The Best Tacos in the Southwest

I’ve made it to Seattle where the food is said to be amazing as amazing can be, but I would be doing the Southwest an injustice if I didn’t lament leaving behind the delicious tacos I’ve encountered there. From fried avocado tacos to pickled cactus tacos, here are a few of my favorite taco spots in the Southwest:

Taqueria in Phoenix


Roosevelt’s Row is a little known secret in Phoenix, at least to those who don’t live there. It’s the artist district of the city, where buildings are spray painted with vibrant murals and container galleries open their doors to the public on First Fridays each month. Along with great local art, this neighborhood has a few really great restaurants and bars (looking at you, Bliss ReBar).


For tacos in Roosevelt’s Row, look no further than Taqueria. The menu is full of sumptuous meat and vegetable pairings, grilled to perfection and melted together with fresh queso. I ordered the Nopales with grilled cactus and the Tinga with chipotle chicken and pickled onions. The grilled cactus was interesting, and not for me, but definitely worth a try.

Taqueria in Roosevelt's Row, Phoenix, Cactus taco, Chicken taco


Torchy’s Tacos in Austin

Torchy's Tacos Austin Texas Southwest Blog

I know I’ve already mentioned Torchy’s in my Austin Food Truck post, and if you follow the @cleavingleaveland Instagram handle, you’ve probably seen Torchy’s pop up a few times. Ummm that’s because it’s DELICIOUS and I make it a rule to visit every time I go. My favorite items are the Fried Avocado, the Dirty Sanchez, the Republican, and the Trailer Park. You can ask to make any taco trashy, which means adding in queso and some other tasty toppings.

Torchy's Tacos Austin Texas Southwest Foodie Blog

For breakfast tacos, I enjoy the Wrangler. But honestly, you need to try the entire menu and then keep going back for more. And don’t forget to ask for the secret menu!

Coreanos in Houston

Best Tacos of the Southwest

If you like tacos with a Korean flair (AKA throw some kimchi on it), then you HAVE to check out Coreanos. I encountered this food truck outside of the Day 4 Night music festival in Houston, and I think it was the only thing I ate all weekend. They make a mean burrito and some really tasty tacos, but their biggest hit is definitely the “Kimcheese fries”. I prefer the burritos to the tacos because they remind me of the kebabs I tasted in Europe—halal roasted meat with french fries thrown in, brought together by a zesty mix of spicy and cool creamy sauces.


This isn’t traditional Mexican food, or Korean food, by any means. But it is unforgettable, and your tastebuds will not be sorry.


Shooting My First Gun in Scottsdale

Scottsdale Gun Club Shooting Range Lesson Arizona

The best hookah bar in Phoenix is owned by these two somewhat large Mexican guys who seem to be friendly with everyone. Every time I go there they end up offering me some type of deal, even if it’s just throwing me some quarters for the pool table, and they seem to constantly have a group of buddies hanging around as well.

When I asked why they opened the place, the owner responded, “Well me and my friends like to smoke a lot of hookah, but there are no good places around Phoenix to do so. So we figured we would open our own, make it BYOB, and spray paint the inside to have cool blacklight art and stuff.”

The walls do have really psychedelic neon-colored designs painted across it and also super comfy couches all around. The whole place reminds me of one of those friendly, stoner basements that belonged to that one friend whose parents were cool enough to let them decorate to their liking in high school. But when the owner came around the counter with my hookah ready, I saw that he was openly toting a pretty big pistol in his waistband, and I immediately felt uncomfortable. I also felt confused, because this hookah bar was in a pretty commercial area. Was this gun really necessary? Was he carrying the gun in plain sight like that to make potential troublemakers feel intimidated?

Let me first say this: I have never liked guns. I grew up in Ohio, and while paintball guns and bb guns were a part of growing up in the woods with my brothers, I had made a firm promise to my 8-year-old self to never shoot a real gun in my life – not for hunting, not for self-defense, not ever.

