It’s all about family and cuisine at Carmelita’s
By Christopher Malone
Tucked in the Lakeshore Heights Plaza in Cicero is a little eatery called Carmelita’s Mexican Restaurant. It’s been in that spot for a handful of years now but the name precedes itself.
Carmelita’s dates back decades ago, originally located in the city of Syracuse. It closed in the 1980s, according to an article from The Post-Standard and syracuse.com. Theresa Aviles-VanDeWalker, daughter of the original restauranteurs, brought her family’s recipes and business back to the area.
One of my favorite quotes about Mexican food is from Midwest comedian Jim Gaffigan: “I’m convinced that anyone who doesn’t like Mexican food is a psychopath.” Needless to say, I agree. What’s not to like about Mexican food?
Wait — I’ve had some really heavy cuisine in my day. Heavy to the point where I’m sweating and my stomach feels as heavy as an anvil, and I’m better off crawling across the floor. That can’t be good, right?
Glancing at Carmelita’s menu, there’s a lot to take in. It boasts familiar favorites, so you know what you’re getting into. Many of the items are gluten-free and can be as vegetarian friendly or meat-filled as you want them to be. Much of the food comes out in twos or threes, which means this meal should be shared with people you care about, adding to the dining experience and conversation.
Plus, there’s a bold reminder that the food is handmade, fresh, and made to order — so don’t get snippy if food doesn’t come out super quick. (Frankly, that would also be a concern.)
I started off with a cocktail ($10) made with tequila, mulled blackberries, lime and soda water. It’s definitely a cool, refreshing summer drink. The only issue was that there was a little too much soda water, which killed the flavor a little bit and tasted watered down.
To kick the meal off was the tostada — the critter tinga ($9.90). Out came a pair of crisp tortillas topped with an ample hill of shredded chipotle chicken, pico de gallo and sour cream. The flavor is really freaking delicious. And compliments to that handmade tortilla to withstand all that food. The chipotle chicken isn’t overly spicy and has a slight sweetness to it. Overall, it wasn’t too heavy.
Surrounded by lists of tacos, burritos, quesadillas and more, the San Rafael’s torta ($10.95) is in a category by itself, as it should be. I had my grilled sandwich filled with shredded and tender steak, peppers, and onions. It also comes with lettuce, tomato, some of the most flavorful guacamole to enter my mouth, beans and cheese. The toasted bread is nice and fresh, plus not overly heavy. Don’t be afraid to get messy. It’s a stacked sandwich.
The VanDilla quesadilla was a spicy, flavorful choice. It’s far from a boring quesadilla and a large one, too. The two halves can be easily split as well, giving four people an opportunity to enjoy the kick from the ingredients: ground beef, cheese, jalepeños and pico. Adding on the light sour cream will calm the creeping heat but adding the hot sauce adds a new level of flavorful intensity.
Joseph’s Combo ($14.99) and any of the family favorites or entrée plates are perfect for times of indecision. The platter features one tostada, one taco, one burrito, a dish of rice and a dish of refried beans. The amount of food is intimidating to look at. But it can be tackled one bite at a time.
The tortillas are all homemade — they’re crispy, strong and delightful. They’re perfectly browned and shaped – flattened for the tostadas, folded for tacos, or cut into triangles for chips — to hold contents, ingredients or dips. None were scorched or undercooked to the point of being chewy. As far as meat goes, which has been discussed already, nothing was bland or dry.
The shredded chicken-filled burrito came out coated with cheese and wading in a mild red sauce. Although the burrito was small in size, the flavor of the tender, lightly seasoned chicken with the sauce was applaudable. I used the leftover sauce for dipping in some of my quesadilla.
After coming this far, dessert was necessary. The flan ($6.95) simply sounded appealing. The standard slice of this custard dessert was presented with a small dollop of crème and a blackberry. The golden, glassy caramel top shimmered in the light. I enjoyed it at home, savoring every soft bite, which boasted a hint of almond.
Before tip, the total came to $70 and change. For a homemade meal with that traditional family flare, Carmelita’s is an ideal, safe and clean place to gather with family or friends and indulge in some delicious food.
Carmelita’s Mexican Restaurant
Lakeshore Heights Plaza
6195 Route 31, Cicero
Wed.–Sat.: 4–8 p.m.
Photo: The critter tinga ($9.90) at Carmelita’s: “The flavor is really freaking delicious.”