By Carla M. Dubis Tedeschi

The first Carmelita’s opened in St. Petersburg over 35 years ago, and over time, additional locations opened in Largo, Pinellas Park, and Clearwater. 

Jose and Karla Salazar are the proud owners of the New Port Richey Location, and their story is humble and heartwarming and the epitome of the American dream. 

Jose started working for Carmelita’s when he was just a teenager and managed to learn his way around the business. When he was employed by Carmelita’s, he worked his way up from busser to manager to a now proud owner. Jose and Karla opened up the old county road location in 2008 and have been providing their customers with the freshest, most delicious homemade Mexican food and unmatched customer service that has made Carmelita’s a Bay area staple. They have two children, Sebastian and Sofia. Sofia is currently pursuing a business degree with a possible master’s in business law at the University of Central Florida. Sebastian was accepted into several medical schools after finishing his master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University; now, he has another hard choice to make.

Carmelita’s exudes Mexican culture from the moment you walk in, with its bright, colorful decor and family-friendly atmosphere. 

The taste of the homemade food is authentically indigenous to Mexico. The portions are large, and the prices are affordable despite the supply issues most small local restaurants have been facing since the COVID-19 pandemic started. 

“We are still pushing through! We’re finally operating at 100% capacity and no longer enforcing a mask mandate. We respect everyone’s opinions on the matter, and we work diligently to keep customers comfortable in a safe and clean environment for everyone,” says Jose Salazar. “But I couldn’t have made it without my wife Karla, the hard work of my staff, and the overwhelming continuing support of the Tampa Bay community.”

I was able to personally feel that support for Carmelita’s and the Salazars when I was flooded by messages online after posting on my social media a few photos of the magnificent feast I had last time I visited the restaurant.

What I find truly beautiful about this whole situation is that my followers come from various countries with diverse nationalities, backgrounds, and ethnicities. But if we can all agree on anything, it is on how much we all enjoy fresh food and consistency. It doesn’t matter your skin color, political inclination, or religion; we all have to eat! As the famous cookbook author James Beard said, “Good is our common ground, a universal human experience.” 

“Is that Carmelita’s…the one at New Port Richey?” said my American friend Jason D. “I go there all the time. Their Nachos con Carne are amazing!” Well, I couldn’t agree more with him! I have been lucky enough to have enjoyed these nachos a few times during my visits. A heaping plate of homemade toasted tortilla chips topped with seasoned ground beef and a blend of cheeses finished off with tomatoes, green onions, black olives, sour cream, and guacamole. 

“Is Jose still the owner of that Carmelita’s?” asked my Venezuelan friend Andreina V. “I met him and his wife a while back! The Salazars are a very beautiful, honest, and hard-working family. They always greet me and treat me like a family member. The food is amazing and always consistent, but the service and the people are what keeps my family, and I am coming back for more.”

“The chicken taquitos are to die for. Now I need to go get them!” said my Indian friend Elie R. “I go to Carmelita’s frequently with my family, and the Taquitos are always our main appetizer!” I hadn’t had the opportunity to try them until last time, and now I couldn’t agree with my friend Elie more. Multiple bite-size flour or corn tortillas stuffed with seasoned chicken and cheese, fried and served on a bed of lettuce, garnished with sour cream and guacamole. 

The Salazar’s positivity and resiliency are remarkable. Today, even in the face of adversity with COVID, supply issues, and food price increases, Jose and Karla continue to provide their regulars and new visitors with fresh, homemade Mexican food and impeccable customer service, making Carmelita’s a Bay area staple. Due to high cost and volume errors, they will be reconsidering their delivery through UberEats and DoorDash, so Jose is encouraging everyone to please stop by and carry out. “At the end of the day, it benefits us all. We get to serve you and your family better in person, and we’re able to fix any food issues faster or provide you with instant credits instead of dealing with third parties,” says Jose. “Again, we are greatly thankful and blessed for the support of our patrons and loyal staff.”

Daily Specials & Taco Tuesdays!

Nobody does Taco Tuesdays like Carmelitas! Stop by next Tuesday to enjoy ALL YOU CAN EAT tacos for only $13.49, served with two sides! 

Daily specials are listed on a whiteboard by the entrance, so check them out if you’re in the mood for something different not on the menu. 

Do NOT leave without at least sharing a dessert!

Satisfy your sugar cravings with a delicious cheesecake burrito! Rich, smooth cheesecake with a slightly tangy finish, rolled in a melt-in-your-mouth, flaky pastry tortilla, served with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with delicious caramel topping and whipped cream. Other fantastic options include fried ice cream, apple chimichangas, traditional Mexican custard (flan), mouth-watering sopapillas, and churros!

Carmelita’s Mexican Restaurant – New Port Richey is conveniently located at 8526 Old County Rd 54, New Port Richey, FL 34655. Open Monday through Sunday from 11:00 am to 9:30 pm. Questions? Email or call them directly at 727-376-4800.