If you did not get the movie reference in the headline, here is the background on that. “Carlito’s Way” is a 1993 movie directed by Brian De Palma starring Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzman, John Leguizamo and Viggo Mortensen. Pacino has the lead role as Carlito Brigante, a Puerto Rican criminal who vows to go straight and to retire in paradise. But alas, his criminal past proves difficult to escape, and he ends up being dragged into the same activities that got him thrown in the joint in the first place. It’s a somewhat clichéd script but and received mixed reviews but has become somewhat of a cult classic and Sean Penn gives a great performance as Carlito’s lawyer. Like “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” it’s one of those movies that suck me in every time.
OK, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get on with the topic at hand, chicken from Carlito’s in Oceanside. First off, I’m only aware of Carlito’s because of its proximity to my day job in the light industrial section of Oceanside off the 76 near the skydiving airport. Besides the smattering of eclectic businesses located in the area there are some food and beverage gems to be found. The classic dive bar One More That’s It is here, along with Oceanside Brewing and more. It’s full an area full of contradictions also with the Tesla repair shop right next door to the chopper shop, as in motorcycle chopper repair shop. The loudest bikes around next to the silent Tesla rockets. If you venture off into the side streets through the industrial park, you will come across old school motor homes that have been commandeered by the homeless, or semi-homeless as they may be and rigged up and decorated in crazy ways that are reminiscent of a Mad Max movie. All that said, I like the mix of humanity going on up here, it makes me grateful for what I have.
Carlito’s uses a special blend of spices on their whole, half and quartered charbroiled chickens then grills them to a moist perfection and includes that chicken in a plethora of dishes. Being the Mexican style chicken soup aficionado I am, I quickly latched on to their version that, while not quite up to the gold standard of La Especial Norte, is a very respectable soup and the fresh flour tortillas are a nice touch. Add some avocado to this soup and it would compare to some of the best I’ve had.
Whole, half, quartered and mixed piece chicken meals are the way to go for me at Carlito’s. My go-to is the two-piece, dark meat thigh and leg with rice, beans and tortillas. On super hungry days or when I feel like some leftovers I’ll go for the half or full chicken with the same sides. It should be noted that if you want to watch your carbs at lunch, they do offer steamed veggies as an optional side, which is a nice touch.
Chicken burritos are a dime a dozen around San Diego, but chicken burritos filled with the magical grilled chicken from Carlito’s chicken are one-of-a-kind. My suggestion when visiting Carlito’s for the first time is to make sure anything you order involves chicken then you can expand your horizons from there. Even their fried chicken is worthy. I’ve also dabbled in their Fajita Plate, Juevos Rancheros, Chicken Nachos, Chicken Torta and even spread my horizons a bit and did their Buffalo Wings and was not disappointed.
They offer up the standard sides found at most Mexican joints but also surprise with a very decent potato salad and macaroni salad. Both of those work very well as sides with the chicken plates and I’ve taken to creating chicken and potato salad tacos with the fresh tortillas. Mexican sodas are represented and there are dessert options though I’ve not gone there yet.
Another somewhat random bonus if you stop by Carlito’s during the day is the strong possibility you will see skydivers falling from the sky toward the airport just across the 76. The easiest way to access Carlito’s is to exit Mission Boulevard from I-5 and go east.
Find them at 158 Roymar Road in Oceanside and reach them at (760) 433-3427.
Top: Martha Herrera and Arturo Ocha serve up chicken right at Carlito’s in Oceanside. Photo David Boylan
Coast News Lick the Plate columnist David Boylan is celebrating 10 years and 500 columns with the Coast News in 2019! His feature covers the ever expanding North County culinary scene that includes restaurants, culinary personalities, trends, observations, tributes and his popular takeover column where area businesses, bands or teams contribute to the column. Lick the Plate has also been a popular radio show for the past eight years in San Diego on 100.7 KFMB, and on stations in Detroit, Michigan, Windsor Ontario and Traverse City, Michigan. Besides the column and radio show, David runs Tatonka Digital & Analog, a boutique marketing agency headquartered in Oceanside, California. Reach him with show suggestions at email@example.com or www.lick-the-plate.com