By Jennifer Marshall
Olé! Cinco de Mayo is coming, and Carlos O’Brien’s is ready to party. Make merry and indulge your cravings for the yummiest Mexican food in the Valley.
A magnet for luxurious resorts, with world-class amenities and stunning mountain views, Phoenix, with its miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, is an outdoor lovers paradise. From American restaurants to those representing the cuisines from countries around the globe, Phoenix boasts a plethora of dining options making it a food lovers destination.
Given the Valley of the Sun’s close proximity to Mexico, it’s known for its Mexican food, which is a fan favorite of residents and visitors alike. And for 40 plus years, Carlos O’Brien’s has been the home of and the place for the best in Mexican cuisine. This family owned and operated business prides itself on serving generous portions at reasonable prices to be enjoyed in a fun, friendly and family-like atmosphere.
“We’re known for serving the best in Arizona style and Sonoran style Mexican food with a little bit of an Irish twist,” said Corey O’Brien, Owner and Manager of their newest location in Norterra.
Carlos O’Brien’s was established in 1978 by Sean O’Brien (Corey’s father) and Jeff Lipson (his uncle). They opened their first restaurant at 16th Avenue and Bethany Home Road.
And, yes, the founders really are Irish.
“My father was a manager of a Mexican restaurant when he was in college,” said O’Brien, “so his experience was in Mexican food. That first restaurant at 16th Avenue and Bethany Home Road had been a former Mexican place, Casa de Carlos, so he just took part of that name and went with it.”
In 1985, their restaurant was so successful that they closed that location and moved to a larger space at 12th Street and Northern Avenue where they are still going strong today. Corey joined the Carlos O’Brien’s team working alongside his father and his uncle, and in 1998, they opened their second location; this restaurant is in North Scottsdale not far from the Mayo Clinic Hospital. Then, in July of 2017, Carlos O’Brien’s opened their Norterra restaurant on Happy Valley Road and I-17.
“Except for word of mouth,” said O’Brien, “we haven’t done a lot of marketing of our Happy Valley Road restaurant, and we’re doing really well at that location.”
The family operates a fourth Carlos O’Brien’s in Avondale, but it’s the smallest of the four. While this location serves delicious Mexican eats daily, it doesn’t offer the same services as its sister establishments. For example, the other three restaurants now offer DoorDash and online ordering, and the Norterra location can accommodate up to 60 people for parties and events while the other two locations, Central Phoenix and Scottsdale, can fit up to 30 guests for parties and events.
“In every community that our four locations are in, we want to be a vital part of that neighborhood,” said O’Brien. “To that end, we encourage schools and other local groups to reach out to us.”
Mexican foodies can make Carlos O’Brien’s their daily pleasure. In addition to dinner service each night, lunch specials are available seven days a week, and every kind of appetite can be whet by checking out their menus online at their website (www.carlosobriens.com). For those looking for a little post work relaxation, stop in at any of their four locations, and unwind at Happy Hour from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. And for those hankering for the best in Mexican cuisine, but don’t feel like dining in, all four Carlos O’Brien’s offer takeout.
“Diners will find us, the owners, in-house every day,” said O’Brien. “We’re all about great food and great service. Our mission is to serve delicious Mexican food in big portions at reasonable prices. While we’re expanding slowly, we’re as popular as ever and a staple of Arizona comfort food.”
Food at Carlos O’Brien’s is prepped fresh upon order, and their menu features all the Mexican classics like chimichangas, burritos, enchiladas, tacos (both soft and street) and fajitas.
According to O’Brien, their chimichangas are very popular with their “Pollo Fundido” being a perennial favorite. “Pollo Fundido” is a “chicken chimichanga covered with jalapeño cream cheese and cheddar cheese served with rice and beans.” Other chimichangas can be ordered with beef and pork and red chili sauce or green chili sauce.
“Our burrito grande, ‘Grande Burro Enchilada Style’, is quite possibly the biggest burrito around,” said O’Brien. “Our food isn’t as spicy as Tex-Mex; it’s more flavorful. And our style is definitely cheesy as we’re heavy on the cheese and heavy on the portions.”
Their famous “#1 Cheese Enchilada and Beef Taco” dinner, which is dressed with rice and beans, is considered an old standard and quintessential Sonoran. Enchiladas are also prepared in other ‘flavors’ such as beef, chicken and pork, and in fact, O’Brien highly recommends the “Shrimp Enchilada.” Sauces choices range from red and green chili to tomatillo to ranchero.
“Different parts of Mexico have various styles of food,” said O’Brien, “We have some Baja influence with our delicious beer battered fish tacos, ‘Baja Fish Tacos’, and our ‘Macho Street Tacos’ are great as well. Actually, they’re on our Happy Hour menu, too.”
When it comes to fajitas, “Favorite Fajita Quesadilla,” is always a crowd-pleaser. This entree is comprised of “marinated beef, chicken or both grilled with onions and bell peppers served in a flour tortilla quesadilla with sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo.” This is how to say yummy!
Oh, and don’t forget to finish off that yummy meal with some “Fried Ice Cream” a Mexican staple of sweetness.
Vegans and vegetarians will be happy to know that Carlos O’Brien’s doesn’t use animal products or byproducts in any of their beans. For those who are health conscious, they make it easy to eat healthy with their à la carte ordering, and everything is always made-to-order to the customer’s specifications and satisfaction.
Given the O’Brien’s Irish heritage and their Mexican influences, both Saint Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo are big days for celebration every year.
While Guinness beer is always on tap at all their locations, their Irish roots are most evident on Saint Patrick’s Day. Carlos O’Brien’s expresses and marries their ancestry and their food passions on this totally Irish day through such dishes as their famous corn beef tacos. Another merging of cultures is reflected in their Irish Margarita, which is available every day from their full-service bar. In the end, while they’ve dabbled in some Irish food over the years, Saint Patrick’s Day is their one day where they go a little green.
Cinco de Mayo is always a fun time at Carlos O’Brien’s. They offer food and drink specials and exciting giveaways. In addition to the celebration and festivities going on inside their restaurants, this is a big catering day for them as well. Their food is most often the choice for many office parties and other organizations hosting celebratory events. This year, Cinco de Mayo is Sunday, May 5, so be sure to join in the merriment at Carlos O’Brien’s.
2501 W. Happy Valley Road, Building 14
1133 East Northern Avenue
7000 East Mayo Boulevard, Building #21
765 North 114th Avenue