I admit it: I’m an inside-the-Perimeter homosexual. During the years I dined out three or more times a week to review restaurants, I was infamous for avoiding the hinterlands of Atlanta. Lately, though, three weekly dining pals who live north of the city have convinced me to journey to Marietta. Frequently.
Last week we visited La Carreta (1252 Roswell Rd., 770-579-2963, www.lacarreta.co). This popular restaurant is confusing. Its Facebook page identifies it as Mexican. Its website says it features a fusion of Central and South American cuisine. All of this is true, actually, but the most interesting imprint is the owners’ native Colombian cuisine.
If I were a sarcastic asshole, I’d say La Carreta’s popularity is evidence of Mariettans’ ignorance of Latin cuisine, because, frankly, much of what I sampled here was pretty meh. The fact is, though, that the area is densely populated with Latinos and there are some uncompromisingly wonderful holes-in-the-wall like La Duranguense. So we can’t blame the Marietta palate. I’m guessing part of the appeal is the full-service, comfortable dining room. We ate on the patio, a big plus since we were able to not hear the live music. It wasn’t raucous, but friends tell me they’ve been there when a mariachi band played. You know – the Mexican bands that stand by your table, blaring “Besame Mucho” until you pay them enough to go away.
Back to the food. A disappointing example was a Colombian-style tamale, a fist-sized hunk of steamed cornmeal containing green peas, carrots, potatoes, chicken, and big hunks of pork. The problem for me was the texture. The outer edges were fine, but where the contents clustered, it turned into a super-gooey mess. A smaller, Mexican-style tamale with the same pork (chicken available too) was better.
Tacos – available with seven fillings — were average. I was disappointed to learn that the restaurant’s al pastor – pork seasoned with adobo and pineapple – was not prepared authentically on a spit. Nonetheless, flavor was decent. Ditto for the carnitas — not the real thing exactly, but good enough. Both tacos were topped with an avocado salsa. If you’re vegetarian, you can get a taco made with tofu al pastor. Try it. Let me know. A mystery on several plates was an arepa quite different from the fluffy-ish Venezuelan ones I’ve eaten. These were like biscuits compressed by geological forces over several thousand years.
My favorite dish was my beloved, heart-clogging chicharrones – hunks of deep fried, crispy, juicy pork belly (in urgent need of a strong tomatillo salsa). A deliciously seasoned skirt steak was grilled and tender. I’d call it the best entrée-sized dish on our table. While I can’t recommend the restaurant’s watery cheese dip or bland salsa, I loved the tostones (fried, smashed plantains) with guacamole.
We did not try the restaurant’s most popular item, the Colombian bandeja paisa. It’s a grazing plate with rice, beans, a fried egg, chorizo, chicharrones, avocado, and an arepa. The restaurant also serves three very popular soups, each available only on a weekend day. The most compelling is Saturday’s sancocho, a Colombian stew made with beef ribs, potatoes, plantains, yucca, and corn.
The flashiest dish was the best dessert — guava flan that looked like it was from a South American family of Jetsons. Next-best was a tower of brownies and vanilla ice cream. Surprisingly least impressive was a big slice of tres leches cake.
Is it worth visiting? Yes. I doubt I’d make the drive from Midtown again – except for Saturday’s stew — but if you live in the area, do visit. Send your intown friends a postcard.