My editor asked me to write about Cinco de Mayo and the introduction of heritage foods in the states; so I could tell you that the word ‘Taco” dates from the 18th century silver mines in Mexico where it referred to the pieces of paper wrapped around gunpowder to excavate the ore. Tacos didn’t appear in American until the 1920s and were sold as street food in California but that’s just not spicy enough for Cinco de Mayo, so I asked a foodie friend to find me his favorite Mexican restaurant in Sparks.
The other day my lunch buddy was surfing Yelp and inquired if I had ever been to Carlitos Cocina Mexican Restaurant — he remarked they had 83 reviews and five-Yelp-stars. He spoke about it with such reverence it made me think this was equal to a Presidential pardon.
First, as a food writer I simply refuse to pay attention to Yelp. I disagree with their entire existence because Yelp operates in a grey area between journalism and customer service.
Second, my friends will not stop using Yelp, so off we go to this not-a-bad-Yelp-review restaurant.
Okay, if I was playing a tennis match — I’d concede this one to Yelp. Carlitos Cocina Mexican Restaurant lives up to all five-Yelp-stars.
Don’t blink or you’ll pass it! Carlitos Cocina Mexican Restaurant is located in a vintage roadside diner, the old Sparks Landrum’s. Having been out of town – I’m not sure what the location morphed into during my absence but for the last five years Carlitos Cocina Mexican Restaurant has been cooking up abundant breakfast and lunches. When you walk in, it’s tiny, you must sit at the counter, it’s packed with people so you might have to wait a bit — but it’s worth a wait and the customers are considerate they eat and skedaddle.
My idea of how to tell the worth of a Mexican restaurant is their combination plate, the gentleman sitting next to me, a Yelper from San Francisco, disagreed and told me it’s all about the fish. He was kind enough to order The Grill Tilapia sautéed with onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and served with rice, guacamole and Pico de Gallo and allow me to plate poach. The plate was artfully arranged and garnished with fresh vegetables — pickled carrots, cucumber, avocado, crisp lettuce and tomatoes, the rice and beans were dotted and drizzled with white cheese — the tilapia was cooked to perfection and gone in seconds, delicious.
When my combination plate arrived it was filled with a chile relleno, enchilada, fish taco, rice and beans. Be prepared to go home full, take some home, or share because the portions are large. As we were eating lunch we watched large poblano chiles being roasted and they were gorgeous specimens as was the one I was eating roasted, stuffed with queso, light egg batter and fried. My fish taco was filled with the same delicious tilapia, vegetables and potatoes — yes, potatoes. They serve country potatoes as a side and also use them inside their tacos and it was an interesting combination and brought out the fish flavor.
It’s tough to isolate just a few items because the entire menu is good but the chile relleno is a must and probably the best in Reno/Sparks, house made tamale, house made chorizo and eggs, torta de asada — heck, everything on the menu is worth trying.
The burritos were stuffed to the point that the cooks behind the counter need to exert a bit of extra pressure to contain them as they are wrapped, and packed with a spectacle of flavors.
This is a festive, popular place to enjoy and everyone seems to know Carlos, Javier and Luiza who are the owners. This is fresh ingredients and scratch cooking practically at fast food prices so visit them once and you will return often. Carlitos Cocina Mexican Restaurant at 415 S. Rock Blvd. Sparks (775) 351-1274. – yelp.com/biz/carlitos-cocina-mexican-restaurant-sparks.
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