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Carlos O'Kelly's: Spicy Comfort Food for Folks on a Budget

The restaurant gets its name from the original Irish owners of the chain.

When I'm stressed out, I want Mexican food. So, I found myself at Carlos O'Kelly's on Main Street three nights in a row during finals week in December.

I like this restaurant because, when I sit in the lounge, I can read, write and study for hours and no one seems to mind. Servers and management seem less laid back about academic pursuits in the dining room. So, if you are planning to camp out a little, like me, hang a left and go to the bar area — where there is usually plenty of room to spread out.   

If you are wondering about the name, the history of it is on the website, but to sum it up here — a couple of Irish guys opened a Southwest-style restaurant in 1981. That one restaurant has grown into a chain with locations in 10 states — including one here in Fairfax.

My favorite entrée at this cantina is the good old, #4, otherwise known as the spiced chicken combo (a steal at $9.99). Two enchiladas are stuffed — literally — with juicy, pulled pieces of chicken in a spicy red broth, folded into corn tortillas and covered in tangy enchilada sauce. Some Mexican joints hide the enchiladas under a duvet of cheese – but not here. The chicken is the main event and you are served heaps of it. What makes this entrée a combo is the addition of a taco in a flour shell, again piled high with spicy chicken, and laced with cool lettuce and tomato.

On the occasion when I've wanted something different, I've tried the Navajo Chicken Taco with spiced cream ($9.99). This is an interesting take on the taco. It's an eight-inch piece of "Indian fry bread" covered with refried beans, spicy chicken, lettuce, tomato, cheese, guacamole and sour cream. It's tasty — but odd. As if someone put a taco on an elephant ear. It's one of those things I'll eat every once in the while, that will simply never climb to the top of my favorites list.

I'm not sure people still order fajitas — is it a 1980s food? — but I must have been feeling nostalgic because I asked for chicken fajitas ($12.99) and an order of Chimis El Dorado ($7.99) as an appetizer.

The Chimis were a meal on their own — a meal for as many as three, even. What arrived at my table was a fried fortress of chicken, cream cheese and chili rolled into flour tortillas. This is served with a side a queso for dipping. I'm not even joking about that. There are eight Chimis per order. I ate one and was full. I took the rest home, froze them, and ate them for two more weeks after. They froze and reheated fine.

The fajitas were exactly what one would expect — 11 grilled chicken strips served on a nest of grilled onions and red and green peppers, with three warm flour tortillas, and a little plate upon which was piled lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream and guacamole. Everything there was as you would expect it to be — no surprises — just solidly good fajitas.  If I was to eat here again, and I will, I think I will stick to the spicier options on the menu, however.

If you go:

Carlos O'Kelly's

9959 Main Street, Fairfax, Va.

703-591-7113

Hours: 

Monday through Thursday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Friday  and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

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