When it comes to Mexican food, I’m a big fan but feel like I need to get a better handle on the different variations. Like many ethnic cuisines in the US, you often get an Americanized version of it along with more authentic examples. And then there are often regional variations of the more authentic options. There are a LOT of choices for Mexican eats in the area and I’m seeing an increasing number of more upscale eateries pop up. Take Carajillo’s Mexican Kitchen for example. It opened up quietly in S. Raleigh in late 2022 in an old (and large) space that used to house Larry’s Southern Kitchen. Given how close it is to my home, I had to check it out and it was pretty impressive. Here’s what to expect!
If you’re heading south on Fayetteville Road to Carajillo’s Mexican Kitchen, you’ll have to take a left across the very busy road (Rte. 401). Carajillo’s sits in a long, low-slung building that has been totally refreshed since it’s Southern Kitchen days! A bright, lit sign colorfully shows off the new restaurant name out front and inside, it was a bit of a surprise. The place has been refreshed into a much more modern space with all sorts of modern Mexican-focused art and murals on the wall. The space is huge with a mix of 4-tops and booths, bar to the right, and then a second dining room which may be for private parties. There’s a hostess desk as you enter, and they will get you seated quickly!
Peering through Carajillo’s, large, 3-panel laminated menu will uncover all the basics: enchiladas, burritos, tacos, grilled entrees, seafood, and more. But then there’s a second specials menu that’s written up mostly in Espanol and things take a twist, here. This menu is focused on seafood in a variety of forms: platillos (plates), caldos (soups), ceviches (seafood in citrus), and even sushi?! Yes, they have sushi at Carajillo’s Mexican Kitchen. Prices are pretty reasonable with lunch entrees in the $12 to $14 range and dinner entrees in the $14 to $20 range. The menu is expansive, covering nachos, enchiladas, burritos, quesadialls, fajitas, burgers, chicken, vegetarian and more.
For the entrees, I’ve tried a handful of items and been quite pleased with all of them! Their Pepe burrito is loaded with chorizo, steak, black beans, and rice and then smothered in mole and cheese sauce, yum! It’s a hefty meal, probably nearly 12″ long and delicious. The carnitas in salsa verde features slow-braised chunks of pork in a green, tomatillo type sauce with a bit of a citrus hit. Served up with some Mexican rice, refried beans, and tortillas makes for a delicious dinner. Overall I’ve been pretty happy with both the quality, preparation, and portion size here.
Service is solid at Carajillo’s Mexican Kitchen, the place is well-staffed and the employees seem happy to work there. The customers are a good mix of Latino and non-Latinos making feel as if the menu is somewhat authentic! Especially given the Spanish-only, seafood menu. Carajillo’s Mexican Kitchen appears to be part of a larger Mexican restaurant group (Monterrey Mexican Grill) which has several other locations in the area which explains how they were able to staff and handle such a large dining room, this ain’t their first rodeo. And I’m told that on certain evenings, they have live music including mariachi bands if you enjoy some musical entertainment.
As a local in this neighborhood, I’m very happy to have found Carajillo’s Mexican Kitchen. Great food with good service and reasonable prices always makes me happy! And while there are more affordable Mexican options in the area, I prefer the nice ambiance and service levels being offered here. My only hope is that they are able to keep this large dining room filled and stay in business. And some day, I do hope to try their Mexican sushi out!