The Fabric of Beaumont: After 20 years, Carlito's Mexican restaurant still going strong

The Fabric of Beaumont: After 20 years, Carlito's Mexican restaurant still going strong

A 2016 study showed that for the first time in the history of our country, Americans are spending more money at restaurants, including bars, than they are on groceries, to the tune of nearly $55 billion.

If you’re one of those Americans looking to go out, there are plenty of options in Beaumont, especially when it comes to Mexican food. But Carlito’s Mexican Restaurant at 890 Amarillo St., facing College Street, has been a community staple since 1997, and it’s hard to find Mexican food that is as delicious and affordable. That describes everything on Carlito’s menu.

“A lot of restaurants are located on the West End of Beaumont, which makes it more convenient, but if you just take that six minute drive, you are going to have a great, affordable meal,” said owner Carlos Hernandez Sr.”

“I think we are the fabric of Beaumont,” he added. “Beaumont can be a hard place for restaurants. They either accept you or they don’t. As long as you are humble, consistent, affordable and serve hot food, customers can accept that. We serve hot food here. We don’t have any food sitting in the window. We pride ourselves on that.”

Carlito’s is famous for its fajitas, which you can order at lunch for $4.99, and tacos al carbon.

“We use the inside part of the skirt for the fajita,” said Hernandez. “Other restaurants, especially in Houston, tend to use the outside cut of the skirt. The inside is mostly lean and not much fat.”

That tender and juicy fajita meat is marinated in-house and everything is always made fresh daily, including the rice, beans, ground beef, taco meat and chicken.

“Our lunch menu is different from others because of the portion and price,” said Hernandez. “You won’t leave here hungry. I want you to be full. Those same lunch specials are offered at night, just for $1 more. If there is something special you want made, we can do it. We are flexible. We want to satisfy our customer.”

Customers can also enjoy Carlito’s at home or work via the Waitr App. Hernandez adds that his kitchen usually gets the Waitr orders out by 15 minutes, quicker than many others.

Hernandez, who graduated from Beaumont Charlton-Pollard, worked in restaurants for more than 10 years before he decided it was time for his own.

“The house I lived in was right behind this location,” said Hernandez. “It was a barbeque restaurant, and I thought it would be a perfect location. So in April 1997, Carlito’s Mexican Restaurant opened. I wanted to be able to operate a business where I grew up.”

Hernandez also works with civic organizations and often feeds the homeless.

Lunch and dinner are not all they do. Carlito’s can cater events of any size. “We can actually do a catering job the same day,” said Hernandez. “It’s all about timing. If someone calls that morning, we can find a way to get it done. That’s what separates us from other caterers — it’s 20 years of experience.”

A local restaurant was supposed to host a rehearsal dinner of more than a 100 people but burned the morning of the rehearsal. They called Hernandez.

“The owners had enough faith in us to call us and ask if we could host it, and we did it,” said Hernandez. “It meant a lot.”

And in the early morning hours of Jan. 12, it was Hernandez’s turn to receive a frantic phone call.

His father told him there was a fire at the restaurant. It’s a 6-minute drive from his house to the restaurant, and he says it was one of the longest drives he had ever made.

“A lot went racing through my mind,” he said. “I was thinking how 20 years would be gone just like that. What was my staff going to do? How can I keep them together? When I drove up and saw all the fire trucks and ambulances, I thought it was gone.”

But the fire had been contained to a small area in the back of the restaurant.

“I was able to put a plan in motion and we were able to open two days later,” he said.

Hernandez was brought to tears when recalling the story.

“Friends we have made over the years came when we needed them the most,” he said. “Some of the homeless that I have served food to showed up on Friday, the day after the fire, and offered to help for nothing. They came to serve me. It really choked me up.”

Hernandez wanted to give a heartfelt thanks to Wayne A. Reaud, who he called not only a friend but a mentor.

“When all I had was a diploma, not many believed in me but Mr. Reaud and CommunityBank of Texas stood behind me. It really tugs at your heart, the support they’ve given me.”

Carlito’s is open Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and closed on Sunday. (409) 839-8011.