It’s hard not to gush over Carolina’s.

Central to everything, yet clearly removed from any beaten path, Carolina’s Mexican Food is one of those unlikely neighborhood hideaways that thrives entirely from generations of homegrown loyalty, far-reaching word of mouth, and not, as the formula would have us believe: location, location, location.

Weathered without shame, with its faded, dusty concrete floors and prison-white cinder block walls, Carolina’s flagship just southeast of Downtown at 12th and Mohave streets may read unshaven at first impression. Once you sample any one of their many tried-and-true specialties, however, any perceptions of atmosphere immediately render insignificant — or perfectly charming.

Though Carolina’s earns celebrity for its treasured flour tortillas, faultlessly chewy, blistered and irresistible whether devoured warm or at room temperature, there’s more to this neighborhood institution than their calling-card attraction.

Using those tortillas as a foundation, say hello to the Oaxaca Special burro, one of many such varieties of the wrapped and rolled on the menu. Level-headed and warming, the Oaxaca Special is an efficient, humble envelope of Carolina’s signature housemade chorizo, smoky and spiced, furled with layers of soft potato and, rightly so, the added insulation of golden, melted cheese. Good for lunch, dinner or even better: breakfast leftovers the following morning.

Carolina’s is likewise a draw for its hearty, patiently stewed meats and smoky, velvety chile — type red most of all. The beef machaca in almost anything is excellent, seasoned and nearly dripping, and the menudo (served only on Saturday mornings) makes morning-after crawls worth any extra effort.

Tangle in a bag of warm, homemade tortilla chips, salty and sharp, and a few helpings of the house red salsa, and you immediately understand how Carolina’s not only still hums after all these years, but also why it’s still so beloved.

Downtown couldn’t be luckier.

Carolina’s is located at 1202 E. Mohave St. in South Phoenix — 602.252.1503.

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