Carlita’s Cantina (South Royalton, VT)

Back in mid ’22, Carol and I had a pleasant visit with friends in South Royalton, VT, stopping off at Carlita’s Cocina, which was a semi-permanent food truck in one of the large parking lots by Vermont Law School. Carlita’s was serving up a combination of burritos, tacos, and rice bowls that I’d primarily call “Asian-influenced Mexican fusion”. They were tasty, and we thought they’d be a good addition to the overall dining scene in SoRo. The food truck also burned down in an apparent accidental fire in May 2022, just weeks after my review posted. But this wasn’t the end for Carlita’s. They had already been considering a transition to a brick and mortar location, and 6 months later, they actually opened their new version of Carlita’s, the now-named Carlita’s Cantina, on nearby Chelsea Street across from the South Royalton Green. As I’m writing this review, they just passed their first anniversary in the new location.

The new space at 212 Chelsea Street had been pretty dormant for a while (way back when we moved here in the early ’00s, I vaguely recall this being a pizza place), but they did a nice job fitting it out with a a large dining room and kitchen, and a large bar along one wall. One big change beyond jut the simple move from a food truck is that Carlita’s now also has beer. Previously, South Royalton-based Upper Pass Brewery was running a small tasting counter out of the back of nearby First Branch coffee. Now, in one of the better synergies I’ve seen, Upper Pass has moved their tasting room into Carlita’s, with a good two dozen lines of both Upper Passes and a few regional guest beers.

Menu-wise, the menu seems little-changed from the “Asian-influenced Mexican” that Carlita’s Cocina had: the same array of tacos, burritos, rice bowls, and related dishes. We started with an appetizer of shishito peppers, served up with an avocado crema, cotija cheese, and some corn kernels. This was a very generously-sized side dish, suitable for a small table, and well-executed. The peppers were nicely blistered, the crema flavorful, and the saucing nicely balanced. We’d definitely get this again.

While I was tempted by both the tacos and burritos, for our particular visit I was actually craving fish, so I went for their poke bowl (note that like most of their bowls, you can also get the same ingredients served up to you in a tortilla as a burrito). Decent quality ahi tuna, a slightly maple-infused poke sauce, seaweed salad, ginger, sweet and sour pickled cucumber, and a spicy mayo, served over rice. This was pretty much the same as most any poke bowl you’ll generally find, but nicely executed and served up with generous portions at a reasonable price (this bowl was $20, and was a seriously large amount of food).

Carol, meanwhile, went for one of their weekly specials. For this visit, that was the “gumbo burrito”, with North Country Smokehouse Andouille, fried shrimp & green onion rolled up with some dirty rice in a burrito. Like the poke bowl, and my similar burritos back from their food truck days, this was a seriously hard-core burrito, weighing in at almost two pounds. The overall spicing was nice, the sausage well-seared, and the shrimp tender, but myself, I found the starch to protein ratio a little off. This was a good burrito, but I’d probably have liked it a bit more if it was a slightly smaller burrito with the same overall amount of protein but less starch. But in any case, this was still a good burrito, but I might steer more towards the smaller tacos on a future visit.

Mostly, I’m glad that instead of shuttering after a bad fire, Carlita’s managed to not only re-open, but actually build up to a real brick and mortar location, and offering a greatly expanded tap list and tasting room to Upper Pass Brewery. Congratulations on their first anniversary, and I hope they continue to have success.

One Response

  1. Scully 18 Nov 2023 at 18:21 #

    When we first moved here the space was the pizza place. Then it was briefly a bakery. Then for years it was rented by Royalton Farms. I am not sure how they were using the space, but it wasn’t open to the public and had newspaper in the windows.

    My only complaint about the space now is that it needs sound dampening. With that large brick wall in a narrow building it is very hard to have a conversation … especially over the music. The food is very good. We especially love how they rotate so many creative specials.

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