Cafe Reviews

Rito's Mexican Food: You Can't Fix What Isn't Broken

Chris Bianco bags burritos here for Pizzeria Bianco's kitchen staff, America's Taco Shop proprietor America Corrales does food swaps with the owner, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives' Guy Fieri got blown off for an interview two years ago, and Sunset magazine named it as a Reader's Choice for burritos in Arizona in its May issue. Still, despite its success, Rito's Mexican Food looks exactly as it did more than 30 years ago.

Like nothing.

Nothing. No signs, no advertisements, not even a "this way to" guidepost in the out-of-the-way central Phoenix neighborhood Rito's calls home.

"I tell people to look for the little house on the corner with the picnic tables outside and a line of people going out the door," says 67-year-old owner, cook, and keep-people-in-line-er Rosemary Salinas, who explains the area's permit laws don't allow for much more than a paltry placard.

Not like she needs one. Rito's word-of-mouthwatering homemade classic Mexican fare has been around for more than 30 years, since Rosemary and husband Rito bought the one-time candy store in 1976. And while in-the-know insiders and suburbanites are ordering ahead for pick-up, Fry Girl's rubbing elbows with a melting pot of munchers patio-style, pigging out with Rito's remarkable green chili burro con frijoles.

Packed with tender chunks of pork and homemade beans with a cinnamon flavor Salinas tells me comes from the fresh tortilla, the spicy burro's burstin' with flavor — literally. Handling this tasty torpedo requires a blast zone of napkins during the first few bites and a knife and fork on the last ones. Rito's limited menu also includes chow-worthy chimichangas (my fave's the red with beans) topped with guacamole, cheese, and sour cream, and tostadas best left in the pass-up lane. Rito's $2.50 tacos, once a daily delight, are now just a Tuesday treat due to Salinas' poor eyesight and production-heavy demands.

Rito's wallet-friendly fare has always been its foundation, and though insiders would like to see expanded hours, a bigger menu, and indoor seating for hot summer days, Salinas shows no signs of doing things differently, adding to or in despite of the restaurant's success. And while her daughter hopes to take over the business when Rosemary retires (will that ever happen?), Salinas' son has been more mobile, opening Rito's Burritos on 51st Avenue, just 20 minutes away from Mom.

"People always say, 'You've never changed [Rito's],'" says Salinas, "but I like to live simply. My house is still full of Christmas decorations."

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld