It was New Year’s Eve Day. We got off the plane in Phoenix and needed a late lunch before driving down to Tucson. As the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign blinked off and people crowded the tiny center aisle, groping at their luggage, I whipped out my phone for a quick search on the best restaurant near Sky Harbor International Airport.
The Chowhound/Yelp consensus pointed me straight towards Carolina’s. Barely five minutes’ drive from the airport, it was said to be a no-frills, laid-back Mexican place with Phoenix’s best handmade tortillas.
Well, the internet knows a lot, dear readers, but it doesn’t know everything, and what it didn’t know was that Carolina’s was closed for the holiday. Squinting in disbelief (and in the bright Arizona sun), my companion and I were all set to go back to Square Google when a man drove into the parking lot. He, too, surveyed the barred door with bemusement.
“They closed?” he asked.
“Seems like it,” we said.
“Huh,” he said.
I’m normally a compulsive researcher. But out of nowhere, my years of watching travel food shows overpowered my orderly cross-referencing review-scouring self. “Always ask a local!” Rachael Ray chirped in my brain. So I asked. He sent us a few blocks around the corner to Pitic Restaurant. And thank the lord he did.
Pitic sits in an industrial-looking area, in a long, squat building surrounded by abandoned lots and corrugated sheet metal. But inside, it’s a family-owned mom-and-pop joint, cheerfully painted in yellows and greens, with a couple of old arcade games in the back.
They started us off with complimentary chips and two delicious fresh salsas. One was a smooth puree, deep red and smoky, with a slow medium heat. The other was a bit more fiery, with big chunks of roasted green chilies and sweeter tomatillos.
Our orders came out quickly. My companion got a carne asada burrito, a fresh, soft flour tortilla packed full of tender-chewy, savory steak. There was a bit of guacamole and lettuce for contrast, but mostly, Pitic did not let anything obscure their delicious meat.
Meanwhile, I gleefully dug into my lengua (beef tongue) tacos. Not every place offers lengua, especially since I don’t live in the southwest, so I was stoked to see it on the menu. These were phenomenal. The meat was perfectly seasoned, tender but not mushy, well-browned outside. Like the carne asada, it was simply garnished – a crunchy pico de gallo of chopped tomato, white onion, raw jalapeño, and cilantro; a squeeze of fresh lemon. The warm corn tortillas, too, were excellently fresh and soft; no splitting or flaking, just a mild sweet flavor.
Pitic’s arroz y frijoles (rice and beans) should not be overlooked. The rice was delightfully fluffy, with plenty of flavor, and the beans were smooth and rich. A truly well-executed meal on all counts. Plus, our total for this feast came out to only $16.29, plus tip!
So thanks, Parking Lot Good Samaritan, for alerting me to this neighborhood treasure. I hope if you’re ever wandering around my neighborhood, I can return the favor.
1580 E Pima St.
Phoenix, AZ 85034