Cora's Cafe resurrected in new digs

South-side favorite serves authentic Mexican food based on founder's menu
2012-06-14T00:00:00Z Cora's Cafe resurrected in new digsCathalena E. Burch Cburch@azstarnet.com Arizona Daily Star

By owner Arturo Sanchez's estimation, Cora's Cafe is in at least its fifth resurrection.

Last September, four years after it had seemingly closed for good, the venerable south-side Mexican cafe reopened.

This time, it's on South Park Avenue in a nearly windowless brick building that has long been a revolving door - most recently housing a sports bar and a Colombian grill before that.

Sanchez let in the sunlight by adding a window in the front, freshened the outside with some new paint, and created a homey atmosphere inside by investing in blond-wood tables and chairs.

It's a far cry from the plastic chairs at Cora's last location on Irvington Road near South Sixth Avenue, where it had been a fixture for more than 25 years.

The ramshackle building had a chaotically small dining room that was packed at lunch and baked year-round by the sun coming through the wall-to-wall windows.

Before that, Sanchez said, Cora's had operated out of a few other locations along Sixth Avenue.

While the newest setting is bigger - room for 248 diners compared with 68 at the old one - the menu is virtually unchanged.

Sanchez said he's added a few updates and personal tweaks since he bought Cora's in 2001, but the menu is pretty much as the namesake founder had crafted it at least 50 years ago.

This is where you go for enchiladas fat with cheese and slicked in mild red sauce, and bowls of caldo de queso with big chunks of fork-tender potato swimming in a rich broth laced with ribbons of melted jack cheese and mild green chiles.

Tamales come without their husks, stuffed with shredded beef and gifted with a tiny olive, seed intact. Tacos employ shredded chicken, or ground or shredded beef. You can get them a la carte - a single machaca or birria taco is $1.95; a plate of three tacos is $4.99 - or as an anchor to a combo plate, including the No. 4 ($7.50) that came with a beef tamale and cheese enchilada.

Menudo, in red or white, is served daily ($4.99 and $5.99), and the soups - from albondigas to arros con pollo at $4.55 for a small bowl, $5.95 for large - are still big attractions.

The food can be inconsistent: on a recent Friday the moist shredded chicken in a burro ($6.85) was bland except for a slight taste of egg it must have picked up when it was warmed on the grill. And the enchiladas tasted as if the sauce was added at the end of the cooking and the flavors never married.

A few days later on a Tuesday, though, the enchiladas were exemplary, and the machaca shredded beef in the chimichanga ($7.25) was everything you would ask from the dish - juicy and flavorful, with bits of carrots and onions tucked into a crispy fried flour tortilla.

But as a fellow diner and longtime south-side resident remarked, you don't come to Cora's to be wowed; you come to be fed with big portions of authentic Mexican food.

If you want to spice up the creamy beans or fairly routine Spanish rice, add a spoonful or two of the house-made salsa that has that inviting back burn as it goes down. It works equally as well to kick up the taco, which on two recent visits was fairly ho-hum.

Breakfast runs the gamut from bacon and eggs ($5.25) to huevos rancheros served with beans and a tortilla ($6.25) and that tender machaca with a pair of eggs and beans ($6.99).

On our pair of visits, we had the same waitress who treated us as if we were part of the family. She effortlessly juggled a few tables at a time, delivering food promptly and keeping water and tea glasses filled, oftentimes without you even knowing she was there.

Sanchez said the reincarnated Cora's is still catching its second wind. It draws a respectable crowd most days, and Sanchez said word is getting around to the old regulars that Cora's is back.

"My old customers, they find me little by little."

Review

Cora's Cafe

4525 S. Park Ave., 294-2146

• Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; closed Mondays.

• Noise level: During the rush at breakfast and lunch, there's a pleasant buzz from conversations.

• Vegetarian options: Several.

• Family call: Bring the kids; the food is mild and who doesn't like tacos?

• Price range: Most expensive item is a combination plate that includes a tamale, taco, enchilada and rice and beans for $7.50; chorizo with eggs, beans and tortilla will set you back $6.99.

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