Authentic Mexican food: 5 must-try restaurants in south Phoenix – AZCentral

One part of the Valley with some of the deepest Mexican roots is rarely recognized for its traditional fare. Not to mention that south Phoenix is surrounded by food-filled fiestas with little (if any) connection to actual Mexican culture.
The area is largely regarded as a culinary no man’s land — a reputation that’s easily debunked by spending a little time in the neighborhood sandwiched between the Salt River and South Mountain.
“This is a community that has been settled here for years,” says Osiel Perez, who recently opened Sr. Ozzy’s Tacos y Mariscos near Southern and 19th avenues. “I was pretty familiar with the area and I knew it had a lot of potential, so we’d have a chance to build something up.”
Perez, who lives in Tolleson, used to frequent south Phoenix as a sales rep for Frito-Lay. He was partly drawn to the community by its friendly residents and family focus, which mirrored the environment he hoped to create at his first brick-and-mortar restaurant.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Maria Lopez, who moved to south Phoenix in 2011 and opened Hola Cabrito on 16th Street south of Broadway Road. Her eatery started as a tiny mom-and-pop and has grown into one of the neighborhood’s most popular restaurants, known for authentic birria, a spicy stew made from goat meat.
“It’s a good atmosphere here in the south, and it’s growing,” says her son, Arturo. “There’s a good future here in the south.”
Those seeking the flavors of Mexico might do well to pass on the glitzy promise of chimichangas and frozen margaritas and explore the fare of south Phoenix instead. Here are five gems to get you started.
Maria Lopez learned how to prepare birria de chivo (roasted goat) at her mother’s restaurant in León, Guanajuato, in central Mexico. Now, she shares the family recipe from a bustling south Phoenix dining room that hits its stride in late morning.
Flavored with the family’s secret seasoning mix and slow-roasted overnight in banana leaves, Lopez’s birria is a tender and richly flavored delicacy, whether used to fill tacos ($2), swimming in a clear consommé made with the roast’s drippings, or served by weight ($15 a pound, $8 a half pound) with salsa, onion, cilantro and thick, fresh tortillas.
The star? Lopez’s birria tatemada, which is seared on a flat top with some of the goat’s fat — skimmed from the top of the consommé — to give the tender meat a deep golden crust with an almost crunchy texture and intense toasted flavor.
Details: 4835 S. 16th St., Phoenix. 602-513-8384,
Osiel Perez ditched the life of a sales rep to pursue a dream of cooking. With the help of his wife, Diana, he launched a food cart, then a food truck and, finally, his first restaurant last August.
Perez has spent the past few years building a reputation for great food and a friendly environment, and that has carried over to the small, meticulously kept eatery.
Seafood comprises half the menu. Aguachile verde ($14) — raw shrimp briefly cured in a blend of lime and green chiles with onion and cucumber — bursts with bright, vibrant flavors. Chilled seafood tostadas, like those topped with ceviche ($4.25) or scallop and octopus ($7), are sweet and fresh, carefully prepared and variously seasoned to best match the headlining seafood.
The hot side of the menu includes favorites like quesadillas and Sonoran dogs, alongside beer-battered shrimp tacos ($3) — generous, crisp and piping hot — with a complement of cool toppings.  
Two house specialties — tacos de camarón ($3) and mar y tierra ($3.50) — marry their shrimp and carne asada fillings with melted cheese, folded into a corn tortilla, griddled to a crisp and spiked with a spicy, creamy chipotle sauce. In contrast to the subtlety of the mariscos, it’s a gooey, crunchy finger-licker of a dish.
Details: 1717 W. Southern Ave., Phoenix. 602-677-0284,
Carnicerias and corner markets are oft overlooked as destinations for prepared foods, and here’s one that deserves more attention. Combining a meat counter, convenience store and tiny bakery, Monarca also has a few tables and offers a sizable menu of antojitos, tacos, burritos and the like.
Though the tortillas are standard issue, the carnitas tacos ($1.50) sizzle, cubed bits of crisp, juicy pork flash-fried to serve with just a bit of onion and cilantro. The vampiros ($2.75) are also excellent, fresh carne asada combined with melted cheese atop a crisp, tomato-laced tortilla.
Monarca’s tortas, however, are special. Built with bread baked in-house, they have a flaky crust that’s almost reminiscent of a croissant, and are stuffed with crisp, cool vegetables, plenty of mayonnaise and the meat of your choice. The torta pierna ($5.99) includes tender roasted pork leg with lightly crisped edges. But the torta milanesa ($7.99) is a showstopper, filled with tender slices of beef, perfectly seasoned and deftly fried to order in a flavorful breadcrumb coating.
Details: 602 W. Baseline Road, Phoenix. 602-299-3579.
If you prefer your meat to arrive in largely unadulterated fashion, check out this carniceria at Central Avenue and Broadway Road. A tiny market with a few counter seats outside, Carniceria Castillo piles its case with all manner of meaty bits fired over mesquite on the grill out front and sold by the pound.
Pollo asado ($6.99) is grilled with a nice char and tender, juicy interior, while popular classics like carne asada tacos are perfectly seasoned and blissfully unafraid to let a little fat into the mix.
Grilled pork ribs ($6.99 a pound) are a chewy counterpoint to American-style barbecue, and the beef ribs ($8.99 a pound) are a must. They’re cut into a crosshatch pattern and fired on the grill, allowing you to pull off cubes of meat with salty, carbon-rich char on one side and tender, juicy succulence on the other.
Details: 4426 S. Central Ave., Phoenix. 602-288-9074.
Open since February, El Matador is a tiny takeout counter with a semi-enclosed outdoor seating area that’s producing some delicious dishes.
A small steam table is filled with stewed meats, such as pork in a vibrant red chile sauce with nopales or beef barbacoa studded with tiny green olives. Meanwhile, a grill out front handles pollo asado and carne asada.
The torta ahogada ($5.99) is a fine one, filled with crisp carnitas and saturated with spicy salsa. Soups rotate daily, including a drop-dead perfect sopa de camarón ($8.99), a ruddy mix of tomato and chiles, heavy with the essence of whole shrimp and tender pieces of fish.
Details: 2803 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix. 602-283-5381.
Reach Armato at or 602-444-8533. Interact with him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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