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Favorite Central Phx hole in the wall Mexican?

Hi all:

I've been mostly out of the area for the last 5 years (long story about the "mostly"), and now I'm trying to build up a list of reliable non-fancy Mexican joints near our house--say roughly between 32nd St and I-17 and from MacDowell up to Bethany Home.

Our current defaults are La Barquita (south side of MacDowell just west of 24th St) and Tacos Mexico (east side of 16th St, near Oak). We also like Pepe's Taco Villa on Camelback (near 23rd Ave), but don't end up going there as often as the other two places.

Just thought I'd poll the board to get your picks for places where the food is great, even if the ambiance is a little on the funky side. Bonus points for places with housemade corn tortillas and rellenos that don't taste like year-old fryer oil.

Mil gracias!

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  1. Juan's at 16th and Thomas is very good and a little hole in the wall.

    Rosita's on McDowell around 23 Street or so is also good.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Seth Chadwick

      Visited Rositas for the 2nd time yesterday and had the taco/enchilada combo plate. It reminded me that I should go back more often and explore their varied offerings.

      Their standard salsas that came with the chips were a notch or three hotter than most in town. A good thing. I wish that translated over to the enchilada sauce, which was decent, but ho hum. Not bad, but I found a new standard in New Mexico that all other red/green smothered enchiladas will be comapred against and most don't stand a chance!

      Anyhow, this is one of my fave places for Mex in PHX.

      1. re: tastyjon

        tastyjon, What is your gold standard place in NM? I travel over there quite a bit and have a few I enjoy as well. - Doug

    2. Rosita's Place is one of my favorites also,try the cheese enchiladas with the green sauce.2310 E. McDowell
      La Hacienda at 16 th. and McDowell is good for green chile,lots of good items on the menu.
      La Casita Del Mar on 32nd.St. north of McDowell has good homemade food,lots of soups and seafood items and cakes and pastries.This place is in a dicey neighborhood but the food is good.

      6 Replies
      1. re: twodogs

        La Tolteca at about 9th St. and Van Buren is a tried and true option, as much a grocery as it is a restaurant. Bustling, friendly, savory, cheap, flavorful -- not the greatest food in town, but overlooked, underrated, and taken for granted. Yummy el pastor, enormous burritos, excellent green salsa w/avocado chunks, and if you're into it, a bakery section with all the usual sweet Mexican suspects.

        I've not been to the Phoenix location, but Tacos Mexico at Priest and Southern in Tempe is muy pecoso y autentico. South of your grid is El Portal near 2nd Ave. and Grant, serving among other stuff delicious, hearty cocido every day of the week.

        For gringo fresh Mex that's not totally gringo-ized, I like Chico's Taco's at 7th St. and McDowel (NW corner)l. Run by the same family for several years at least -- little turnover -- my favorites are the chicken pasilla burrito and the (forget the name) grilled chicken achiote salad, And I am not a salad guy. Plus, you can get anything you want at Alice's .. err, the Ranch Market at 16th and Roosevelt -- NW corner -- a cornucopia of delightful tastes, smells and flavors, like birria, chilis, tortas, barbacoa, jamaica ...

        1. re: misohungrychewlow

          Not sure I've ever noticed La Tolteca, but I don't travel that stretch of Roosevelt too much. Chico's sounds interesting, as about the only time I have pasilla sauced food is when I make it myself. We have a mini-"knockoff" of Ranch Market near us (Phoenix Farms, 19th Ave & Osborn) where we occasionally get deli takeout, so I'm familiar with the model. Though I've never really made a systematic comparison, the Ranch Market delis do appear to have a broader selection of dishes. Now I have some incentive to check out the southeast quadrant of central Phx.

          1. re: hohokam

            Chico's is one of my standards when in the area, hungry and don't want to explore.

            It's like a Baja Fresh, but with much better grub. Very clean and corporate looking - but not a national chain. You order at a counter. You get a number. There's a salsa/toppings bar (better than most). A fill your-own-drink area. You seat yourself, bus yourself... it's pretty simple but delivers good eats. A good place to eat, but not really a dining destination. As an aside, they always seem to have a collection of aviation related trade magazines floating about - which I like to leaf through while snacking.

        2. re: twodogs

          Ha! We almost checked out both La Hacienda AND Rosita's last night. My SO was creeped out by the stuff around La Hacienda (strip club, nightclubs), which I thought was odd, given that we actually ate out in Maryvale (sketchier 'hood in my opinion) last weekend.

          Anyway, we continued on towards La Barquita and briefly considered stopping at Rosita's (2 doors away from LB). LB's kitchen was closed by the time we got there, so we then continued to push eastward on to Red Devil, which is very near La Casita del Mar.

