Credit: Sharon Williams

How to Make Carmelita’s Seafood Enchiladas and Strawberry Cadillac Margarita

This Mouthwatering Pairing Is About to Be Your New Go-To in the Kitchen

It’s no secret that OC is not short on taco and marg destinations, yet finding one with a laid-back atmosphere and top-tier food is where many fall flat. Carmelita’s, with locations in Dana Point and Laguna Beach, is one of the few South OC spots that marries family-friendly dining with five-star dishes. A notable one is the seafood enchiladas, prepared by California-born and Mexico-raised Chef Crystal Islas. Next time you’re craving Mexican cuisine, cruise down Pacific Coast Highway for elevated enchiladas and freshly muddled margs that turn midweek nights out into something to taco about!

YouTube video

Seafood Enchilada Recipe
Credit: Sharon Williams

Slip into an upholstered yellow booth in the dining room, which mingles Mexico’s colorful charm with a vintage flair. Brick walls are layered with wooden shelves brimming with flea market finds, adding to the homey atmosphere, and across from the booths sits the open kitchen, where warm tortillas spin on an authentic comal. Before you dig in and dine, appetizers and drinks are a must! House pico de gallo and black bean dip are delivered to your table with perfectly salted tortilla chips. Dip, indulge and take Business Operator Marcos Heredia’s recommendation for the ahi tuna tartare and strawberry Cadillac margarita for starters.

Heredia is the visionary behind Carmelita’s. He began in the restaurant industry at 19 years old and helped open the Laguna Beach location before expanding to Dana Point. The restaurant industry is what Heredia grew up with, what he knows and how he continues to bring value and authentic experiences to OC. He prioritizes sourcing local organic ingredients for flavor profiles that speak for themselves when brought to the table. “All of the purees, all the food—everything is made here. We don’t use any fillers—just pure organic ingredients. It’s all made from scratch,” Heredia explains.

The same goes for Carmelita’s cocktail lineup. Margaritas are made to order, so every sip packs a punch! Their signature flavors: strawberry Cadillac, blackberry thyme and spicy mango are made with organic, local fruit for vibrant color hues and a taste that transports you to the sunny shores of Mexico. Heredia clued us in on how the strawberry Cadillac margarita, the favorite of the locals, is made. Each glass starts with organic sliced strawberries, which are muddled with house agave and fresh lime for a tang to balance the sweet fruit. The berry mixture is shaken up with Grand Marnier and Don Julio Blanco tequila before it’s poured into a Tajin chili salt-rimmed glass. Indulging in this fruit libation will feel like you’ve made it to Friday. We recommend making it spicy, in which case the bar staff adds jalapeños to the mix.

Sharon Williams
Credit: Sharon Williams

When it comes to Carmelita’s menu, keep an eye out for the renowned seafood enchiladas. Stuffed with crab, shrimp and pools of melty cheese, Carmelita’s enchiladas are packed with bold flavors that feel decadent even with their health-forward ingredient list. Before these enchiladas arrive at your table, each saucy, cheesy and subtly spiced roll is made to order by Chef Crystal Islas and her team.

Sharon Williams
Credit: Sharon Williams

Islas shared the secret ingredient to Carmelita’s seafood enchiladas: white wine. It highlights the crab and shrimp’s light flavors while adding aromatics to the sautéed garlic and onion mixture. The melody of flavors starts with deep-frying corn tortillas for a crisp bite before being filled and rolled. Jack cheese is melted on top of the tortillas while shrimp and crab are sauteed in butter alongside white onions and minced garlic. White wine deglazes the pan. Once the tortillas are fried, the fillings are added, with a heavy handful of cotija cheese to top it all off. Enchilada duos are smothered in house salsa verde, dolloped with sour cream and garnished with avocado and cilantro.



Seafood Enchilada Recipe
Credit: Sharon Williams

The result is bold flavors that don’t taste fishy, as the seafood absorbs the subtle sweetness of the wine sauce and peppery green salsa, which every bite should be swiveled in. This magic green sauce has a kick of serrano and a savory hue accredited to a unique ingredient: chicken base. To make the salsa, onions are cooked down and then blended with tomatillo, cilantro, green chiles, cumin and chicken base until it reaches a smooth consistency.

Islas’ love for cooking started in Puebla, Mexico, where she grew up watching her grandmother cook for the entire family. “Whatever I’m doing, I want to do it the same way she did—with passion and love,” Islas reflects. While she spends most of her time in the kitchen, Islas loves sneaking peeks at happy customers. “I love to watch people enjoy their food,” she shares. And she’s not just talking about the main menu items. Islas puts the same love and passion into every dish, even for the kids: “Even the bean and cheese burritos have flavor!”

Don’t just take our word for it—find yourself a table at Carmelita’s and don’t blame us when you find yourself craving savory seafood enchiladas and a marg on the regular!



Strawberry Cadillac Margarita Ingredients: 

Strawberry Cadillac Margarita
Credit: Sharon Williams

Organic Sliced Strawberries
Homemade Agave Mix
Organic Lime Juice 
Grand Marnier 
Don Julio Blanco 
Tajin Chili Salt 


Seafood Enchiladas Ingredients:

Seafood Enchilada Recipe
Credit: Sharon Williams

Corn Tortillas
Jack Cheese
White Wine
Cotija Cheese
Salsa Verde
Tartar Sauce
Sour Cream 


Salsa Verde Sauce Ingredients:

Salsa Verde Sauce
Credit: Sharon Williams

Green Chillies 


Carmelita’s Restaurants
217 Broadway St
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

34255 Pacific Coast Hwy
Dana Point, CA 92629


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Lover of the beach, food and fitness, Emily enjoys exploring all sunny Southern California has to offer! She has a passion for sharing about her favorite local gems and began writing for Locale in 2022. On the weekends, find her creating recipes for her food blog or out in Laguna!
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