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Carnival (Mexican) Market’s food counter in Pontiac, MI

Related to the La Mexicana III topic, I also finally made it to Carnival (Mexican) Market in Pontiac (1101 E. Walton ---thx Cw/E and Grue). In fairness to LMIII which I’m glad I visited, I had went there late in the evening (so their food wasn’t at its peak), and they DO have a wider menu and table service. Nevertheless, my experience at Carnival was superior to LMIII.

Carnival’s tacos are just a notch below Taqueria Alameda, which is to say wonderful. On corn tortillas, I had a substantial Carnival carnitas taco and a beef “fajitas” taco ($1.49ea), as well as a side of chips with guacamole. The carnitas meat was simple and naturally juicy as a result of not overcooking, and the reduced braise of “fajitas” beef was deeply flavorful. All the toppings (onions, cilantro, limes, etc.) were fresh and just sliced…benefitting from the stock in the adjoining grocery store which is big, new and excellently run.

Carnival serves only at the counter, where you can watch them assemble your food and often deep fry your chips upon order. There are tables by the front windows viewing the parking lot, in a stark but clean room. Also in that room is a big, free, fresh salsa bar. Four types, each offered in med or hot (4x2=8 choices). ¡Qué maravilla!

You also surely would be welcome to step over to the grocery cooler to pick up a value priced pint of fresh guacamole to slather all over whatever you ordered, if you were so inclined. My only disappointments were the rice and beans, but let’s not get started there again. After eating, peruse the wide selection at the grocery’s meat counter, get some fresh salsa for sure, and swing past the baked goods. FYI—The food counter specializes in family bundles and party packs, so you might consider take-out or bringing in friends.

Next time I’ll expand my sampling to Carnival’s tamales, the chicharron (fried pork rind) soup and an al pastor pork burrito. If you are one who partakes in cattle or hog tongue-‘til-colon digestive tract parts, you won’t find yourself empty handed. Lastly, I’ll add that it seems the manager at Carnival emphasizes the importance of friendliness to all customers, not just to the regulars from the neighborhood with whom reserved employees most easily can relate. If you don’t love this place, you will certainly at least like it. Te garantizo.

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  1. I had their tacos a couple of weeks ago--carnitas and beef fajita--and preferred the carnitas as I found my beef to be too gristly (but flavorful). Delicious!

    Carnival has great chips/salsa/guacamole and I try to get there every few weeks for a Mexican grocery fix. Also, look for uncooked flour tortillas in the refrigerated case!

    1. They are VERY friendly to everyone that comes in there, and will not hesitate to allow you to sample everything in the offerings until you are full.

      My co-worker came back with lunch from their the other day. He had 2 carnitas tacos, and a 1/2 dozen full chicken wings, that ran him $4. All of it delicious goodness.

      They are now my first choice of stop on the way home to get pork butts for my smoker on smoking weekends, which tends to be every weekend. Ask Boagman. :-)

      1. They are sooooo nice! They gave me a free bag of chips and a large container of salsa for free one day. Jason is the owner and he got the idea for the market/food counter from his family in CA. He uses his own recipes and mixes the spices himself. On the weekends they have special menus like barbacoa. Don't be afraid to try the out of the box items like the california burrito (which has fries in it) or the chicken/asada fries. Also, hit up the meat counter...the marinated meat is super cheap and great for tacos at home. Down the road at Walton and Telegraph there is Jesus maria....pretty good....insanely cheap 3 tacos, rice, beans 4.99...also el maguy is decent.

        1 Reply
        1. re: christyar

          Had the beef quesadilla today and had to have a box to get it home it was dense. Terrific quac and salsa bar. Not quite as tidy as have seen before but passable for the value.

        2. Decided to check this place out today.

          Had 3 tacos (beef fajita ,chicken, and carnita). $1.49 each. Chips and guac another $1.49.

          The tacos are on par with my recent review of La Mexicana 3, which is just about a mile away.

          I preferred the carnita, then beef fajita (was a bit grisly but I'm ok with that), then chicken.

          The guac was nothing to write home about, but it was good, I'm just used to what I make ,and rarely eat guac in a restaurant. In order to get chips though, you need to order chips and guac, though maybe you can just order the chips - did not see on menu or ask.

          The salsa bar is interesting, with 6-8 offerings, self serve.

          I will definitely be going back for barbacoa and tamales.

          I've attached some pictures of the counter, tacos (as served with onion and cilantro, plus some pico from the salsa bar), and guacomole.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Markcron

            Just wanted to add, Carnival seems to have a $6 for $3 GroupOn Now daily

            1. re: Markcron

              That's good to know about the Groupon....I actually do like their guac very much and their chips alone are worth the trip!

              I've had the same gristly experience with the beef tacos and stick to carnitas.

          2. Torta el Pastor was in the Freep top 20 sandwiches list. Back to Carnival for lunch. I have been 5 times and have never seen all the tables full before. Packed today. Most in line commenting about the article. Sandwich is $5 with pork, quac, lettuce and a grilled bun. Very large and very tasty. I'm no expert on authentic but the taste is worth the drive. P.S. grab a bunch of napkins!

