34-Years of Mexican Tradition & Growing the Family
We have come to find that using the word "authentic" when it comes to Mexican food is the next worse thing to a political discussion these days. Suddenly, everybody and their chihuahua is an expert on what "real authentic" Mexican food is, and isn't, and gets all in a tizzy.
Brace yourselves as we are going to use it anyway because Carmelita's is owned and operated by native Mexicans using family recipes from back home for their truly authentic cuisine. (Agave on St. Pete Beach is like this too. Read the review here.)
Of course they also have Tex-Mex favorites like fajitas, and other not purely Mexican favorites—because this is what the customers expect—this does not make the legit Mexican inauthentic. It means they know how to make their customers happy by having the right variety of items that are expected. What's more important in all cases is the quality and freshness of the food.
Carmelita's, like many restaurants, say they are family friendly, and they are, but in more ways than one. There are four locations, and the original started in St. Petersburg 34-years ago in 1983. The Lopez family still runs it using their family recipes from Mexico. Vincent and Carmen Lopez founded it, and their sons Michael and Ray also work with them today.
When they decided to expand, two of the original kitchen employees, husband and wife Juan and Maria J. Guzman, went to work at the Pinellas Park location in 1994 as kitchen manager and head cook, and in 2008, they bought the location with their sons Ricardo and Daniel, and daughter Juliete.
The Largo and New Port Richey locations are also owned and run by Mexican families and they all use the original recipes from St. Petersburg.
Lori and I went to the Pinellas Park location as we felt like having margaritas. (The St. Petersburg location is wine and beer only.)
The Carmelita Margarita was tasty and refreshing, and a generous portion at that. It wasn't too tart or too sweet, which can happen at a lot of Mexican places. Goldilocks would have loved this margarita—it was just right!
Of course, we also started with the traditional chips & salsa. Here's an insider tip: If you like super spicy, then ask for the Red Hot salsa. They don't bring it unless you ask. They do charge for the chips and salsas, but it is totally worth it. You can't give away stuff this good. Lori likes to mix the two salsas together. I like them separate for the full effect.
Above is the table salsa that is their default, and it is amazing. They make it fresh every day, and you can tell. It is tomatoey with nice crunch from raw onions and peppers. Be careful to not get too full on the chips and salsa as it is not easy to stop eating them.
A sign of a good Mexican restaurant is when you find Menudo on the menu. Menudo is 100% genuine Mexican food, and Carmelita's didn't disappoint.
Menudo, or pancita is a traditional Mexican soup, made with beef stomach in broth with a red chili pepper base. Usually, lime, chopped onions, and chopped cilantro are added, as well as crushed oregano and crushed red chili peppers. Wikipedia
There can be posole (hominy) and garbanzo beans (chickpeas) too. (That's how I make mine.) The árbol peppers make this one exceedingly spicy, so be careful.
The Menudo serving is huge. It is enough for two people to share for lunch and that is all you will need. (Lori ate her portion before I added the cilantro that comes on the side along with chopped fresh red onions, oregano, and red pepper flakes.)
We took half of the soup home so we could try a couple of other entrées. Lori has been eating here for years, and she went with one of her favorites, the Tacos Al Carbon - Two homemade flour tortillas filled with grilled steak or chicken (my little carnivore had steak) with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream and guacamole on the side.
I went with my chicken enchiladas standby test item, but this time I had to try the mole sauce, which is another traditional Mexican recipe. I had the Mole Enchiladas - Ranch, spicy mole sauce over two delicious all white meat chicken enchiladas.
You can choose between Rice, Refried Beans, or Corn as your side. I went with the refried beans as you can see in the photo. The dish was delicious and hearty.
¡Carmelita's is excelente! Tell them St. Petersburg Foodies sent you.
See the Carmelita's Mexican Restaurant Listing in our St. Petersburg Restaurant Guide. Do your own ratings & review - click here.
Vincent and Carmen Lopez founded Carmelita’s Mexican Restaurant in 1983. Carmelita’s has established the standard in quality Mexican Food that's been hard to beat for over two decades. Since the restaurant's inception, founders Vincent and Carmen Lopez have used their vast collection of traditional family recipes as the cornerstone of the Carmelita's experience.