9 Classic Mexican Restaurants in Metro Phoenix

Carolina's Oaxacan burro is a thing of beauty.
Carolina's Oaxacan burro is a thing of beauty.
Heather Hoch

We are lucky in Phoenix to have some of the most creative, innovative and tasty out-of-the-box Mexican cuisine in the country. But sometimes you just want a bean and cheese burrito from your old standby. So here's a list of nine of our favorite classic Mexican restaurants in metro Phoenix.

Carolina's Whether you pronounce it Carlo-LIE-nas or Caro-LEE-nas, there's almost no chance you can live in Phoenix and not know, and love, this restaurant. And no, we don't mean the North Phoenix or Peoria locations, but the original restaurant located in South Phoenix.

Since 1968 this small, simple spot located south of downtown has been serving the Valley's most famous housemade tortillas and stick-to-your-ribs Mexican eats, including giant machaca burritos and moist green chicken tamales. The cinder block building that houses the restaurant has bars on the windows and no air conditioning, but that doesn't stop people from all walks of life from flocking here for a wallet-friendly lunch. Business types in suits and ties dine next to construction workers and college students at Carolina's well-worn tables, often ordering the Oaxaca Special, an addicting but simple combination of chorizo, fried potatoes, refried beans, and cheese. We've also heard of people who prefer to swing by as a last meal before getting out of town, if only to pick up a bag of fresh tortillas to enjoy on the road.

See also: 8 Mexican Restaurants in Metro Phoenix You've Probably Never Tried -- But Should

Carne adovada at Los Dos Molinos.
Carne adovada at Los Dos Molinos.
Chow Bella

Los Dos Molinos Not everyone likes it hot. But those who do, head to Los Dos Molinos. The New Mexican family-owned restaurant chain began in Springerville, Arizona and has since opened one location in Mesa and three in Phoenix. And though the original eatery may technically sit 200 miles outside out town, most locals consider the South Phoenix location to be the real hot spot. Unlike some of its strip mall sister restaurants, the Central Avenue Los Dos Molinos is hard to miss, with its white cantina building, pink and green neon signage, and colorful patio, which features, among other things, a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty. Here, diners with ironclad stomachs come to consume dishes like the adovada ribs, Victoria's Chicken, and the relleno dinner, all smothered in the Molinos' signature red and green New Mexican chilis. Make sure you have your antacids on hand, because the Molinos love to say they don't know how to make things mild.

Garcia's Las Avenidas Garcia's Las Avenidas is a treasured relic. The Garcia family opened its first restaurant in Phoenix back in 1956. Over the years, the restaurant expanded into several restaurants, and then turned into a big franchise operation. As the Garcia family sold off its stake in the company a few decades ago, the chain slid into franchised mediocrity and has stayed there ever since.

Meanwhile, the Garcia family couldn't fully divest themselves from the restaurant business, and Phoenix is a better place for it. It now operates just one restaurant, Garcia's Las Avenidas on 35th Avenue north of McDowell. The atmosphere is almost everything we could want in a Mexican restaurant, from the tile floors to the soaring exposed-beam ceiling. Unlike the Garcia's chain, the food is still first-rate old-school Mexican that's worth a drive past the usual neighborhood haunts and into las avenidas.

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