Saul Rubio’s restaurant talents come naturally. His mother ran her own place, Restaurante Tina’s, in Queretaro, Mexico, beginning in the late Sixties. The restaurant was connected to the family home, so customers naturally became a “part of the family,” Rubio would later say.
Shortly after earning a business degree from the Universidad Cauhtemoc, Rubio left Mexico for America. He found work washing dishes, waiting tables and in construction – setting aside money in hope of opening his own restaurant one day.
With Rubio’s savings and a loan from a former boss, he opened the first La Carreta Restaurant in 1998 in Hammond. Today, he has expanded La Carreta’s to Amite, Denham Springs, LaPlace, Mandeville, Pontchatoula, Covington, Baton Rouge (two sites) and – most recently – Houma.
And Houma is all the better for it.
Step inside La Carreta on St. Charles Street and you are immediately struck by how much space is inside. The parking lot leaves the impression that the building is either much larger than it appears from the street, or that the owners are tremendously optimistic.
Turns out, it’s the first one.
Beyond the double doors, guests immediately encounter the hosts. On this particular pre-holiday weekday, the place is bustling. We are seated in a booth, and the waitress is quick to take our drink order.Throughout our stay, I noticed most guests were seated fairly quickly. That’s not to say the meal was rushed, but La Carreta’s staff deserves extra kudos for being on their game. Our meal never stalled; we weren’t left waiting, which is important for business folks on a schedule.
The large dining room is a regal affair with black and deep red walls and wood floors, tables and chairs and a mix of booths along the walls. A half wall cordons off a portion of the dining area from a second dining area – where the bar, with a series of machines keeping the blends of margaritas mixing, is situated.
Out the side door, guests can enjoy patio dining. Despite the locale to St. Charles Street, the environment is very comfortable with a combination of candles and hanging lights. Of course, given this is Houma, the ceiling fans were in high gear.
To kick off the meal, we ordered a basket of wheat chips – I’ve never seen them on the menu – which arrived with the regular corn chips and salsa. The wheat version, described by one guest as “meatier,” pack a surprising punch. I’ll definitely order them again.
We ordered from the lunch menu – served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. My guests enjoyed the Avocado Salad ($9.25) and the Monterrey Shrimp ($11.25).
The salad is a sure bet. Light and refreshing, it comes loaded with grilled shrimp over a bed of romaine lettuce, spinach, cucumbers and tomatoes. The cilantro lime vinaigrette compliments the dish perfectly. The Monterrey is a combo of fresh, hand-cut veggies, rice and queso. The perfectly seasoned vegetables were the real star. The shrimp, grilled to perfection, was delicious dipped in the creamy queso.
I enjoyed the El Mariachi ($8.95), which includes a chicken flauta, beef burrito and a taco. With a splash of salsa, all three were tasty. The flauta was my favorite, with moist, almost sweet flavored
I predict La Carreta will have a long shelf life in Houma. The service, robust flavors and non-rushed atmosphere are ideal for lunch or dinner.
LA CARRETA MEXICAN CUISINE
1327 St. Charles St., Houma
HOURS: Monday thru Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
INFO: 985-876-0830 or carretarestaurant.com/houma/