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Los Carnales Mexican Restaurant: Hearty Mexican and American Specialties

Three Brothers from Oaxaca Mexico Bring Their Take on Mexican Specialties to Lake Hiawatha

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MORRIS COUNTY — You may not realize it at first glance. Still, a somewhat quaint downtown Lake Hiawatha, comprised of an approximately one-mile stretch of North Beverwyck Road, offers a wide, ethnically diverse variety of great little family-owned restaurants and shops, including a homemade ice cream specialty store. A vibrant section of Parsippany that is not without its multicultural charms, and which now is home to Carnales Mexican Restaurant, formerly Maddy’s Mexican, which was initially opened in 2012 by the Matos family as a Mexican Restaurant & Pizzeria and then acquired in 2015 by Andres Santiago and Isabel Salazar.

The small, cozy, warm interior is set up with approximately ten tables, comfortably spaced throughout the dining area so as not to feel crowded.

Now, continuing with another independent, family-owned business, we welcome brothers Saul, Ricardo, and Romel Santiago, who bring their take on Mexican cuisine to Los Carnales (which translates to “the brothers”), which they opened in September of 2022. The Santiago family hails from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, which is internationally renowned for its regional cuisine. I did get to sit down with one of the cordial Owners and Chef, Romel Santiago, during my visit, who told me that he arrived in America when he was 16 years old, following in his older brothers’ footsteps, and acquired his cooking skills working in the food industry over the years. He said his goal is to offer delicious, fresh food and to keep working on his cooking skills to continue to please his customers. Romel emphasized that “everything at Los Carnales is made to order, and only the freshest ingredients are used.” He also said old family recipes and cooking styles ensure the authenticity of the food.

By my count, we are fortunate to have no less than nine excellent restaurants and cantinas, plus a few of those fast food Tex-Mex franchises serving Mexican and Mexican fusion cuisine, all within a several-mile area of Parsippany.  Ranging from more high-end, formal dining establishments to tiny, casual eateries, all offering up their take, often based on family recipes, regional differences, and traditional dishes, on this unique, flavorful, savory, earthy, and hearty fare. Which is best depends on your tastes and preferences, but I recommend trying them all and then deciding. It would be a fun family dining experience making the rounds, trying out the various eateries, many with their blend of spices, seasonings, textures, flavors, and cooking styles.

I enjoyed my visits to Maddy’s Mexican Restaurant and was sorry to hear they closed their doors late last year. I always hate to see these wonderful little family-owned shops move on, and I was hoping not to see an empty storefront at the location. Those concerns were quickly assuaged when I saw that another Mexican restaurant, Los Carnales, was taking over the location. I enjoy Mexican cuisine, and I always thought that the previous restaurant offered some tasty dishes, so I figured it was time to stop in and check out the new kid in town.

Colorful plastic tablecloths cover the tables, and the black leather cushioned wooden chairs provide that rustic look common to Mexican restaurants.

We were greeted by our very friendly server and hostess, Carla, who offered us the seating of our choice. The small, cozy, warm interior is set up with approximately ten tables, comfortably spaced throughout the dining area so as not to feel crowded. Colorful plastic tablecloths cover the tables, and the black leather cushioned wooden chairs provide that rustic look common to Mexican restaurants.

Romel Santiago, Carla and Pat Munutillo

The room is comfortably lit by the large storefront window, which is enough to allow you to enjoy the food and ambiance. Low Mexican music plays in the background. The décor throughout the restaurant is relatively simple yet appropriate to this venue. Brick wall accents, bright and colorful native American/Latin murals, assorted festive Mexican artifacts, and artwork adorn the walls. Altogether creating an appealing, bold, and cohesive color scheme that sets the tone for an enjoyable dining experience.

On their website, Los Carnales boasts that they offer “Authentic Mexican food, in addition to their unique twist on classic meals. Hearty Mexican and American specialties in an easygoing, BYOB space with festive décor.”  After my visit, I must agree that they live up to their statement. I enjoyed the casual, comfortable atmosphere and friendly and efficient service. I found the food very tasty, well-prepared, expertly seasoned (spicy, as I like it, but not too spicy), beautifully presented, generously sized, and reasonably priced.

Nachos and Nopales con Chorizo

My friend and I started with a couple of shared appetizers. The extensive menu has many tantalizing selections, but we settled on the Nachos and Nopales con Chorizo. The Nachos (freshly made crispy corn tortillas mixed with melted cheese, Mexican sour cream, pico de galo, lettuce, guacamole, jalapeno & black beans) were a very large serving, delicious, and quickly devoured. Bowls of fresh Salsa Roja and Salsa Verde for dipping accompanied the nachos. Our other appetizer was the Nopales con Chorizo (roasted cactus mixed with Mexican sausage). Absolutely delicious!

Bowls of fresh Salsa Roja and Salsa Verde for dipping accompanied the nachos.

The chorizo was cooked perfectly, moist, savory, and with a hint of vinegar and chili peppers, and the cactus, with its slightly sour and citrusy taste, perfectly complemented the chorizo. Like the nachos, it was a very large serving! I honestly could have left a happy and satiated diner right there, but being me, I had to soldier through and try their signature dish, the Molcajete.

Their signature dish, the Molcajete

Carla, our server, arrived with my Molcajete, and I quickly realized my eyes were bigger than my stomach. A very ample variety of Mexican Sausage, Steak, Chicken, Shrimp, Pork Chop, Cactus, Jalapenos, Fresh Cheese slices, and Cambray Onions filled and overhung the enormous molcajete. A molcajete is a traditional mortar and pestle bowl made of volcanic stone that keeps the food hot. Fantastic entrée, but enough for two or three people. I knew by now that I was taking most of it home. It also came with sides of hot tortillas, rice, and beans. Wow! Different textures, different tastes, and different seasonings, but it all came together perfectly. Wonderful dish.

Chicken Fajita, served with soft flour tortillas, rice, beans, pico de gallo, Mexican sour cream, and guacamole.

My friend ordered the Chicken Fajita, served with soft flour tortillas, rice, beans, pico de gallo, Mexican sour cream & guacamole. Again, a generous portion and, according to him, delicious.

Tres Leches

Common sense would dictate that I should skip dessert by now, but no one ever said I had common sense. Tres Leches cake was on the menu, and I loved it; it is a Mexican-origin cake. The vanilla sponge cake, soaked in three kinds of milk, was moist, sweet (not too sweet), and decadent and made for the perfect grand finale to a great meal.

I would recommend you stop in and give Los Carnales a try. I’m sure you will enjoy it. Delicious food, nice people, and you will be supporting a relatively new local business.

Hours: Monday to Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.;  Saturday and Sunday- 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Dine-in – Take Out – Curbside Pickup – No Contact Delivery – BYOB. Catering Available. Street Parking.

Los Carnales Mexican Restaurant, 52 North Beverwyck Road, Lake Hiawatha; (973) 794-6700; www.loscarnalesmexican.com.

Buen Provecho (enjoy your meal)

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