          I went to Juan's once several years ago, but don't really remember much about the food. Guess it's time I give it another chance.

          Thanks to you both for the tips.

          1. re: hohokam

            Between the two,I would take Rosita's over La Hacienda,they have different things on the menu but I like Rosita's the best, parking is behind the restaurant and they have a security guard on duty back there.La Hacienda has a taqueria in the back most evenings and you can get "street" tacos there.

            1. re: hohokam

              More than a few years ago I lived in Coronado and dined at Hacienda regularly. They won Phoenix New Times Best (Chicken) Mole about a year after opening, it was my favorite dish there. Like Carolina's, I ignored the neighbors.

          2. El Nopalito
            2831 N 24th St (NE 24th St/Thomas)
            Phoenix, AZ 85008

            No ambiance to speak of, but a great place to fill up on $.99 tacos (served with onion and cilantro) and a host of other delicious items.

            1 Reply
            1. re: azhotdish

              Si si! I tried El Nopalito several years ago and remembering liking what I had (enchiladas suizas, I think). I keep meaning to go back, but it seems like my timing is always off. Perhaps I'll try to time my next Home Depot run to coincide with mealtime.

              And as I recall, you're right about the ambiance, but I don't mind as long as the food is still good. ;-)

            2. i'd add la guadalapana on 16th street south of thomas. the first time i went there they didn't even have a menu in english ;) they have since added one and you'll notice pigeon, i mean squab on the menu ;)

              not really a hole in the wall, a teeny step up but i love la pinata. i'll also add marisco's ensenada to the list - fantastic octopus tacos!!!

              don't forget carolina's on mohave and about 10th-ish street..and el comidal or comidar on central and mohave - also good....

              4 Replies
              1. re: winedubar

                it's a bit further south but i've become a huge fan of the green chile at rito's on 14th st and roosevelt

                1. re: winedubar

                  I was going to mention La Pinata (19th Ave. and Osborne). I have a coworker who comes to town every month or so from Florida and she always wants to go there. Also Sylvia's, at 19th Ave. and Missouri -- it is inconsistent, but the green chile burrito is good most of the time.

                  1. re: kittyfood

                    Actually, Sylvia's is on 7th Ave and Missouri, not 19th... but does have excellent food.

                  2. re: winedubar

                    I second Carolina's. Great enchilada's

                  3. Thanks y'all. Looks like I've got my work cut out for me.

                    1. There is a place on 16th Street and Oak called Tacos Mexico that is just complete dive, but the food is incredible. The menu is spanish only, and they have Coke in glass bottles (hard to find from mexico.) They also do mariachi on weekends but I haven't enough courage yet to go there on a weekend.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: AZBconcierge

                        I've never been to TM on a mariachi night, but my SO has. different from the usual din of the jukebox and blaring TV. not necessarily better in her opinion, but different. ;-)

                        our favorites there are anything with the pollo asado.

                        1. re: hohokam

                          My ULTIMATE favorite spot, is called El Mesquite, located on Central and Baseline, in the NE corner. They have amazing food, good service, and great prices. If you are a carne asada burro fan, look no further. Their chips are a little thicker than most, and the salsa has a great bite, that will have you hooked. All ingredients are fresh and daily specials are great. I go there at least once a week, and it takes no time at all to become a regular. The servers no longer bring me a menu, and they bring my guacamole to the table without asking, it's not to be missed.

                          I know it is a little farther south then you asked about, but I have tried all the other places, and I put El Mesquite above them all.

                          BTW, it is North of Los Dos Muertos, so you don't have to drive that far. IMHO, Los Dos is all hype. If you have to make things so hot they become inedible, I question what you are hiding.


                          1. re: Max Fischer

                            Yeah. I don't get that far south unless I'm going to South Mtn for a hike, but it's good to have something to consider for those occasions.

                            We haven't been to the Phx Los Dos for years. The last time we went (entertaining ex-Tempe-ite friends who wanted to go for old time's sake) we waited upwards of 2 hours to be seated, and while we waited we were treated like...ahem...caca by the host. Of course, by the time we ordered, we were so hungry and sloshed on margaritas that we didn't much care if the food was good or not. We've been to the Mesa Los Dos a few times since then (we have friends in the 'hood)--with the food being strangely uneven and service being as uneven as usual.

                            To take this South Phx tangent even further...we did check out Coyoacan a couple of years back and were favorably impressed with the food--I didn't think it was quite as good as Asi es la Vida, but close to it.

                            1. re: hohokam

                              I loved the Mole @ Coyoacan....it was wonderful. I haven't heard much about it lately. Wasn't sure if it was still around. It was a beautiful space!

                              Does anyone know if Amano Pizza/Wine bar is still around on Baseline and 16th street. Another Gem of a restaurant...

                        2. I must recommend Casa Reynoso at Mill and Southern in Tempe. This is my favorite place in the whole valley!!

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: pstempe22

                            I tried Casa Reynoso for the first time about two weeks ago and wasn't thrilled. I ordered an enchilada plate (my standard by which I benchmark Mexican restaurants) and everything -- the enchiladas, the rice, the beans -- just seemed to run together. No flavors or textures really stood out. Did I order something that is not the restaurant's specialty, or was it maybe just an off day?

                            1. re: silverbear

                              I always notice that the traditional style of mexican never has much flavor. All I ever taste is grease, cheese, and more grease. Give me some authentic mexican and I'm happy. Padre's, Barrio, etc.

                              1. re: AZBconcierge

                                That is true of many places that serve Arizona / Sonoran food. It can sometimes end up as one gloppy mess. One of the reasons I like Restaurant Mexico in downtown Tempe so much is the distinctiveness of each item on the plate. I'm told that's because RM serves a type of food more common in Mexico City than in the border region.

                                1. re: AZBconcierge

                                  As Silverbear implies, you are referring to Sonoran Mexican food which is so prevalent in Arizona. "Traditional" Mexican food depends on which region of Mexico you are referring to. Barrio is more Mexico City style although my favorite dish there, Cocinita Pibil, comes from the Yucatan. One problem with much of the Sonoran Mexican we find in Arizona is that it really isn't very reflective of true Sonoran food which is heavy into beef. Carlos O'Briens comes to mind. I don't think most Mexicans would consider that type of food to be traditional Mexican at all. One change I've noticed in Phoenix in the last couple of years is were are seeing more hole in the wall Mexican places that are specializing in the cuisine of a particular area of Mexico. Look for "estillo" which means in the style of xxx. Estillo D.F. would be Mexico City. It would be very interesting to get some feedback from others on Phoenix places that are doing a good job specializing in Yucatan, Oxacan Etc.

                                  Mexico City Cafe
                                  1617 Raton Ave, La Junta, CO 81050

                                  1. re: Phoenix99

                                    Restaurante Huachinango in south Scottsdale specializes in Pueblan style dishes. Hard to leave there hungry with huge platter-filling huaraches going for about $5. I wish their 7th Ave location (just north of Indian School) was still open, as that spot is a hop and skip from my house.

                                    Restaurante Huauchinango
                                    7620 E Mckellips Rd, Scottsdale, AZ

                                    1. re: hohokam

                                      Great to know. I'll give it a try.

                            2. If you go further north, on Central just north of Dunlap there is a place called Via De Los Santos that has some pretty incredible food. Very reasonable too.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: dillonjford

                                I second the vote for La Tolteca. I love their super nachos with ground beef ($7), their super burrito ($7), and their elote. From time to time, they have BBQ ribs which are cheap and pretty good too. The greatest part is you can buy homemade tortillas and chips to bring home.

                                Another choice is Ranch Market on 16th and Roosevelt. Another grocery store with a great cafeteria style restaurant inside. The food is cheap and delicious. Best birria I have had in a while.

                              2. I first ate Carolina's in 1989 at some festival downtown where they were setup as a vendor. Since that time, I have yet to find a place that makes as many things as tasty as they do.

                                Surely other places might make certain items better but Carolina's ranks 1st or 2nd in just about everything.

                                1. Of all the places mentioned, Carolina's is best known for their home made tortillas. Excellent machaca and it is the true essence of a hole in the wall.

                                  Don't believe America's Taco Shop has been mentioned (America is the name of the wife of the couple who own it.) Probably not a true hole in the wall but a tiny house that has been fixed up nicely. They've been a big hit and have just expanded their patio. Claim to have the best carne asada in Phoenix. It's an order at the counter place and I think they are getting used to being busy.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Phoenix99

                                    Sorry, I got so excited about carne asada I failed to mention it is on 7th Street just north of McDowell. Brightly painted little house on the east side of the road. Very near Chico's Taco's by the way.

                                  2. went a couple of weeks ago to Carolina's on Saturday for lunch..still love it but food was cold but damn good to offset the night before.
                                    Is the Teepee still good on 44th and Indian School?

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Beach Chick

                                      I thing Tee Pee is marginal at best. It's long past it's heyday although I do like their cheese enchiladas. Sadly, the food is inconsistent.

                                      1. re: Seth Chadwick

                                        Hey Seth!
                                        I always get the cheese enchi's and they were always good but haven't been in several years..do you know if the Monastery is still around..used to have good times there back in the early 90's..

                                        1. re: Beach Chick

                                          The Monastery closed the original location, but there's still a branch open out by Falcon Field in Mesa. Friend of mine performs there on Saturdays.