            8 Replies
            1. re: goatgolfer

              is their al pastor cooked in the traditional method of roasting on a vertical, rotating spit (like a greek gyro meat for example)? I have not yet found real a pastor cooked like that since moving back to Michigan from Chicago. I am in dire need of some spit-roasted al pastor.


              1. re: GreatLakesBetterFood

                I've not heard of the al pastor on the gyro spit but this was roasted in cubes and then re-grilled wiht sauce. I'm following your thread though as I have been to Cemita's Pueblo in Chicago which had roast pork on the spit (magic really).

                1. re: goatgolfer

                  yea, Cemitas has their tacos arabes meat on the spit. You can find al pastor on the spit at other places around Chicago as well. The way I've always seen is it is layers of pork, marinated in the al pastor marinade, with layers of onion and then a hunk of pineapple on top, which is sliced onto the taco after they've sliced the pork/onion. Here is a pic:


                  I have found one place in Detroit that has it - Taqueria El Rey - their homepage has an awesome logo with the taco king himself standing guard next to the spit-roasted pastor, I need to get here ASAP:


                  1. re: GreatLakesBetterFood

                    El Rey does theirs that way, yes, as does La Terraza.

                    1. re: GreatLakesBetterFood

                      Following up to my own post - I made it to Taqueria El Rey for the al pastor this weekend. It was great, the pork was cooked on a vertical spit right out next to the counter. I tried the al pastor tacos, carnitas tacos, and their grilled chicken. The carnitas were great as well, nice and juicy just like they should be. The al pastor was great, maybe a slight step below some of the stuff I've had in Chicago, but still very very good. They didn't have any bits of pineapple that I could tell, which was a little disappointing. They cook the grilled chicken in a charcoal grill in a shack out in the parking lot. It has a nice spicy rub and the skin gets nice and crispy. I did a more complete write-up with pics on my blog:



                  2. re: GreatLakesBetterFood

                    There was an article somewhere over the weekend that said the spit-roasted al pastor is actually of Lebanese origin, brought to Mexico by immigrants. It is thus a very close cousin to the gyro, which, curiously, they call a taco arabe. Anyhow, thanks for the post, can't wait to try this place next time I'm in central O.C.

                    1. re: GreatLakesBetterFood

                      Carnival does cook meat on the spicket, but only on the weekends

                      1. re: GreatLakesBetterFood

                        on saturdays and sundays it is done that way

                    2. We had a craving for barbacoa so gave Carnival market a try. Excellent flavor in the burrito but be warned, they are enormous. We should have asked. We also tried carnitas tacos. A couple of them would have been enough. Tonight its Mexican fondue - flour tortillas dipped in broiled Chihuahua cheese!

                      1. Lucky Detroiters! Carnival market is opening a restaurant downtown in the penobscot building! They have a fb page if you are interested...

                        1 Reply
                        1. Just thought I'd add another to the Carnival Market file.

                          I went last night and while the prices have moderately ticked upward, the quality was still there in spades. I had three tacos and a Jarritos grapefruit, and all were terrific. One thing I'd never seen before in the case was barbacoa, and I asked for a taste. Bing! Winner! I fully admit that I was in the mood for a beef taco, but often steak tacos (yes, even at Carnival) can be unsatisfying because the steak can be pretty lousy. Barbacoa, though, is usually far better, and in this case, it was just fine, thank you.

                          I went with two of the barbacoa, and one of the carnitas (pork) in salsa verde (green sauce), which was just...just perfect. I mean, I loves me some porky goodness, but this thing was the perfect interlude between two very good barbacoa tacos. And I mean it was *wonderful*. Great pork flavor, and a decent amount of heat, especially after the fact. I fully admit that I wasn't ready for this one to end.

                          The Jarritos grapefruit was a wonderful refreshment between bites. Very cleansing and nicely sweet. And *cold*. These are all good things.

                          For $7.28 ($8.28 with a buck left for the cook), I was really happy. It's been a while since I've been here, and part of it is that I wish the place was nicer for dine-in purposes, but almost always, the food is really, really good. When I think about what a combo at Toxic Hell costs these days, and what I paid for significantly better food, it really is a good deal.

                          Still want to try out their downtown location. They close early at 6PM currently, but after talking to the Carnival Market owner, apparently they're waiting on a liquor license for downtown, and once they get that, they'll stay open later for dinner. That sounds promising.

                          So, yeah! Carnival's still good!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: boagman

                            agreed, went this last weekend, definitely best mexican food i've had so far in michigan. though the menudo was missing hominy

                            1. re: boagman

                              Went for two tacos lingua with small frijoles $6.01. No barbacoa today so I'll have to go back for the Boagman special.. Well worth it and they have updated the dining room and it was much cleaner than last time.

                              1. re: goatgolfer

                                Even with the higher prices (moreso the groceries than the food counter), versus a couple years ago, I still certainly get my money's worth at the food counter's salsa bar. Yum.