5 restaurants downtown that aren’t gentrified (yet)

They may not be cool or trendy, but that's exactly why we love them. Here are a few of our favorite non-gentrified restaurants still standing in downtown Phoenix. Nov. 4, 2019 (Madeline Ackley/DD)

By Katelyn Dyer and Madeline Ackley

In a place that’s changing as quickly as downtown Phoenix, it becomes easier to name the places that have remained the same than the ones that have changed. In less than a decade, downtown Phoenix and its residents have felt the full effect of rapid growth and the gentrification that comes with it.

Many of the small, family-owned restaurants that have been a part of the fabric of downtown for decades have been gutted and replaced by trendy, gimmicky businesses that cater to an increasingly wealthy population. But a select few non-gentrified restaurants in downtown Phoenix remain. Here are a few spots we hope won’t get converted in a WanderJaunt or a dry bar any time soon.

Azteca’s been serving up the best pan dulce downtown long before many of us ever even heard the word “gentrification.” Nov. 4, 2019 (Katelyn Dyer/DD)

Azteca Bakeries and Restaurant 

This family-owned restaurant and bakery started out in the Valley in 1954. Today, it is best known for serving authentic pan dulce, also called Mexican sweet bread, like conchas. If you’re not in the mood for sweets, Azteca also offers empanadas, elote, flautas and more– all made from scratch.

If you’re looking to try one of their endless menu options, keep an eye out for their overhead sign in bold red and green letters.

Address: 416 N. 7th Ave.

Hours: Monday-Friday 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m.-2 p.m.

Know before you go: Although known for their sweet treats, Azteca serves tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and much more.

If you’re looking for the best tortillas in town, look no further. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get bulldozed to build an expensive high-rise with a rooftop pool. Nov. 4, 2019 (Katelyn Dyer/DD)


Carolinas Mexican Restaurant has a kind of cult following in the Valley. The small, family-owned chain began when owners Manuel and Carolina Valenzuela opened their first location in 1968. They finally settled down on Mohave Street in the ‘70s, and they’ve been growing their community of loyal patrons ever since.

If you’re from the downtown area, you’ll know the original Carolinas location by the white brick building with hand-painted red letters and a sign overhead proclaiming: “Best tortillas in town!”

Carolina’s has a whole menu of Mexican classics, but they are probably most famous for their beans, tamales and of course their tortillas.

Address: 1202 E. Mohave St.

Hours: Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m.-6 p.m.

Know before you go: Carolina’s allows you to call and order ahead so your meal can be ready when you arrive.

One of the long-timers still around on Roosevelt Row. Here’s hoping this beloved soup and salad joint will be around for years to come. Nov. 4, 2019 (Madeline Ackley/DD)

Carly’s Bistro 

Carly’s Bistro has been a Roosevelt Row favorite since it opened its doors in 2005.

Carly’s serves American classics such as soup, salad and sandwiches, but they also offer Mediterranean favorites such as hummus and tapenade made from scratch.

They don’t just do food. Carly’s also hosts movie nights, trivia and live music every week.

Next time you’re on the Row, be sure to stop by for a reasonably priced glass of wine and some live tunes.

Address: 128 E. Roosevelt St.

Hours: Monday-Friday 10:30 a.m.-12 a.m., Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.-12 a.m.

Know before you go: Check their Facebook page if you want to attend one of their trivia nights or $4 drink days.

Rito’s Mexican Food is a downtown favorite. But you might mistake it for a house if you’re not careful. Nov 4, 2019. (Katelyn Dyer/DD)

Rito’s Mexican Food

Rito’s originally began as a small neighborhood market founded by Rosemary and Jose Salinas in 1977. It’s now a takeout restaurant that serves everything from tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and more.

The Salinas’ have kept this restaurant in the family, handing the torch off to their daughter Charlotte at the location in the historic Garfield neighborhood right next to the Salina’s family home.

Address: 907 N.14th St.

Hours: Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Know before you go: This is a cash-only takeout restaurant that has a home-like appearance, so be careful not to miss it driving by.

What it lacks in trendiness, El Norteño makes up for it in flavor and quality service–a dying breed of restaurant in this town. Nov. 4, 2019 (Madeline Ackley/DD)

El Norteño

This family-owned and operated restaurant has been serving its customers authentic Mexican food since 1981.

If you enjoy quality, no-frills Mexican food for cheap, El Norteño’s is probably the best option in downtown Phoenix. It might be one of the last places on or near Roosevelt Row where you can buy a proper meal for $5-$7.

The bad news is, a Starbucks and an apartment complex made of shipping containers moved in across the street. Hopefully our favorite Mexican dive will pull through and not get turned into a goat yoga studio.

Address: 1002 N. 7th Ave.

Hours: Monday-Saturday: 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m., closed Sunday

Know before you go: Remember to bring cash, since cards are not accepted.

Contact the reporters at [email protected] and [email protected].