There was one time in college when I came home to visit my friend whose twin brother had been away serving in the National Guard for the last six months. He was showing everyone in the kitchen the new “Remington 870 express with extended mag tube” he had just purchased. I asked him if he had to get a license to buy it, and he said no. He just went to the store and bought it. This terrified me. I picked up the gun, the first I had ever held in my life, and to me it looked and felt like just a toy. I laughed and pointed it at my friend’s brother saying, “This can’t be a real gun.” Everyone in the kitchen threw their hands up and exclaimed that it was not cool what I was doing, and I immediately put the gun down and burst into tears. I had just pointed a lethal weapon at my best friend’s brother, like it was nothing. I ran off and cried and cried because I have thin skin and again made the promise to myself to never, ever shoot a gun. Or deal with one in any way.

Guns have always been foreign objects to me. Seriously, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a pistol and a handgun – or are they the same thing? (I had to double check with Google a lot of my term usage when writing this blog post.) When I was walking through security to the Fun Fun Fun festival in Austin, the guy checking my bag made a joke about packing a 45. I looked at him quizzically, and he repeated himself. Finally, I asked, “A what?” and he just shook his head at me and said “A gun. Seriously?” I guess that’s what I get for being a tourist in Texas. But as a 25-year-old educated woman, I resented being made out to lack the common sense of the Southwest, and I started thinking that it might be time to at least learn the basics of gun handling and gun types. Because, you know, “When in Rome…”

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. Not long after my encounter with the hookah man, I decided that I wanted to learn about guns and how to shoot them in a responsible and safe setting. So I went to the Scottsdale Gun Club with my uncle last week and took a shooting lesson. The gun range was PACKED with people, as my uncle told me it always is. For the first part of the lesson, I sat down in front of a video tutorial that explained the four rules of gun handling:

1. The gun is always loaded.
2. Never point the gun at anything you don’t intend to kill/destroy.
3. Never put your finger on the trigger unless you intend to shoot.
4. Always be aware of your target and what lies behind it.

Seemed simple and safe enough. Then the instructor took me into a conference room where he went over the rules again and also mentioned the common mistakes in some of the terminology people throw around with guns. He explained, frustratedly, that often customers come in and the first thing they do when they pick up a gun they’re hoping to buy is point it right at him. He said at the other gun range he works at, a person who did that would be immediately thrown out. But here, he just had to put up with it. It made me think about how real gun nuts probably haven’t taken a lesson beyond their first time shooting, and how the rules probably get relaxed and forgotten over time as a result.

In this conference room, I learned how to hold the unloaded gun. I learned how to patiently wait for the click of the safety on the trigger and keep my finger on there for my next shot. I also learned that shooting a gun is nothing like you see on TV or in movies (duh). There is no fancy stance you need to be in, just a relaxed position with your feet shoulder-width apart is best. And there is no need to anticipate the kickback. It’s loud, but it comes after you’ve already shot the bullet, so anticipating it will only put you off target before you even shoot.

When I finally entered the gun range, my first impression was LOUD. These guns, which were much bigger and more powerful than the one I was about to shoot, would’ve definitely had my ears ringing for the rest of the week had I not been wearing headphones. Even with the headphones on, my ears were ringing for a couple of hours after my lesson. The guy next to me was shooting a huge gun, and it took me nearly the entire lesson to get used to the sound. Even fifteen minutes into being there, I was still jumping every time he took a shot at his target.

As I went to take my first shot, I found myself terrified. I almost just handed the gun back to the instructor in tears and said, “Nevermind, I can’t do it.” But I took a deep breath and I did the damn thing. And as it turns out, I have pretty good aim. After refining my posture a few times (I have terrible posture whether or not I’m shooting a gun), I finally started to get the appeal. Loading ten bullets into my clip and keeping my finger on the trigger only to release and squeeze, release and squeeze with the safety, the whole experience actually felt sort of calming. Seeing the way gun nuts are on social media, I thought I would get some type of addicting thrill out of the experience, but it was the opposite. I enjoyed myself, sure, and I would honestly do it again, but the way I felt in that gun range was similar to how I used to feel diving into the pool and swimming laps for a few hours. Everything else just sort of disappears, and it’s just you and the target.

