In 1962, Alberto Heredia and his wife, Carmen, flung open the doors of Carmelita's Restaurant, introducing a menu of tried and true family recipes from Puebla, Mexico. Now, a third generation of the Heredia family helps simmer carnitas and blend avocados into guacamole at two Carmelita's locations. The dining rooms, which are bedecked in vibrant knickknacks and paintings, let diners bask in bright colors without getting yelled at by a judge for bringing a kaleidoscope to court. Against the electrically hued backdrop, mariachi bands play on special occasions, their trumpets rising in warm spirals above fiddles and guitars.
When Jim Knudson bit into his first taco during dinner at a friend's house in 1949, he knew he had tasted something special. He added the item—which many diners were pronouncing "tay-co"—to the menu at his restaurant in Grass Valley, California. Determined to introduce the food to as many people as possible, Jim and his wife, Margaret, converted a 16-foot trailer into a kitchen on wheels. They adopted the nickname Jim had earned from one of his longtime customers and drove up to Lake Tahoe, where Jimboy's Tacos found its first permanent home.
Locals, tourists, and even members of the Rat Pack flocked to the tiny taco stand for the uniquely seasoned, parmesan-dusted ground-beef taco, the anchor of a growing menu. The family eventually relocated to Roseville, California, where they set up a small taco stand and began branching out to other locations in and around Sacramento.
Today, Jim Knudson’s daughter Karen, the current president of the company, carries on the legacy of taco obsession at more than 40 locations in northern California and Nevada. Guests who arrive early for breakfast might glimpse the cooks slowly simmering beans, mashing avocados into guacamole, and preparing their signature ground beef with trans-fat-free oil. In addition to classic corn-tortilla tacos, the menu holds the mega-size flour-tortilla El Gordo, golden-fried taquitos, and even a taco burger that fuses Mexican and American culinary traditions.
A piping hot pocket of corn dough stuffed with tender pork and slathered with verde sauce and cheese. This is the homemade pork tamale at Felipe's Mexican Restaurant, and what a sight it is to behold. The dishes on Felipe's menu have stayed the same for the most part in its 30 years of existence. Since Paul and Adela Lee—who met while working there—took over as owners in 1988, they have updated the menu but only slightly. They also moved the original restaurant to its current location and opened another in Folsom. One thing hasn't changed, however. Crowds still come from all over to try Felipe's famous tamales and chimichangas.
El Pueblo Flosom offers a variety of succulent meats and fresh vegetables to fill the tacos and burritos that come out to tables, while salsa and guacamole accompany chips. House specialties include carnitas, tamales, and chile rellenos, chile colorado, and chile verde. A full bar offers up tasty drinks, with craft beers on tap, frosty margaritas, crafted with fresh lime, organic agave nectar, and premium tequila in chilled glasses, and jealous water dripping ever so eagerly out of the tap. Shaded under colorful umbrellas and surrounded by warm earthen pillars, diners come to El Pueblo Folsom to enjoy clement weather and savory Mexican meals on the patio.
By the time Marco Ramos opened Casa Ramos in 1997, he had been working in the restaurant business for 15 years. While working at his cousin's restaurant in Seattle, Marco soaked up invaluable, hands-on lessons about how to run a business. He draws upon that experience at Casa Ramos, where he and his staff serve time-tested family recipes that date back to his years in Mexico City.
In the kitchen, cooks prepare specialties such as Molcajete—chicken and beef strips sautéed in a mildly spicy sauce—and Carnitas Uruapan—slow-roasted Uruapan-style pork in a Mexican sauce. The fajita salad—a Ramos family favorite that's carved into their family tree—combines fresh greens, mushrooms, sliced eggs, avocado, and steak or chicken.
While the sun sets over the crimson outdoor patio of La Rosa Blanca's Folsom location, the vibrant orange and green walls of the Fulton Avenue restaurant grow deep beside dimming window light. However, the party is just getting started. Blenders whirr with wine margaritas in wild flavors such as papaya, mango, and watermelon, and skilled waiters erupt from the kitchens, arms stacked with hearty taco plates, burritos, and fajitas that sizzle with steak and chicken. Brave diners can slather jalapeño salsa over seafood enchiladas or utilize a tortilla and sweet mole to write a love note to the chef.