As a Laguna Beach resident, I still miss Javier’s in Laguna’s downtown and that’s a LONG miss, given that the restaurant pulled up stakes in 2007. Now, thanks to Carmelita’s on Broadway, I might finally be getting over the Javier’s loss.
Granted, there are decent Mexican restaurants in Laguna Beach, and each offers up some great specialties (like Coyote Grill’s Baja grilled lobster), but the food across the board is usually just that – decent. At the same time, I can’t say I’ve dined on anything very memorable in what I call the “food court” of Laguna Beach at the corner of PCH and Broadway. It was a blessed event, then, to finally feast at Carmelita’s today for lunch, and I’m quite sure their presence in the “food court” is going to create a complete transformation in foot traffic this coming summer.
Carmelita’s is a small, family-owned chain with only three other locations. When Carmelita’s won the bid for the old Crab Shack spot (beating out Chipotle), we waited anxiously until our anxiouses were sore. A full year later in mid-September 2012, they finally opened their doors. I remained skeptical, even while driving by on several occasions and noting the large number of patrons they seemed to be hauling in.
A “Best” Vote for Service and Sublime Margarita
Granted, I now just have one lunch under my belt, but I’m fairly convinced these folks can do no wrong. The waiter was enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable, making salient points toward organic and free-range items. All of the margaritas, he noted, are basically “skinny” as Carmelita’s only uses agave and fresh juices. He recommended the Partida Marg with anejo tequila. It was spectacular. It might have been the best margarita I’ve had yet in Laguna Beach, and I’ve tried a lot of these babies. (See my Top Margaritas in Laguna Beach post and note: The Royal Hawaiian’s great margarita is a ghost of the past. Sob.)
Carmelita’s Menu: Highly Creative
Chips were homemade and crispy hot, served up with their “family recipe” black bean queso dip and a fresh salsa, and it’s an unlimited supply. On the waiter’s recommendations, my buddy and I finally narrowed our selection: First, the Enchiladas de Mariscos (dungeness crab, shrimp, avocado and cream topped with their fabulous chile verde sauce and a polite dab of whipped sour cream). And, after finally omitting the Lobster Chile Rellenos and the Pollo A La Chipotle from our list, we settled on Tacos de Hongos (ribeye steak on a bed of grilled portabella mushrooms with onion and cheese).
Good golly. For starters, these were substantial meals. I’m not one to take photos of food as they never do justice to great food, but there was a LOT of food here. The enchiladas were perfect, if a bit heavenly rich. I was a big fan of Javier’s seafood enchiladas, but Carmelita’s takes that dish down in a heartbeat. (Sorry, Javier’s.)
The Tacos de Hongos was just plain stellar. Huge, perfectly cooked strips of steak and portabella arrived on a steaming iron skillet. Our three flour tortillas could only handle about 40% of the entire dish; it was easily 9 or more ounces of great steak. (Fortunately, the flour tortillas are unlimited, too.)
With its rich woods and full wrap-around bar, Carmelita’s is a far cry from anything that’s occupied this space before. The place is impeccably clean and there is no shortage of great, friendly staff. Sometimes, people wonder if I get paid by these Laguna Beach businesses when I’m particularly enthusiastic – absolutely no way, and the staff there had no idea they were being “reviewed.” I think Carmelita’s has simply honed its customer-friendly service and menu to serious perfection. The wait for its arrival in Laguna Beach was well worth it.
Carmelita’s Location: 217 Broadway, Laguna Beach
Carmelita’s Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. 6 days of the week, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.