New Mexico fare, Santa Maria-style barbecue are a winning combination

The recession brought a lot of changes to the face of dining in Las Vegas, many of which have stuck around as things gradually get back to normal. Fine dining began to fall out of favor as we found ourselves with less money and time. Restaurants continued to open at a pace that’s picked up quite a bit during the past year or two, but most of the new spots are counter service, fusion or both.

The new mash-up of Carlito’s Burritos and Live-Fire-Q, though, takes things another step. If you’ve been around for a while you’re no doubt familiar with Carlito’s, which was an established counter-service spot on Patrick Lane near Pecos Road that specialized in the fare of New Mexico — for years the only place in the valley that did. Carlito’s moved a few months ago to a former Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza location on Sunset Road near Green Valley Parkway, and with it opened Live-Fire-Q, which is, to my knowledge, the only Southern Nevada restaurant specializing in Santa Maria-style barbecue.

This particular style, which originated on California’s Central Coast, may seem a little unusual to lovers of traditional Texas or Southeastern barbecue. It’s cooked over a live fire instead of charcoal (hence the restaurant’s name), with a dry rub, and served without barbecue sauce, though sometimes with salsa. And so, as you can see, no fusion is necessary; these regional specialties from spots nearly a thousand miles apart are naturally simpatico.

The beauty of the mash-up is that you can order from both menus, which is what we did: smoked chicken spread ($5.95) and a half-pound beef tri-tip plate ($13.95) from Live-Fire-Q, and a half stuffed sopapilla ($8.50) from Carlito’s. The menu cautions that because the food comes from two different kitchens it may not come out at the same time, but ours did.

We would’ve liked the smoked chicken spread first, but we do understand the complicated logistics of such a setup, and truth be told, everything else was so hot we were glad to give it a few minutes to cool down. The chicken spread was smooth and smoky, served with crostinis and — the perfect crowning touch — something called a “burnt-onion orange marmalade,” which had not an acrid burned flavor but subtle notes of caramelized onion to balance the orange.

Tri-tip — from a beef roast that’s a specialty of the West — is the signature meat of Santa Maria barbecue, and Live-Fire-Q’s version made it obvious why this once-obscure style is gradually spreading eastward; the simple rub of those culinary basics salt, pepper and garlic highlight the smoky, beefy flavor without adding any distractions. The sliced beef came with the traditional sides, pinquito beans (a little bland, but OK), crisply crusted garlic bread and a crunchy cabbage slaw. We added some Hatch chile salsa (89 cents), which added a bit of fire that was nicely balanced by the slaw.

Carlito’s stuffed sopapillas are available with fillings of chicken, beef, carne adovada or pork verde; we chose the latter, with green chile sauce. The filling was big, meaty chunks of pork cooked with green chiles, which added both zip and depth of flavor, and the green chile ladled over it (along with some melted cheese) had plenty of kick without getting ridiculous. Around and under all that, the pastry shell remained relatively unwilted, and we were grateful we got a half sopapilla, which was plenty big enough.

Actually, that was due to the woman who took our order, who displayed a laudable amount of patience as she helped us navigate the two menus. We liked that kind of service and we also liked the feel of the place, which hasn’t changed much from Sammy’s; the extensive use of saltillo tile perfectly suits the two concepts.

Now that these two restaurants have launched a joint venture, I have to wonder how many similar projects will follow. If they work as well as Carlito’s Burritos and Live-Fire-Q, they’ll be most welcome additions to Southern Nevada dining.

Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Find more of her stories at, and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

Artists from Cirque du Soleil contribute art to Las Vegas art exhibit
Artists from Cirque du Soleil contribute art to Las Vegas gallery exhibit
Red Plate on the Las Vegas Strip serves a cocktail made with blooming jasmine tea
Red Plate on the Las Vegas Strip serves a cocktail made with jasmine tea
Benny the Ice Skating Dog
Benny is a Las Vegas Labrador who was rescued by former pro skater Cheryl Del Sanyo, and trained to ice skate. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Nevada State Museum
The Nevada State Museum of Las Vegas, located at the Springs Preserve, covers all eras of the state, from prehistoric to today.
Throw a better dinner party
Cash appears at Baseball Winter Meetings
Lights FC mascot Cash plays the electronic drums at the EZ Inflatables’ booth on Tuesday at the Baseball Winter Meetings trade show at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
5 albums to soundtrack your holiday gatherings in style
1. Various Artists, “Holidays Rule," with Rufus Wainwright, The Shins, Calexico and more. 2. Various Artists, “We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year," with Lemmy Kilmister, Alice Cooper, Chuck Billy and others. 3. Various Artists, “Christmas on Death Row," featuring Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg to name but a few. 4. Bright Eyes, “A Christmas Album.” 5. Various Artists, "The Motown Christmas Album." (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside the kitchen at Springs Preserve
The staff of Divine Events do party preparation in the kitchen at Divine Cafe at Springs Preserve. With nine parties the following day, this is a particularly busy time for the crew. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
WinterFest in Henderson.
Miss Rodeo America Fashion Show
The 28 women contestants of Miss Rodeo America compete in a fashion show at the Tropicana on Dec. 7, 2018.
Tournament Of Kings Holiday Show
Wizards and warriors are ready for the holidays at Excalibur's Tournament of Kings Holiday Dinner Show.
Take a dive with the Silverton mermaids
A visit to the Silverton Casino Hotel is not complete without taking in the popular, and very unique, mermaid show.
Cowboys and western aficionados can buy virtually anything at Cowboy Christmas
Vegas Golden Knights Christmas Display
In the Las Vegas Valley, the chances of getting a white Christmas are slim. But this year, you can have a “Knight” Christmas. A Henderson resident has a Christmas lights display that is synchronized to the entrance music for the Golden Knights. GG Misa’s Knights light show is played every 30 minutes from 5 to 10 nightly. His light show consists of two songs: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and the entrance music, “Le Castle Vania,” from the movie “John Wick.” The display is located at 730 Bollons Island St. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Reivew-Journal)
Holiday Hooch At El Cortez is Just in Time For Repeal Day And Christmas
Holiday Hooch At El Cortez Is Just In Time For Repeal Day And Christmas. Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal
TV's LGBT superheroes
Green Valley Ranch's Winter's Village
The Mob Museum
Best Friend Menu Reveal Wednesday
Chef Roy Choi tells us what to expect from Wednesday’s Facebook Live Menu Reveal for his new Park MGM restaurant Best Friend. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Quick Chat With Criss Angel
James D. Gish and Susan Anton rehearse
Susan Anton will be special guest at James D. Gish’s holiday concerts Dec. 7 at Summerlin Library and Dec. 9 at Clark County Library. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio Winter Wonderland
"Majestic Holiday Magic" at the Bellagio Conservatory.
Underwater Santa At The Silverton
Santa takes a dive Sunday, December 2, at the Silverton Casino Hotel. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Cowabunga Bay Christmas Town
Las Vegas Natural History Museum
Las Vegas Natural History Museum, which opened in 1991, has exhibits of mechanical dinosaurs and taxidermied animals, along with live snakes, fish and sharks. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Magical Forest Lights
Cirque Du Soleil Performers Team Up For New Show "Kinekt"
Through dance, acrobatics and aerial arts, “Kinekt” tells a story all too familiar to modern families: how to maintain a human connection in the digital age. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ethel M Holiday Cactus Garden
The Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas
The Pinball Hall of Fame was created by Tim Arnold and opened in 2006. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jump! The Ultimate Dog Show at Springs Preserve in Las Vegas
Trainer Lou “Mack” McCammon guides several rescue dogs through a series of tricks and jumps two shows a day weekends through December at the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like