Budget Beat: Asi Es La Vida

Categories: Budget Beat
Enfrijoladas: Chicken enchiladas covered in mole.
It took my living in Phoenix nearly four years and countless trips up and down 24th Street to stop at the Mexican restaurant with the goofy/charming hand-painted sign that depicts a blue parrot and the words "Asi Es La Vida." The two-story building just north of Osborn Road looks just odd enough that it's going to scare away diners looking for more familiar-feeling Mexican food experience.

When I finally popped in for a quick and cheap burrito about two months ago, I expected a glorified taquería in this obviously repurposed edifice. I was surprised -- pleasantly -- that it was a totally different scene: not quite upscale, but certainly nicer (and pricier) than your run-of-the-mill Mexican joint. It's a cozy little dining room -- dimly lit, nice tablecloths and flatware, tasteful Mexican art on the wall, a small bar that separates the dining room from the kitchen, a guitarist subtly seeking Mexican folk songs and Spanish-language versions of old American pop tunes.

In short, I felt I'd found a true diamond in the rough -- an unheralded, untrendy, and uncrowded mid-range restaurant where you could eat unique, made-with-care Mexican food and have a comfortable, quiet conversation. There's gotta be a hitch, you say. Well, yeah, there is: No booze and, like I said, it's not really budget-y -- until now.

Green chili enchiladas: Tangy and tasty.
There's a sign outside Asi Es La Vida touting the restaurant's $7.95 lunch specials. Not the cheapest lunch in town, but considering the quality of the meals and the dining experience, it's still a darn good deal.

I went with some co-workers recently, and we were all quite happy with our meals. Two of them ordered the $7.95 tortas, those big Mexican sandwiches served on amazing telera bread, which is some of the lightest, softest bread you'll ever eat. The pork torta was tasty, but the chicken torta was among the best I've had in town. Two slices of juicy grilled chicken breast, avocado, cilantro, tomato, and a creamy sauce made for an amazing sandwich.

Another one of my companions ordered the day's actual special: green chili enchiladas. Unfortunately, they weren't $7.95. They were a somewhat cost-prohibitive $10.95, which is probably more than what most people want to spend on a workday lunch outing. But that being said, my friend made quick work of this dish, but not before letting have a taste. I could see why he chowed down post-haste: succulent shredded chicken stuffed into corn tortillas and smothered in a tangy, almost-tomatillo-esque green chili. The chili wasn't so much about spiciness as it was about a really fresh, organically zesty zing. 

I ordered the enfrijoladas, a plate of chicken-stuffed corn tortillas, drenched in warm mole, and topped with some melted white cheese. This entree was $7.95 and worth every penny of it. The dark-brown mole wasn't exactly bursting with hot spiciness, but it was very good, with lots of different flavors vying for my attention. It was a perfect-sized portion, too. I would definitely order this dish again.    

Chicken torta: Delectable.
The menu contained one or two other selections for $7.95, as well as some more expensive seafood-based dishes that got as high as $13.95. I should also note that the freshly made guacamole is out of this world, if a bit expensive. And the fruity agua frescas are dynamite, too. Try the watermelon -- addictive.

If you're looking for a change from run-of-the-mill sandwich shops or the dreaded fast food, and you want a lunch experience that's slightly a cut above, in terms of atmosphere, I highly recommend you check out Asi Es La Vida.

Asi Es La Vida
3602 North 24th Street
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

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