Full review (mostly all below) with photos at: http://www.thefoodbuster.com/carlitos...
I remember studying abroad in Argentina a couple years back. For two whole months, I ate about 6 kgs of meat a week (I kid you not!), on top of visiting most of the finest parrillas, or steakhouses, in Buenos Aires. And it was an absolute pleasure every step of the way—the Argentine steak, typically cooked a punto (or medium rare) with only some water and lemon, really emphasizes the flavor of the meat in a way that is indescribable.
So every once in a while I'll wax nostalgic for old Argentina. And that's why I'm so glad there's a place in town like Carlitos Gardel, probably my favorite steakhouse in the city. Carlitos, in my book, has it all.
It's located in a pretty nice location, right on Melrose. The area is really hot, right in the center of everything, though by night it’s a little more quiet. And the interior itself is pretty nice, though it’s nothing special. It’s small, quiet, and intimate, with rather comfortable seating. It’s the type of place where you can have a nice, peaceful conversation with another person.
But it's the food that wins me over every time. Carlitos has one of the best steaks (if not the best) in LA, and it is even as good as, if not better than, any place I ate at in Argentina. The meat is nearly perfect, the desserts actually aren’t bad (very rare for most Argentine places in my experience), and all the sides are right on. Really, for the value (think $30-$40 for a steak meal), it can’t be beaten.
I only have two complaints. First, the dessert does still leave something to be desired. Second, the wine menu is a bit underwhelming, even though it has so many Argentine wines. The sommelier really knows his Argentine wines, but most of the wines are from large vineyards which produce pretty decent wines but are very mainstream. Still, you’re probably not going to find as much of a variety of Argentine wines anywhere other than at Carlitos (not even in a wine store, and I know because I’ve tried).
Overall, this is a fantastic restaurant all around. If you like meat at all, you owe it to yourself to go here immediately. Though a bit more expensive than most places, the food is so excellent and so filling (the portions are huge, as they are in Argentina), that this is a bargain in my book.
What I had:
Rib eye: fatty, huge, thick, and extremely well cooked. Even the fat is delicious–I could eat it, no problem. The steak is also covered in chimichurri, which gives it a nice oily, herby, garlic flavor. It’s extremely juicy, like the ribeye in the legendary La Cabrera in Buenos Aires, but w/ even more flavor perhaps. The steak is about as thick as it can get, and it’s extremely filling, especially with the oiliness. Get it only if you have a large appetite and only if you like fattier meats. If you want something leaner, go for the skirt steak.
Chimichurri: I don’t even like chimichurri, but it was amazing. Perfect oil, perfect balance. Not overpowering, but lots of garlic. Very flavorful, and a must have for Carlitos. Good thing it’s free. If you’re really craving it, though, they do sell it by the jar.
Garlic papas fritas (French fries): These are real fries! Fries are extremely thin and not too greasy, just very oily. Seems like they are cooked in olive oil, which gives them a very satisfying lightness. Extremely good, irrestistible. Just a little salty. Get them for sure. One of the best fries in the whole city, and in a completely different/unique style.
Chorizo: very well cooked. Not astounding, but not underwhelming either. Good spices, great taste, just a really solid sausage. Kind of nice and smoky, but just a tad too plain for me.
Entrana a la parrilla: The skirt steak tastes just like barg kabob (skewered beef kabob), except even better. Leaner than the rib eye, thinner, less fat. Much less grease. Extremely moist and juicy. Very tender, with a bit of satisfying chewiness. Perfectly cooked and spiced. Doesn’t get much better than this, though I do prefer the rib eye.
Carrot Cake: solid carrot cake, though nothing astounding. I’d prefer a cake from a cake shop to be honest, but it’s really not that bad.
Walnut chocolate cake: Avoid this. Only thing that wasn’t good on the menu. Tastes bland. Argentines never knew how to handle chocolate and it shows. Just tastes like a pound cake with nuts in it.
Specialty dulce de leche, white cake: Astounding. You can’t beat a dessert like this. For once, Argentines integrated the dulce de leche perfectly. Not overpowering, not too sweet. Cream is just right. Blends extremely well with dulce de leche, offsetting it. I can’t complain at all.
Food: 4.5+/5.0. Probably the best meat in the city.
Value: 4.8+/5.0. I can’t imagine getting this quality of meat anywhere else at this price.
Overall Score: 4.6/5.0
Note, though, that service and food quality can be inconsistent at times, i.e. it might not always be a phenomenal meal, but it should still be a fantastic one.
Notes on the Scoring System:
<1 = Avoid at all Costs
1 = Decent
2 = Good
3 = Great
4 = Fantastic. I would recommend this place.
4.5 = To-Die-For
4.8 = Unforgettable
Food and Wine Blogger
7963 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046