Gun Shooting Target Practice Scottsdale Arizona

There was no thirst to destroy, there was no rush at the kickback. It was just me and this glorified hole-puncher, trying to get as close to the center of my target as possible. I won’t say that I’m inclined to buy a gun now, but I would definitely take another lesson in a controlled setting like that. And if that makes me having turned over to the dark side in the eyes of my more liberal friends and family, then so be it. The way I chose to shoot a gun was the way guns should be shot, in a safe setting as a sport where no one is injured or in danger. I don’t know about needing them for self-defense, and I don’t really like killing animals for sport, but I don’t see the harm in taking a lesson and learning how to shoot a gun the right way. New experiences are why I chose to travel, and I can now say that I did a very “Arizona” thing while I lived here. Cheers to that!

Most People Posting Warm Weather Photos in Winter Aren’t Assholes (Except for Californians)

Any person on social media (everyone) witnesses a divide that seems to happen every winter – on one side stands those in East Coast and Northern states, feeling frigid and depressed in a world of snow, ice, and freezing wind, and on the other side lounges everyone in sunny states, seemingly blissful as they hang out by the swimming pool, go on hikes, watch sunsets, etc. While the East Coasters can be seen bitterly posting screenshots of their single digit (sometimes in the negatives) temperatures, West Coasters are found posting shitty memes (saying things like, “My favorite part of winter is watching it on TV from California”) that inspire harsher pangs bitterness in the shivering bellies of every snow dweller.

Phoenix Winter Storm Meme Funny

People in Southern/South Western states are no different with their Instagram posts of sunsets, tan lines, and poolside pedicures. But living in Phoenix this winter, I realize the very big difference between what it means to brag about winter here and what it is to brag about it in California.

Let me tell you a little bit about summers in the desert. Temperatures rise above a hundred degrees (actually above 110 degrees) and often stay there for at least 30 days at a time. All traces of green disappear. The leaves die and fall off the trees, the grass dies and leaves a myriad of dust pits in its place, and views of the mountains and surrounding desert become a dull, relentless sea of brown. Dust storms sweep through Phoenix semi-frequently, choking the already smoggy air and blanketing the city for days afterward.

The high temperatures of summer in Phoenix last for five months. FIVE MONTHS. That’s pretty much the equivalent of a long winter in Cleveland. So for five months, people take shelter indoors, staking out in air conditioned movie theaters, museums, and bowling alleys. It’s not a joke to go outside during summer in Phoenix – it’s seriously dangerous. There’s a big outdoorsy scene here and even those brave souls you won’t find trying to hike the mountains until well after 9pm, when the ground has cooled off enough to not cook you. And having just popped my night-hike cherry, let me tell you it’s not the most pleasant. The need for flashlights limits your ability to think creatively on how best to get up or down steep areas. Predators such as hawks and coyotes are known to come out for hunting. Also tarantulas, scorpions, and rattlesnakes. Okay, maybe I’m just not the adventuring type, so sorry for the whiney paranoia, but I have yet to find a desert animal or creature I wouldn’t mind being within 10 feet of me.

Winter Green Palm Trees in Phoenix
Look at all that green!

The point is, summer in the desert is the equivalent of winter on the East Coast. Everything dies and being outside becomes unbearable, leading to the depressing, constant state of remaining indoors that is weighing on many of you right now during snow season. So think twice before you feel bitter about seeing a sunset post this winter on a desert resident’s Instagram account. They’re not posting it to be cut deeper into your misery, they’re just genuinely excited to be able to experience some fresh air without passing out from heat stroke. This summer, everyone here will be jealous of your beach pictures because the idea of sand and bare feet at that time will make them want to cry and jump immediately into an ice bath.

Those Californians though, with their year-round perfect weather, are total jerks. You should definitely keep hating on them.