Stunning to think that Carlito’s has been in Santa Barbara 32 years, serving up Mexican food across from the Arlington. That patio always stays packed when the sun is out, and that’s most of the time in our ‘burb. The chips and salsa keep coming, and oh my, that salsa! Or rather, those salsas, the chunky tomato version is so thick that the chips have a hard time standing under the weight. The black bean and corn salsa is oh so crunchy. What really could go with this lovely salt’n’corn combo?
Why, cocktails of course. Silly to ask, really. This is the Drink of the Week column, and Carlito’s was off our radar for a while only because it doesn’t have a physical bar to sidle up to. Instead, we sidled up to the menu, and found that there’s about 20 choices for the cocktail fan. So let the party begin, and come find us on the patio.
Esteban Diaz has been working at Carlito’s some 11 years, working his way up to manager. General managers Leslie and Hugo Abrego designed the drinks menu to be both traditional, including margaritas of all strengths, and original, including the rare appearance of the Pisco sour, which we’ve only seen at two places in town, one of which is — shhhhhhh — right across the street. The (mostly) Muscat-based liquor is one of South America’s favorite tipples, and here is mixed with lime juice and simple syrup. The head of the cocktail is foamy egg whites, with a drop of colorful aromatic bitters. The grape flavor jumps out, as does the simple syrup, which tastes very cane sugary.
The Carlito’s Martini arrives next, a lovely orange glow that comes from its mango and passion fruit juices doing battle with the tasty Absolut Citron. The drink features Miguel Torres Orange Liqueur, used, says Diaz, because it is sweeter than Cointreau. A little bit of Cava sparkling wine turned this into a delightful sunny day drink, though some may find the Cava and mango tastes clashing, one being dry and the other very smooth and round.
We ended with the Pomegranate Margarita, which has a light, airiness that belies is strength: Herradura Silver and Cointreau mixed with pomegranate and lime juices. We had to admit that this cocktail went best with our chips and salsa, and hence, it made itself known as our very own Drink of the Week.
1 ½ ounces Herradura Silver
½ ounce Cointreau
1 ounce Fresh pomegranate juice
½1; ounce Fresh lime juice
Mix over ice and strain into martini glass. Garnish with orange wheel.
CARLITO’S CAFé AND CANTINA
1324 State St.