READERS' PICK: What do you expect of a taco stand? The food should be good, cheap, quick, substantial and convenient. That's Los Betos. None of their large, tasty burritos are over $3, they're open 24 hours and they're everywhere (with an especially high concentration along Grant Road). You can drive through or eat there (inside or out depends on the location). Los Betos is the largest chain in a subculture of Mexican restaurants that also includes Nico's, Viva and Filibertos, among others. They feature burritos, enchiladas and tacos, just about what you'd expect, and their combo plates with rice and beans are about five bucks. We've eaten everything on the menu at one time or another, a favorite being the vegetarian burrito -- although it's rarely made exactly the same way twice. Usually featuring beans, rice, shredded cabbage and sour cream, with a side of guacamole, it's delicious and filling, even without the conspicuously absent cerveza. The chicken burrito packs about half a chicken and red sauce into a flour tortilla. Other substantial meat dishes include machaca, pollo asado, carne asada, revolving specials (the chili verde is good) and even fish tacos and taquitos. When you're hungry for Mex, in a hurry and you don't have much efectivo, you know where to stop -- Los Betos. (Hint: at 40 mph, the sign looks a lot like "Lobsters.")
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Nico's, 1855 E. Fort Lowell Road; 4090 N. Oracle Road Nico's Mexican Food's midtown shop sits on the northwest corner of Campbell Avenue and Fort Lowell Road, convenient for UA, Salpointe High and many Foothills commuters. The location has housed a succession of failed restaurants, but Nico's has been successful enough to drive out the Taco Bell that predated it next door, and has recently opened another location on Oracle near Albertson's. The food at Nico's is inexpensive and good. A la carte items are generally under $3 (tacos, enchiladas and burritos), and the combo plates are $6 or less. It's cool inside when it's hot outside, but you can take your pick of AC or al fresco. Try the beef and bean burrito, livened up by the addition of grilled peppers and onions. Also excellent are the diametrically opposed carne asada and vegetarian burritos. Nico's breakfast burritos (available all day) are popular, too, usually involving eggs and potatoes with a variety of other options inside. Nico's is open 24 hours, dine-in or drive through. Nothing fancy, just good Mexican food at reasonable prices. Check it out if you haven't already.
MORE MANIA: We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the amazing taco bar at Las Brasas, 2928 E. 22nd St. This taqueria started out as a tiny storefront operation with a handful of tiny tables in a strip mall near Reid Park, but the signature taco -- tiny nubbins of carne asada wrapped in a flour tortilla, with a serve-yourself array of cabbage, onion, lime and salsa -- has proven so popular the restaurant has doubled in size. It now boasts a collection of funky wood tables and the tacos are better than ever. Check 'em out for yourself: three tacos and a plate of beans will set you back less than four-and-a-half bucks.