gaping mouths. But for me, that’s just a sign they’re truly authentic.

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It’s a little one-man show

El Norteno
10032 101 Avenue, Grande Prairie, Alberta
Monday 11 am-3 pm, Tuesday-Friday 11 am-8 pm, Saturday 10 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday
780-832-8093

Spring Road Trip to Tucson, Arizona

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Sonoran Desert landscape in Tucson, Arizona

With winter persisting well into April in Calgary, it was definitely time for a spring road trip to the U.S. southwest and its warming sun. The destination this time was all the way south to Tucson, Arizona—a trip involving plentiful hiking, eating and drinking.

But as they say, the journey is often as important as the destination. So before I delve more deeply into Tucson eats and drinks over the coming weeks, here’s a pictorial sampling of road life on the three-day route down and on the way back.

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Road trip breakfast of chilaquiles at MartAnne’s Burrito Palace in Flagstaff, Arizona

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Early April snowstorm in Flagstaff (elevation 7,000 feet), 2 hours north of Phoenix

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Hanging out with the cool coffee crowd at Lux Central in Phoenix

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Two jumpers in the Wave Cave near Apache Junction, east of Phoenix

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Peeking into the kitchen at Porter’s Cafe in Superior, Arizona

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Open-pit mine south of Superior, Arizona

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Outside Oracle Patio Cafe in Oracle, Arizona

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Chalet Village Motel in Oracle, Arizona

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Aquarium fish at the Desert Museum in Tucson

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Sculpture in Metal Arts Village, Tucson

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Homeward bound: Lunch line at colourful Lone Star Taqueria in Salt Lake City

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Tacos Antojitos Naucalpan in tiny Hamer, Idaho: There’s no place like it

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Run by the incomparable Carmen

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Tesla super charging station in whistlestop Lima, Montana on the I-15

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Hills outside one of my favourite U.S. towns, Dillon, Montana

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Hitchin Post, Melrose, Montana