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Carnitas El Botanero: Welcome To Lemon Grove

A new restaurant opens on Broadway at the old Carnitas Uruapan site.

Nice to be reporting the opening, and not the closing, of a restaurant in the Grove. The town has taken quite a few hits lately, with the loss of Por Favor, Antique Row Cafe, and Carnitas Uruapan. So when Carnitas El Botanero opened recently at the former Uruapan location on Broadway, I had high hopes for a good experience. This restaurant did not disappoint.

Most of the kitschy decor of the former Carnitas Uruapan is history, replaced with a more spartan, updated look. Yet the place seemed familiar. The featured dish is still carnitas, and, over by the kitchen, I thought I recognized the stainless-steel carts that, in the past, wheeled food to your table. When I asked the server if those were the same carts, she answered yes, and added, “Almost the same food, too.”

She was right, and that is a good thing for Mexican-food lovers. Carnitas El Botanero does recreate many of the same dishes that were served at the former restaurant. My delicious “carnitas plate for one” was almost exactly as I remembered it from 2010—and the price had gone up just a meager 75 cents.

What has changed, in addition to the name, are the hours: they are open seven days a week, instead of five. Also, breakfast is now served every day, not just on Sunday.

The menu has undergone some major reworking to include more choices for seafood and soups, and has an expanded list of combination plates. The breakfast offerings include chilaquiles, omelets, and even menudo. The lunch menu has a carnitas rolled tacos plate with guacamole, cheese, and sour cream for $4.95—yum, and quite the deal. Or how about a fish taco for $1.50?  

What has not changed is great service and the value you get for the money you spend. Immediately after being seated, complimentary chips, spicy carrots, two kinds of fiery salsas, and a small bowl of lime wedges were on the table. Soon my carnitas and horchata, along with my dining companion’s cheese enchilada plate and iced tea, came rolling to us on a shiny silver cart.

The pork was moist and fall-apart tender, combined with all the right fixings to construct the perfect carnitas taco in its little warm corn tortilla blanket. Add perfect refried beans, decent enough rice (I’m picky), wash it down with tasty horchata, and end up with one happy diner.

It is almost like an old friend has returned, but with a different hairdo and wardrobe. Welcome, and welcome back.

We are very lucky to live in this area, and must remember to thank the powers that be for our high-quality Mexican food. You could be someplace where the only option is a taco burger with mild sauce and potato olés (tater tots) from the fast food chain Taco John’s. Their slogan is “there's a whole lot of Mexican goin' on, at Taco John’s.” Yeah, right.

Carnitas El Botanero is located at 8035 Broadway in Lemon Grove, between Washington and Kempf Streets. They take cash and credit cards. The restaurant is open Sunday through Thursday from 8 a.m.–9:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m.–10:00 p.m., for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast is available until noon. Once their liquor license is approved, they plan to serve wine and a selection of imported and domestic beers. They don't have a website yet, but you can call them at 619-462-3020 to place an order to go.

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