Master Margaritas and More at Las Carretas Mexican Restaurant in Winter Park | Restaurant review | Orlando
I generally avoid restaurants with long menus. In my opinion, there’s no way the kitchen can cook everything well, let alone the logistics involved in storing and rotating so many different ingredients. Something must give way. But the Mexican restaurant Las Carretas challenged my paradigm and made me rethink that assumption. The menu at Mexican restaurant East Orlando, which has become a bit of a cult following since it opened a few months ago, is really, really, really long (really). But everything I tried on my recent visit made me want to come back. I recommend you preview the seven page menu online to narrow down your choices, lest you find yourself speechless and overwhelmed when the friendly and attentive waiters come to take your order. This happens to me regularly, even in restaurants with shorter menus. In Las Carretas, where the menu requires a second or third sheet, it’s almost guaranteed.
Did I mention the menu is long?
The best way to start the fiesta at Las Carretas is with a cocktail. The restaurant takes its 19 margaritas very seriously: all are available in small, medium and pitchers. My companion opted for the Tamarindo (medium, $ 14.99) and enjoyed the balance of silver tequila with tangy tamarind mash and agave nectar. I can’t resist a michelada ($ 9.99) – beer mixed with tomato juice, hot sauce, Maggi sauce, lime and Tajin seasoning – and that of Las Carretas hit me calcetins right now.
With the festive interior decorated with sugar skulls and ofrendas among vintage Mexican travel posters and colorful papel picado flag garlands, starting with the vuelve la vida ceviche ($ 12.99), which translates to ” raise the dead, ”seemed appropriate. The appetizer combines shrimp, octopus and fish with diced tomatoes, cucumber and red onion served with crackers, avocado, mango and jicama slices sprinkled with Tajin seasoning. I had dinner with my Peruvian husband, a verifiable ceviche expert, and we both noticed the masterful balance of flavors in the dish – the seafood was sparkling, accented (not overpowered) by the lime juice.
Because they take a lot of work, tamales ($ 8.99) aren’t often a menu staple. At Las Carretas, not only are they on the menu all the time, but the dish is accompanied by three different tamales – cheese, pork and chicken – served side by side with the accompanying sauces, all of which are incredibly good. The cheese tamale is topped with an ultra-creamy white queso and the pork tamale is a savory salsa verde pie, beating the creamy braised pork shoulder. But it’s the chicken tamale, or more precisely, the mole it’s covered with, that steals the show. It’s chocolatey and complex, just like a mole should be.
Las Carretas has a dozen different Mexican tacos, served with moist rice tinted with tomato sauce and some of the best charro beans I’ve tried – creamy and comforting. You also won’t find just chicken or beef. The first time i tried tongue tacos, made from cow’s tongue, was found at a taco stand in Ciudad Chihuahua, northern Mexico. See them alongside other toppings like tripe, beef cheek and borrego (braised lamb), brought me back there. We sampled the cabeza tacos ($ 11.99) full of braised beef cheek, perfectly fat and flavorful, and garnished with cilantro and diced onions. I loved how the hot and fresh corn tortilla filled my scent nerves with the pleasant earthy aroma of corn before the taco even touched my lips. Paradise.
In the Favoritos menu section, the torta Toluqueña ($ 14.99) caught my eye with its description of the kitchen sink. The sandwich is topped with: a breaded and fried chicken cutlet; salchicha (Mexican style hot dogs, lighter on the smoke than the American version); plus ham, stringy Oaxaca cheese, pineapple, pickled peppers, mayo, ketchup, tomato and avocado. How could I resist? The giant sandwich came wrapped in foil and, when unwrapped, doesn’t look as delicious as it does. The salchichas stick out from the sides like puffy fingers, but a quick nudge in the puffed bread solves that. The bread has a crispy crust but a chewy interior – a holdover from the brief French occupation of Mexico in the 1860s – and the pineapple lifts the whole, cutting through the richer components and surprising the palate with sweetness.
We took our waiter’s word for it that the Tres Leches Cake and the Chocoflan (both $ 5.99) are customers’ favorite desserts. They’re both well worth the calories. Instead of sitting in a puddle of cream, the tres leches were soaked, but not soggy, the center topped with thinly sliced strawberries to add freshness. The chocoflan is one of my all-time favorite desserts – the pastry cream is carefully poured over the chocolate cake batter and drips while the cake bakes, so the custard ends up at the bottom and the cake au- on it, changing places and giving the dessert its familiar name, “pastel impossible“, or impossible cake. The Las Carretas version is excellent, with the dark caramel filling cooked almost to bitterness, adding complexity to the treat.
The menu at Las Carretas has over 100 items that we couldn’t try, not counting the lunch specials (all at $ 9.99), the kids menu, and all the side dishes and additions to the menu. If you have decision paralysis, preparation is essential. Luckily the food and experience at Las Carretas is so good that I will be coming back again and again, aiming to try everything on the menu by 2085.