There’s a new Mexican restaurant experience in Wichita, and it’s right in a familiar spot.
You’ve probably been to the Carlos O’Kelly’s at 47th and Broadway, but unless you’ve visited in the past few weeks, you might as well treat it like your first time. The locally owned chain underwent a major renovation at the South Wichita location that has not only left it with a more modern space but one that will serve as a model for a multi-year plan to make over all of the restaurant’s locations.
On a chilly Sunday afternoon, my family and I were pleasantly welcomed into the warm new space. The walls featured bright, cantina-inspired colors of aqua, red and yellow, while a fantastic new chili pepper logo adorned everything from the front door to the menu cover. And that was where the most interesting changes had taken place – inside the menu.
More than a dozen new items have been added to update what is otherwise pretty basic Mexican fare. But as the new sign says above the restaurant entrance, this is "inspired Mex," and you can taste it and see it in the updated entrees.
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It wasn’t easy making our selections as we reviewed each entree with the “new" flag placed next to it. There was a grilled fish taco and the Lolo’s chicken tacos dressed with a Fiesta ranch dressing, but I finally chose the brisket tacos. I’ve never seen anything like them, and the taste was extraordinary.
The very hot plate had two tacos topped with cheddar and Parmesan cheese and baked to create a towering cheese-crisp. The tortillas, which Carlos O’Kelly’s does not prepare themselves, tasted soft and pillowy almost like a flatbread. Stuffed inside was a flavorful, juicy shredded brisket smothered in a poblano cream sauce. When I say smothered, I mean they could have gotten away with using half the sauce and it would have allowed the meat to shine through a bit more without being so rich. The poblano and hatch green chiles offered just the right amount of spice.
Our other selection was the new fajita chicken quesadillas, which were positively stuffed full of fajita chicken, melty Monterrey jack and cheddar cheeses, poblano and hatch green chiles and then grilled to perfection. A trio of sour cream, guacamole and tomatoes were the only sides and just right for dipping. We had to take half of this home because it was so filling (especially after the complimentary chips and house-made salsa).
Among other new Carlos O’Kelly’s menu items that we will have to try when we most certainly return is a fajita salad, which comes with a bed of greens, corn, avocados, pico de gallo, and a green chile ranch with queso fresco crumbles. The best part: It comes with a pan of sizzling fajita chicken, peppers and onions to top it all off. The Cantina burger also caught our eye, with two quarter-pound ground beef patties on a Kaiser bun, topped with chili con queso, fajita vegetables, fried jalapenos and maple pepper bacon.
I tried Carlos O’Kelly’s when I first moved to Wichita eight years ago, and that one visit was enough to keep me out of the restaurant until now. If you’ve forgotten about this Wichita classic, it’s worth giving it a second chance, especially if you stick to the new menu items, which are available in all of the chain’s locations.