So we’re leaving Phoenix via Sky Harbour Airport and need a quick lunch to sustain us on the flight home. Phoenix has great Mexican food so I do a bit of research and the place to go is the Barrio Cafe. Of course it’s closed on Monday so now what? My research also mentions a place called Carolina’s. There is mention of a dicey area but it happens to be darn close to the airport so we’re done, let’s have lunch. We pull off the freeway and find ourselves in a rather sketchy neighborhood, a bit rundown and certainly depressed. Up ahead is a small one story white stucco building with barred windows and doors and an inordinate number of cars and trucks. The side of the building has huge letters spelling out CAROLINA’S and we pull into the almost full parking lot, find the front door and step into a concrete floored room with a row of order windows on the left and a crowd of people, some local, some in shirts and ties, families with screaming kids, a mishmash of people ordering from a large menu above the windows, the sound of someone calling out order numbers bouncing off all the hard surfaces, ringing in my ears. We put in our order and made our way through the throng to another larger spare room with what appears to be another mishmash of chairs and tables, all appear to have lived a previous life at Jack in the Box, Wendy’s and McDonald’s. This room too was crowded with lunch patrons, some packed in front of a bank of soda machines trying to decide between cinammon flavored aqua fresca and diet root beer and everything in between. We finally had our number called and we chowed down on a large and tasty variety of Mexican fast food staples. The beef tamale was particularly good though the sauce tasted less like mole and more like beef stew. The salsa, available in small paper cups filled by big stainless steel mustard/ketchup pump dispensers provided enough heat. The tostado, tortilla (which can be had soft or crispy) and the enchilada were all respectable if not remarkable. The whole time we were there, no staff came to clean any of the tables even though they were turning over at a fairly rapid rate. I’d still come here but I’d do what half the crowd did, take out and buy the made on premises corn and flour tortillas all to go.
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