Carlita’s Cocina (South Royalton, VT)

(Update: Just a few weeks after I posted this review, Carlita’s Cocina had a major fire and shut down. That’s the bad news. The good news is that as of November 2022, they’ve moved into a brick-and-mortar location at 212 Chelsea Street downtown, across from the Green, and pretty much have the same menu and now have beer from Upper Pass. You can read my updated review of the new Carlita’s Cantina)

Prior to the pandemic, one of my more regular spots to visit in Vermont was South Royalton. It has several great places we like, including First Branch Coffee/Upper Pass Beer and Worthy Burger, but between reduced operating hours and fewer social gatherings, we hadn’t made it over that was as often. Early in the pandemic, we had noted the opening of Carlita’s Cocina, a primarily Mexican-themed food truck, operating in the large parking lot opposite Vermont Law School. When I had to reschedule one of my periodic Red Cross blood donations to the Sharon Academy, that gave me a good excuse to go on a short hike up to Kent’s Ledge, and then meet up with my friends Rick and Sarah to finally try out Carlita’s.

Carlita’s menu is basically Mexican fusion: the primary menu is Mexican takeout (burritos and tacos), but they’ve also got a good number of other dishes, ranging from poke bowls, tots, and fusions of these, like the Carlita’s Way Rice Bowl (chicken adobo, rice, and crema), or the Heavy D burrito (porkbelly, chicken, and kimchi). I decided to get the Heavy D burrito and a few tacos, while Carol opted for the Carlita’s Way bowl and a few tacos. As you can see from the photos, our visit occurred back in March when there was still plentiful snow on the ground, so instead of finding a nearby park spot to eat, we decided to take all our food to go and take it back to Rick and Sarah’s place down the road.

While burritos remain one of my favorite Mexican items, they also remain a food photography challenge: an intact burrito makes for a particularly un-inspiring foot photograph, but opening up the burrito to show the contents always looks messy. Oh well, it is what it is. But the Heavy D Burrito does indeed live up to it’s namesake “Heavy” moniker: this is one seriously big burrito (I’m estimating that mine approached 2 lbs), with pork belly, smoked chicken adobo, kimchi, cucumber, and spicy mayo. The combination is definitely one of those “Korean-Taco-inspired” fusions, but it actually works quite well. The pork belly was nicely crispy, the chicken adobo tender and flavorful, and both the cucumber and kimchi added a nice crunch and acid tang to the burrito. If there was any issue here, it’s that the burrito was large enough to completely fill me; next time I won’t get both the burrito and tacos.

Carol opted for the “Carlita’s Way Rice Bowl”, with chicken adobo, sticky rice, roasted poblano, pickled cabbage, pickled jalapeño, chipotle crema, cilantro and radish. This was a tasty dish, although when packed for takeout it’s not the most photogenic dish (see the photo here). But it worked well: the chicken adobo was flavorful and tender, the poblano added a nice bit of heat, the crema added a nice overall sauce moistening it, and the radish provided a nice crunch. While at bit of a mess, this was tasty enough that we’d get this again.

We also got a bunch of tacos, with one box of “OG Pork Belly” tacos, with Royalton Farms pork belly, maple black garlic ponzu, and pineapple salsa, and a box of their carnitas tacos, with salsa verde, pickled jalapeno, and cilantro. Both were rather good tacos, capturing one of my basic requirements, which is getting a bit of crisp on either the pork belly or the carnitas (carnitas are supposed to be crispy, not simmered to death). I’d be more than happy to get these again.

Overall, we rather liked Carlita’s, and it’s a good addition to the South Royalton food scene. It’s getting a bit far of a drive for me, so I’m probably a bit more likely to hit Lalo’s in Lebanon, but I’m glad to have another go-to spot when I’m in VT.

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