Friday, September 7, 2007

REVIEW: Carlos & Pepe's- ***1/2 / $$

I love living in the United States. I love it because pretty much nowhere else on Earth are you going to find the mind boggling selection of foods available as we have them here. Even Montreal, a city I love, and also a city in very close proximity to the US, does not have the wide selection of foods available even in a small, and generally crappy, city like Providence. What Montreal needs is a little dash of spice.

Thankfully, Carlos and Pepe's delivers that spice. They sell themselves as Montreal's number one Mexican restaurant and bar. They should probably just say Montreal's ONLY Mexican restaurant and bar. Ok, it's not that bad. Montreal actually has a handful of them. Some of them are pretty good, and one of them may even be better than Carlos & Pepe's, but we'll discuss that later.

Carlos & Pepe's has a fantastic interior. It's like they went back in time and kidnapped a very tacky interior decorator from Tenochtitlan. It's great. It's so tacky, it works. The service is a well-oiled machine, and it damn well better be. Almost every night they're pushed to the breaking point by a constant stream of people. The waits can sometimes be pretty nasty, so I'd recommend just avoiding it altogether on Friday and Saturday. They also have the best specials on weekdays.

The seats and table dress are all very good. I was especially impressed by the fantastic lighting. It really sets the mood. There is also a pub upstairs that is... a pub. Basically, it's a good pub to go to since you can get the full menu upstairs as well as down. There drinks are big, colorful, full of booze, and reasonably priced. Definitely a good bar.

The nachos brought to the table are tasty and the salsa is good. No complaints there. The menu is very large and has a wide variety of Tex-Mex foods. It's all pretty basic. Nothing amazing. The prices are all excellent. Tacos are a good standby, as is the burrito. The chimichangas are what I usually get, but that probably says more about my love of chimichangas than the quality.

My major complaint is the lack of spice. I once ordered something that had a chili pepper next to it, denoting hot, and it was rather bland. I don't know if they're playing to the audience in Montreal, but what they call spicy is not what I call spicy. Other problems include tough meats that are sometimes overcooked, and stuff that should be cheesy being almost totally devoid of cheese. Minor complaints, I feel. Still, Carlos & Pepe's needs to step it up if they want to be compared favorably on all levels to Casa de Mateo. The nearby competitor is better in many ways, even though it has less than half the character of C&P's. It's food quality is usually higher, and their recipes take more chances with spice.

Also worth mentioning is La Iguana. There, Semi-traditional Tex-Mex is melded with a sort of Caribbean touch. It's very nice, but I'm not interested in that. I want Tex-Mex and only Tex-Mex. I want it hot as hell and I want steak, and for that, C&P's goes head-to-head with Casa de Mateo for dominance. No other place even compares to these two. C&P's has the larger menu and more character, but Casa de Mateo counters with better recipes and better food. I lean towards C&P's and, when in Montreal, usually found myself eating there if I wanted Tex-Mex. That could be because my Hotel was always closer to C&P's, but proximity aside, Carlos & Pepe's is a great Tex-Mex place in its own right and certainly worthy of a trip. But if it kicked it up a notch, it could be something very special.

Carlos & Pepe's: ***1/2
Price range for two: $25-50

1420 Rue Peel
Montreal, QC H3A 1S8

Monday through Thursday 11:30am to 1am
Friday and Saturday 11:30am to 2:00am
Sunday 11:30am to 12:30am

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