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The Gossiping Gourmet: Carmelita's misses getting the details right

Bland meats and excessive amounts of cheese mean that this new eatery still has some work to do.

November 14, 2012|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz | By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Sizzling tacos de hongos are becoming a favorite at Carmelita's in downtown Laguna Beach.
Sizzling tacos de hongos are becoming a favorite at Carmelita's… (Don Leach, HB Independent )

Bienvenidos a Carmelita's, Laguna's newest Mexican restaurant.

It replaces the long-gone Vietnamese Cajun restaurant on Broadway with a spiffy new renovation. With its tasteful tile and stonework accents, the remodeled interior might be called modern Mexican. Low lighting from attractive hanging fixtures, a color scheme of brown and beige with ivory-colored studded-leather booths along one wall create a comfortable, upscale atmosphere.

A large bar offering tequilas, margaritas and beer dominates one end of the room. Worth noting is that Carmelita's features its own brand of tequila, Carmelita's Original, which is made in Jalisco, Mexico.

Carmelita's chefs pride themselves on using premium ingredients in their cooking, including kurobuta and Berkshire pork, organic Jidori chicken, prime beef and Chilean sea bass.

But before you sample the results of that cooking, you're presented with a basket of very lightly salted thin, crispy chips served with bowls of tasty, zippy salsa and a mellower black-bean dip.

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Tortilla soup could be a meal in itself because it's almost like a stew, loaded with corn, black beans, avocado, carrots, onions and bits of tomato. This is a thick soup, and it is finished with a large dollop of cheese. It was very flavorful on its own and didn't need all that queso; but cheese lovers will just yum it up.

Entradas (appetizers) include the standards: ceviche, quesadillas, nachos etc., plus a few you don't see on every Mexican menu, like costillitas (baby back ribs) with salsa and crispy onions, or crab jalapenos with bacon and cheese.

We had three selections from the clasicos menu: a chile relleno, an enchilada verde and a tamale. The relleno is offered with cheese or carnitas but ours arrived with both. The chile relleno was not battered but was topped with cheese and a little red salsa. It was also stuffed with cheese and some small shreds of bland, unseasoned pork. The chile was good. The cheese was good too, but there was just too much of it.

The enchilada verde with chicken had absorbed every drop of the mild green sauce and the chicken itself was bland. There was more meat and cheese filling than you usually find in a tamale and the masa layer was quite thin and somewhat greasy.

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