Taco Summer: Machaca Soft Tacos at a 50-Year-Old Phoenix Institution

Taco Summer: Machaca Soft Tacos at a 50-Year-Old Phoenix InstitutionEXPAND
Felicia Campbell

1. The Original Carolina's Mexican Food

Taquería: The Original Carolina's Mexican Food, 1202 East Mohave Street
Open Since: 1968 (1986 at the current location)
Style: Phoenix-Style Tex-Mex
Signature Taco(s): Machaca soft taco

The Original Carolina's is a Phoenix institution. Opened by Carolina Valenzuela in 1968 on West Hilton Avenue, the restaurant was moved to its current location on East Mohave Street in 1986. It is one of the most notable and longstanding shops in the Valley, and continues to be a beloved destination for Phoenicians from all walks of life who come for the fresh-made tortillas.

And the tortillas really are something serious. Chewy, with a slightly crisp exterior, these bear no resemblance to the tasteless, mass-produced flour tortillas you might be more familiar with. These corn tortillas are likewise tender and flavorful, without a hint of the bitter, raw corn flavor that can creep into the pre-made varieties.

Stretchy and pliable, these tortillas are the perfect vehicle for scooping up bits of chorizo, fried potatoes, and cheesy refried beans in the Oaxaca Special; for swaddling monster-size breakfast burritos; and for wrapping up the shop's simple, but excellent lineup of tacos.

There are only three taco options available at Carolina's: shredded beef crispy tacos, chicken tacos in crispy or soft, and their most famous, the machaca taco. The chicken is boiled and shredded, rather than grilled, and has a pleasant spicy kick, and the crispy taco, stuffed with tender threads of pulled beef, is simultaneously crisp and chewy, dripping with savory juices.

Look around at regular patrons and you'll see them slathering their tacos with red salsa, a pro-move we fully endorse.

The true star at Carolina's is the machaca taco. The rehydrated, salted beef oozes stew-like, beefy drippings, but isn't in the least bit oily. It comes comes topped with cool shreds of iceberg and cheese, for a decidedly Phoenix-Mex, and wholly addictive, taco.

Through the bad times and the gentrification, this restaurant has fed a kaleidoscope of local customers, and still does. Eating at Carolina's in south Phoenix is something every metro Phoenix resident should do. Not only for a taste of the fabulous tortillas and classic Tex-Mex fare, but to experience a piece of Valley history.

Our Taco Summer picks:
50. Taqueria Don Beto
49. Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa
48. Tacos Tijuana
47. El Burrito Grande
46. El Horseshoe Restaurant
45. Tacos Sahuaro
44. El Pollo Correteado
43. Adrian's
42. La Fiesta
41. Taqueria Lucy
40. Tortas Ahogadas George
39. Taqueria El Chino
38. Joe's Tacos
37. Taqueria El Gallo de Lagos
36. Tacos Huicho
35. Puffy Taco Shack
34. Ni De Aqui Ne De Alla
33. Mr. Mesquite
32. Senor Ozzy's
31. Tacos Jalisco
30. Ta'Carbon
29. Taqueria Los Yaquis
28: Helio Basin Brewing
27: Sonora Taco Shop
26: Mercado Y Carniceria Cuernavaca
25. Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca
24. Paquime Street Food
23. The Rez
22. Asadero Toro
21. La Frontera 1
20. Taquería Yaqui
19. Presidio Cocina Mexicana
18. Mucha Lucha Taco Shop
17. Casa Reynoso
16. Backyard Taco
15. Taquitos Jalisco
14: Waldo's Tacos
13: Moreno's Mexican Grill
12: Asadero Norte De Sonora
11: Taqueria La Hacienda #1
10. Gadzooks
9. Tacos Chava
8. Tacos Kissi
7. Taqueria El Fundador
6. Cahuamanta El Yaqui
5. Tacos Chiwas
4. Gallo Blanco
3. El Pastorcito D.F.
2. Mariscos Ensenada

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