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BEST AZ-MEX Phoenix 2003 - Carbajal’s

Carbajalís

Carbajal’s

7340 E. Main St.

Mesa, AZ 85207

480-807-0887

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The love affair with simple, satisfying Sonoran-style gringo food starts with the chips. They're spectacular, crispy light, warm, and sprinkled with lots of salt. The chunky salsa purée is flamed with just enough chiles to add spark without pain. It's tempting to eat an entire basket all by our lonesome. But we resist, knowing that owner Marina Carbajal is in the kitchen, crafting her family recipes to feed the crowds at her tiny cafe (five red-tile-topped tables plus five booths).

These are fantastic favorites -- tacos with juicy rich shredded beef layered in lacy thin shells, enchiladas in spicy, fork-licking sauce, and burros bursting with luscious stuff like green chile beef in oceans of thick grayish gravy. We feast on the magical machaca, the shredded beef blended with vibrant spices, tossed with scrambled egg, onion and tomato, slathered with soupy-soft refried beans, cheese and rice, then wrapped in tears of warm flour tortillas. Carbajal's has topnotch menudo, too, bobbing with soft tripe and al dente hominy mixed with chopped red onion, minced cilantro or lemon, plus exquisite albóndigas, a kiddy-pool-size portion of rich tomato broth, rice, carrot, potato, white onion, squash and highly herbed meatballs.

This is the best there is of comfort food, Mexican style.

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