Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico achieves mouthwatering success with its gourmet approach to family recipes passed down through several generations.
By Sharon Stello | Photos by Jody Tiongco
Just steps from the beach, Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico impresses with authentic south-of-the-border dishes, friendly staff and relaxing ocean views.
Carmelita’s started in the Sacramento area before expanding to locations in Southern California, including Rancho Santa Margarita and Laguna Beach, where it has operated since September 2012 on Broadway Street. Customers are greeted warmly as they enter the upscale, comfortable dining room filled with dark wood tables and engaging artwork.
Complimentary chips, salsa and black bean dip arrive quickly. “That’s how we say, ‘Welcome,’ ” shares general manager Daniel Osorio. “… We want everyone to feel at home.” Nibble on that starter while sipping on refreshing yet spicy strawberry-jalapeno or pineapple-jalapeno margaritas, each containing juicy bits of fresh fruit.
The cooler months are a perfect time to warm up with the queso fundido appetizer. Melted cheese is mixed with pico de gallo and pieces of bacon and chorizo, then topped with guacamole and served with soft tortillas for dipping. This savory treat will keep tempting you to take just one more bite—but save room, because there are many must-try entrees on the menu.
The tampiquena skirt steak with cheese enchiladas is one of the most popular main dishes. Tender and flavorful, the steak tantalizes with every bite. The meat is marinated in soy sauce, orange juice, onions and a secret blend of spices—it’s just one of the restaurant’s well-guarded recipes passed down from the owner’s grandmother, Daniel says. Another key to Carmelita’s success: All dishes are prepared fresh, including the homemade salsa and tortillas. “Everything is made as you order,” he adds.
The freshness is especially evident in the seafood dishes. Carmelita’s fish of the day is often Chilean sea bass served in Veracruzana sauce, made with white wine, capers, cilantro, serrano chilies, tomatoes and onion. The fish delights, but almost as remarkable is the accompanying side of spinach sauteed with roasted tomatillo salsa, putting a unique spin on this common leafy green. For a sampling of the seafood selection, order the marisco trio, which includes a lobster enchilada, shrimp taco and a crab-and-shrimp chili relleno, each topped with a delectable sauce.
While all of these dishes make for a memorable meal, no visit to Carmelita’s would be complete without dessert. Patrons can’t go wrong with the tres leches cake, featuring a strawberry filling and an infusion of Grand Marnier orange liqueur. As you take the last bite of this sweet, moist sponge cake, you’ll already be planning your next visit.
Tip: When dining with a group, consider ordering the sharable molcajete platter for a sampling of the restaurant’s favorite dishes—an option that general manager Daniel Osorio calls the “tour of Carmelita’s.”
Opens at 11 a.m., daily for lunch and dinner (closing time varies, 9-11 p.m.)
217 Broadway St.; 949-715-7829; carmelitaskitchen.com