Carmelita’s Mexican Food
595 N. Ventura Ave., Oak View

Several years back, in search of something new and different outside of obvious shopping centers and landmarks, a friend and I stumbled upon El Charro in Oak View. The food was good, but I wasn’t necessarily lured back until just recently, when I found that El Charro had become Carmelita’s Mexican Food. Carmelita herself was cooking in the back so that felt like a real personal touch — direct name association — that seems fairly rare at restaurants.

Upon my companion’s and my first visit to Carmelita’s, the woman tending the register was nothing short of bubbly, friendly and curious. She had an interesting tattoo on her arm and just seemed to be pretty excited about her job. The layout was identical to El Charro, with a handful of booths, tables outside, order at the counter and a salsa bar. The salsa station was familiar, looked the same; maybe the salsas had changed a bit but not too much.

For our main meal, we ordered a basket of chips and we split a breakfast burrito with chorizo, cheese, eggs and potatoes. For our drinks, we ordered horchata, but it was breakfast and I really needed some caffeine. I asked Aura, the one at the register, to make it iced coffee with a healthy dousing of horchata. I told her, Carmelita’s could be the home to the iced coffee horchata drink. The blend of rice milk, cinnamon and that bitter flavor of coffee hit the spot. She tried her own cup of it and she really seemed to like it. I am officially hooked. Starbucks can shut down for however long as far as I am concerned.

With our burrito and chips, I got individual cups of all the different salsas. The blended avocado salsa was smooth and creamy, like a well-prepared protein shake. The watery, light-orange habanero hot sauce will knock your socks off. The blended fresh tomatoes salsa is mild but acidic. The fresh diced mango and pepper salsa adds a nice tang to any dish.

During another visit, I was again surprised by yet another clerk who was kind, respectful, helpful. It’s nice walking into a place where people aren’t watching the clock for the shift to be over.

During this visit, we ordered horchata and the Jamaica punch, full order of nachos with chicken and a steak burrito.  I took my first bite of the nachos and got warm liquid sour cream, a chunk of chicken, warm partially refried and whole pinto beans on a crisp chip, which of course led to several more chips. The burrito came with Mexican rice, refried beans and chunks of steak, though my companion noted that he wasn’t noticing a lot of steak as he ate it. But it satiated his appetite nonetheless.

As for the change of ownership, I think Carmelita’s has potential to thrive, but it might take something unique, maybe daily specials (I didn’t notice any when we visited) or entertainment, to make it stick in the quiet setting of Oak View. While it’s a great little community, it’s seems as if it may be caught in a too-serene and -still way of being. Maybe a little more spice and flavor will keep it going indefinitely. Or maybe it’s just perfect the way it is. We shall see and we will be back, at least to visit the friendly staff.