Above: The famous Norte margaritas. Photo courtesy of Norte
My day drinking adventures are few and far between these days but when they do happen, it sure is nice to have a place like Norte in Carlsbad as an option. A recent Saturday afternoon visit found a restaurant packed with folks with the same idea, which made for a very festive couple of hours hanging on one of their fun patios with some like-minded people. Margaritas (more on those later) in the daytime tend to encourage socialization and there was plenty of that going on, which is how it should be, right?
One of the first things I noticed about Norte was the wide variety of patrons. Senior citizens, military, hipsters, power moms, regulars, couples, families and several of what appeared to be girls night out groups doing their thing in the daytime. That variety makes for some fabulous people watching and eavesdropping on the conversations that go along with that variety. I should add that this all happens in a huge indoor bar and two fun outdoor patios. There is also a dining room, but the fun action seemed to be in the bar and outdoors. Norte fits around 250 inside and 100 on the patios and it’s always bustling.
Every single person that has ever mentioned Norte to me has included the word margarita in the first sentence. That or a cold Mexican beer are the obvious drink choices. I kept hearing “skinny margarita” so that’s what we went with. So I had to learn more about this movement toward the skinny margarita. From what I’ve gathered, it does not stray too far from to a properly made, classic margarita, with just going a bit lighter on the triple sec and sweetener or using more natural sweeteners instead of the bottled syrupy variety. Regular margaritas pack a wallop of calories, so a skinnier version was an obvious evolution, especially here in the land of the coastal fit. It will be my choice moving forward and Norte does it right, on the rocks, light salt on the rim please. The margarita is also one of those rare cocktails that goes so well with food, especially of the Mexican variety.
We started with some classic chips and guacamole, which is served with four scoops of guac and melted Monterrey Jack cheese. The true test of a Mexican joint for me these days is their soup and the Chicken and Rice with cilantro, onions and avocado passed the test with flying colors. I’ve been told that their Chicken Tortilla is the standout so I’m saving that for next visit.
For entrees we went with the Milanesa and the Pescado Ranchero and both did the trick and were perfect accompaniments to our cocktails. Milanesa is the South American and later Mexican version of the Italian dish where different types of pounded meat are breaded and served with toppings representative of the region. Think of a variation of veal or chicken Parmesan or Austrian Wiener Schnitzel.
At Norte it’s chicken and comes with a choice of steak fries or rice and beans and a Mexican cabbage salad, which was the best variety of that staple that I’ve had in North County. Whatever it was lightly dressed with was really nice and the olives were a touch that took it to a higher level than most of these salads that can be somewhat of an afterthought. It was a huge portion and half the Milanesa made it into a sandwich later on with some melted cheese on top.
We also ordered the Pescado Ranchero that was grilled Mahi-Mahi topped with a mildly seasoned ranchero sauce with green chilies, tomatoes and onions along with rice, beans and choice of tortillas. We went with flour and promptly made some nice fish burritos that included some of that cabbage salad. It should be noted that all the fish dishes at Norte are made with Mahi-Mahi also known as Dorado. That’s a nice touch as it’s a firm, moist white fish that is very versatile.
Fidel’s has been around over 40 years and was founded by Fidel and Martha Montanez who opened their first restaurant in Solana Beach in 1960. Fidel’s Norte in Carlsbad opened in 1976, and is now run by Richard Montanez, son of the original owners and the restaurant’s general manager.
It has definitely become a core part of the Carlsbad Village experience and a great place to lift your spirits and enjoy some solid Mexican food and drinks.
Find them at 3003 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad, call (760) 729-0903 or visit www.norterestaurant.com