#30: Carmelitas

Carmelita’s was high on my friend’s list of places to eat while he was visiting from Seattle.  He has mentioned on many occasions that they don’t have much, if any, great Mexican food up there, and he thinks Carmelita’s is one of the best.  The only time I had ever been here was with him, probably a good 3 or 4 years ago when he first tried to show me how excellent Carmelita’s was.  Fortunately, for this blog post, I have a terrible memory so it was like going for the first time again!

We arrived sometime after 8PM and most of the patrons were already winding down and were gone by the time we got our food.  I love having a restaurant to myself for photos :).  Seating is primarily booths, but they have a side room with tables.  I mention this only because I found the booth to be a tad bit claustrophobic due to the table being a little large for it.  As you can see the restaurant is nicely decorated.  I thought the jungle thing they have going on up in the ceiling was pretty cool.

Chips and salsa were served while we looked over the menus.  Chips and salsa always seems great because you’re hungry and it’s the first thing put in front of you, but this pair was GREAT.  The chips were hot, fresh, crunchy and had some weight to them.  They were quality chips.  The salsa was the type were you don’t feel like you’re eating a whole tomato.  It had a little more kick to it than your typical complimentary salsa, but also really solid flavor as well.  These are damn near a reason to go to Carmelita’s on their own.

I think it’s possible I had a chimichanga on my first visit, but I really don’t know for sure.  If so, however, it would probably be the only one I’ve ever had (unless those fried things, with what seems to be meat in them, from the roach coach count).

My friend, Pete, was ordering one for himself.  Not being able to recall what a chimichanga was, I asked.  The idea of basically a deep fried burrito was all he needed to sell.  They are available in chicken, pork or beef on the menu.  Pete suggested I go with the carnitas.  I love me some carnitas, but I thought for the sake of trying something new I might just do the pork.  When ordering, the server (maybe the manager, based on his behavior) also highly recommended the carnitas.  Clearly outnumbered, I surrendered to my sow-roasted, delicious destiny.  I also ordered one of their little tacos on the side just to have a little variety, and went with carne asada.

Not long after demolishing our basket of chips, and a new one being delivered, our food arrived.  In addition to the chimichanga, Pete also ordered a fish taco, which looked pretty good.  His girlfriend, Meg, ordered the Huevos Rancheros (two large fried eggs topped with green chile ranchera sauce).  I didn’t know what it was at the time, and was too preoccupied with my own food to ask, but I thought they looked suspiciously like eggs.  Apparently I was correct.

I had asked how big the chimichanga would be before I ordered it and Meg described it’s footprint as about the size of a Hershey bar.  Although we were clear that this description was only valid in 2 dimensions, I must have let it go to my head a bit, because I was kind of shocked when it arrived.  I sliced into it and a ton of piping hot carnitas spilled out.  The “shell” was nice and crispy as I expected.  This was tasty, filling and HUGE.  I definitely didn’t need the taco.  The beans and rice were just OK.  It’s been less than a week and I really can’t remember a thing about them, so there you go.

The carne asada taco was disapointing.  The steak was dry and mostly flavorless.  It’s possible I was spoiled by all the ridiculously amazing tacos I had on my recent trip to Austin, but I’m going to go ahead and say it wasn’t very good.

Overall this was a pretty good visit.  The chips and salsa were a big hit, and the chimichangas were so good that I ate Pete’s leftovers in addition to mine because I thought he had forgotten about them in my refrigerator (he totally called me on it the next day).  The service was quite good.  The manager seemed very pleased to hear that Pete made it a point to come eat there while in town and they spoke breifly about the state of Mexican cuisine in the northwest.  Despite our late arrival, and the open sign being exstinguished before getting our food, we never felt rushed.  I give Carmelita’s a solid 4 of 5.


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