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Published: Friday, 12/31/2004

Restaurant review: Carlita's Mexican & Italian Cafe ***

A good many local restaurants that serve ethnic fare often devote a portion of their menu to American foods. Conversely, some eateries specializing in primarily American foods will offer up a few ethnic specialties, most likely dishes indigenous to the country from where the owner hails.

Seldom, however, do you find places with menus divided into two or more distinctive ethnic categories. Here in the Toledo area, a few spring to mind.

The Beirut and Byblo's, for instance, are sister restaurants that serve both Lebanese and Italian specialties. Arturo's Fritz and Alfredo's restaurant features a shared German and Mexican menu. Poco Piatti cooks up appetizer-sized plates from the Mideast, Greece, Spain, and Italy. And Carlita's lets diners choose between Mexican and Italian sides of the menu.

Located on Douglas Road in West Toledo, Carlita's began life some 50 years ago as the Douglas Grill, followed by the Gracewood Grill, Pablo's Mexican restaurant, Giuseppe's Italian, Dominic and Carlita's, and now simply Carlita's Mexican & Italian Caf. It may be the oldest restaurant locally that splits the menu into dueling ethnic choices.while also offering American burgers, subs, and the like.

The Mexican choices at Carlita's easily outnumber the Italian, which may or may not indicate which scores higher in popularity. Based on recent visits, both cuisines seemed about equal in taste and quality. You may be able to find better enchiladas and fajitas around town, and better spaghetti and lasagna as well. But in general Carlita's leaves little to grumble about, especially considering the reasonable prices: $2 to $6 for soups and salads, $4 to $7 for appetizers, $7 to $12 for entrees, and around $4 for desserts ranging from fried ice cream to raspberry cheesecake.

On the Italian page, diners can choose among a variety of pastas, including manicotti, fettuccine alfredo, veal and chicken parmigiana, and an Italian sampler of lasagna, ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs, and Italian sausage for $12. Among the Italian appetizers and sandwiches are baked spaghetti and lasagna boats, a meatball sub, and a long list of pizzas.

Expect lots of familiar choices on the Mexican side: tacos, tamales, enchiladas, burritos, chimichangas, fajitas, and a Mexican sampler of cheese enchilada, beef taco, burrito, rice, and sour cream for $10.50. Appetizers include the usual Mexican staples, from nachos to Mexican pizza.

Lunch one day began with a cup of chicken soup with homemade noodles and plump chicken pieces, followed by a fairly bland Italian sausage, a side of spaghetti and meat sauce, and creamy fettuccine served with two thin slices of garlic toast.

We went Mexican the next time out, opting for two conventional but tasty beef enchiladas with rice and beans and a combination plate of tender, seasoned beef and chicken fajitas.

Carlita's is divided into three cozy dining areas, a patio, and a comfortable bar. Judging from our visits, families make up a large part of the clientele. Witness the sign on a chalkboard in one of the dining rooms announcing that on Sundays, kids eat for 1 cent a pound. The servers also seem especially attentive to children.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com



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