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CARLOS' N CHARLIE'S

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Flamingo

3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S.

Las Vegas, NV 89109

702-522-9254

website

$15-$30

Daily 11am-2am

Mexican

B

AT A GLANCE

What is it?

A family-friendly Mexican restaurant.

Where is it?

At The Flamingo on the Center Strip.

What kind of food is served?

A wide variety of Mexican favorites (think tacos, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, and the like).

What is the atmosphere like?

Wacky - hats, horns, and plastic cows hang from the ceiling.

How is the service?

Very good.

What are the prices like?

Not cheap but not out of line for this neighborhood.

What else do I need to know?

There is a nice outdoor patio looking at the lushly landscaped pool.

What's the bottom line?

Not the best Mexican restaurant in town but a solid choice for families.

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FULL REVIEW

The Mexican party-bar/restaurant is certainly not a new concept for Vegas. There's Senor Frog's at Treasure Island and Cabo Wabo Cantina at Planet Hollywood. But Carlos' n Charlie's has been around for a lot longer than those places, just not here in Sin City. In fact the company behind it (and Senor Frog's) dates all the way back to 1963 and there are outlets of the place in Austin, Myrtle Beach, and throughout Mexico.

But what works in Myrtle Beach doesn't always play in Vegas and here the inevitable comparisons leave Carlos' n Charlie's a little behind the big, wacky sombrero curve.

Part of the thing is that this is a family-friendly Mexican party bar/restaurant if it is possible for such a thing to exist. So instead of hottie waitresses doing the cha cha slide on the bar and/or naughty signage that encourages rampant consumption, here you have a wacky TGI Friday's style decor (hats, horns, and cows hang from the ceiling) and servers wearing balloon sculptures as hats. While I definitely appreciate the lack of verging-on-obnoxious "festivity" found at Senor Frog's, it means that the experience is more tame and therefore less memorable.

We started our meal with a couple of their margaritas, as you do at Mexican restaurants even though it's before noon. It's Vegas somewhere (or something like that). They were good but nowhere near the handcrafted level of fabulousness you get at Tacos & Tequila or even Hussong's. Another pre-meal carne: if you want chips and salsa you have to pay $6 for them. Baja Fresh would not approve.

Carne. Beef. Get it?

Anyway, the menu is classic Mexican with appetizers like quesadillas and insanely huge plates of nachos; salads of the taco and fajita variety among others; tacos of various construction; fajitas; chipolte BBQ; burritos; enchiladas; chimichangas; and that most classic of South of the Border dish, the hamburger. Remember that this is a family-friendly restaurant and remember that kids don't always like the main theme of the cuisine but will almost always like a hamburger.

Some of the entrees are a bit less fast-food Mexican with items like beef medallions in a peppercorn sauce, chicken in mole sauce, and parmesan chicken with Swiss cheese in alfredo sauce. Yes, sauce is a big thing here so cholesterol watchers be prepared to duck your doctor for a few days.

Being the traditionalists that we are, we went for the straight-up Mexican favorites - soft tacos, a burrito, and a chimichanga. Each was the "Charlie's" special which means you get several different meats mixed in together and that really appealed to the carnivores in us. All were stuffed with a spicy mixture of chicken, carne asada, and chorizo so they were very similar in flavor (our ordering bad) just in different packages - soft individual tortillas for the tacos, one big soft tortilla for the burrito, and one big lightly fried tortilla for the chimichanga. Good, hearty, filling, and satisfying but not knock your socks off fantastic. That should always be the goal, regardless of the number of wacky hats hanging from the ceiling.

Prices are higher than they should be for a family-style Mexican restaurant but about what you'd expect for one located on The Strip. Main courses start around $14 and head up to about $24. If mom and dad are having pre-noon margaritas like we did, a family of four will probably wind up in the $100 range with tax and tip included. Like I said... typical Strip.

Mexican restaurants are everywhere now in Vegas and you certainly have a lot of choices. This might not be my first one but if you are looking for something safely middle-of-the-road, it might be yours.

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