Reviews

Please read through some of the national and local reviews that Carolina's has received.

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Sunset Magazine, January 1997

Stalking the Lost Tortilla by Nora Dura Trulsson  Sunset Magazine, January 1997

"Carolina's Mexican Food

My first stop during a week's worth of pilgrimages was Carolina's, a neighborhood eatery in south-central Phoenix.  Much to my relief, the low-slung building - from its concrete floor to its worn seating - had changed little since my last visit.  Okay - the menu above the front counter now advertises chicken (the invasion of the lite!) as a meal choice for the house tacos, enchiladas, and burros (burritos), but guacamole is still about as close as you get to salad.

Throwing cholesterol counts to the wind, I ordered the Oaxaca Special - a chorizo, bean, potato, and cheese burro - and vowed to feel famished enough someday to devour a foot-long chorizo-and-bean burro.  I left cradling a bag of still-warm tortillas, with visions of quesadillas to buoy my spirits."

 

The Arizona Republic

Restaurant Review

by Penelope Corcoran

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Penelope Corcoran's restaurant recommendations can be heard on PressLine.  Dial (602) 271-5656 and press D-I-N-E.

Taste the Town, a guide to Valley dining, and Penelope's past reviews can be sampled on American Online (keyword:  AZ Dining) or at http://www.azcentral.com on the Internet.

 

 

Restaurant Review by Penelope Corcoran  The Arizona Republic, April 2, 1996

"Carolina's Tortillas Prove Flat-out Best

First, a lesson in pronunciation.  Carolina's Mexican Food, my favorite tortilleria and Mexican take-out restaurant, is not called 'Car-o-LEEN-uz' as I've been mispronouncing it for, oh, eight years or so, but rather 'Carol-LINE-uz.'

How embarrassing.

My apologies to Carolina Valenzuela, the president, founder, head cook, chief recipe developer and the person whose name graces this south Phoenix success story.

Valenzuela started the business in 1968.  (It moved to its present location in 1986.)  She employs 23 people to help her produce the tortillas, beans, chorizo and machaca for which she has gained renown;  13 are relatives of four generations, from Carolina to her great-granddaughter, Monica.

Now that's a family affair.

According to vice president (and son) Joe Hernandez, on a typical day, Carolina's sells 240 to 320 dozen - yes, dozen - tortillas to its customers, all of whom are folks like you and me, not restaurants or retail stores.

Such quantities seem hard to comprehend unless you've driven home with a dozen of Carolina's steaming-hot, handmade, megasize flour tortillas ($2.25) bagged in plastic on the passenger's seat beside you.

Then and only then can you truly understand.

The truth is Carolina's tortillas are irresistible.  Despite fairly good self-control, I seldom make it home with more than 11 in the bag.  At the first convenient full stop, I pull out a tortilla and rip into it.  It disappears in a warm, unconscious blur of comforting pleasure.

Other excellent takeout includes a pint ($2.40) or quart ($4.80) of smooth-textured, smoky-flavored claret- to mauve-colored beans to smear on the tortillas that make it home and an order of three cheese enchiladas ($3.39), dense and smothered in burnt-sienna-toned sauce that's mildly spicy.

Menudo ($3.49 a quart), a restorative soup featuring tripe as a principal ingredient, is sold on Saturdays and Sundays.  Customers are invited to bring in their own pot to carry it home.   ('You get more for your money,' Joe Hernandez says.)

While entirely newsworthy, Carolina's takeout is old news.  The bigger, newer (but, alas, also not new) news is the large, adjoining lunchroom that became part of the operation three years ago.

You still order and pay at the counter and wait to hear your number called.  But the convenience of on-premises seating, especially during our beastly hot season, cannot be overstated.

The lunchroom, which measures about 1,000 square feet, isn't fancy.  Its concrete floor could use another coat of paint and a lot more sweeping.  Its mustard-yellow and ketchup-red prefab 'booths' look like they've been kidnapped from a 1970's burger joint.

But there's pride here, and it shows in the years of framed 'best of' certificates lining one wall and the Mexican bark paintings hung elsewhere in the room.

I fully admit that, for me, the room's most desirable embellishment is its two self-serve soda machines.  Coke and Pepsi.  For people with specific brand additions (Diet Coke, anyone?), this is happy news indeed.

Chorizo, crumbly, highly spiced Mexican-style pork sausage, is a house specialty.  I love it folded inside the ultrayummy Oaxaca Special ($2.49) along with potatoes, cheese and beans.  (Note:   My favorite way to eat this form of burro is cold, after it has been chilled in the fridge for a few hours.)

When I'm in the mood for hot chorizo, I order the Combination Dinner No. 6 ($3.75), chorizo with potatoes, rice, beans and a hot flour tortilla.

Among other recommended Combination Dinners, I'd list No. 8 ($3.80), two cheese enchiladas plus flavorful, moist rice and beans, and No. 3 ($3.75), a cheese enchilada, deep-fried shredded-beef taco, tostada and rice.

Carolina's red beef tamales ($1.15) can turn out hard and dried out.  For this reason, you take your chances with the No. 11 ($3.90), two tamales with red enchilada sauce, rice and beans.

Meanwhile, the machaca - shredded beef dotted with green chile and onion - is moisture incarnate.  It works especially well in a burro ($2.60), but that's just one fan's opinion.

Also see the article from the AZ Business Gazette on the History page.

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