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The Dish: Carlos & Pepe’s

Five things to know about the 17th Street Causeway institution. 

WHERE: 1302 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale

PHONE: 954-467-8335

WEBSITE: carlosandpepesfl.com

1. UNDER NEW LEADERSHIP: As one of Fort Lauderdale’s most revered Mexican cantinas, Carlos & Pepe’s has been serving the community since 1979, becoming a famous institution for locals. So when Paula Ehmke and her husband, Rich, took ownership of the restaurant in 2023, they wanted to stay true to its roots while revamping the concept with a more modern style. They formally unveiled the new Carlos & Pepe’s last October, highlighted by a remodel introducing contemporary updates on its dining and bar spaces. The updates include booths upholstered with Mexican serapes, along with enhanced decor, ceiling tiles, and a fresh coat of paint, adding a brighter, more colorful restaurant while preserving its historic charm. “It needed some love, and we really wanted to try to bring it back to its original luster and preserve a part of Fort Lauderdale that means a lot to the locals,” Paula says.

2. WEST COAST ARRIVAL: The restaurant’s modernization extended to updating the menu. A new chef was added while removing less popular menu items and emphasizing West Coast flavors, paying homage to Paula’s California roots, where Mexican food is abundant. New items include street tacos, a crunch wrap and authentic Mexican rice and beans. For long-time fans of the eatery, the refreshed menu still features the ultra-tasty tuna dip made with albacore tuna, mayonnaise, and jalapeno peppers mixed with a seasoning blend. Whether customers try the fish dip for the first time or seasoned veterans of the 17th Street Causeway establishment make their way back, it remains a mainstay and flavorful concoction. Other returning favorites include Pepe’s Burro, Carlos’ Crazy Burro and the Super Nachos.“The West Coast Mexican flavors are a staple for us, and I think that’s what was missing here,” Paula says.

3. MARGARITAS AND DESSERT: Fans of the classic Mexican drink will have no shortage of choices at Carlos & Pepe’s. The cantina’s classic margarita is strong and tasty, while the Strawberry/Passionfruit margarita offers a wonderfully sweet tone for more lively and fruitier options. One bite into the mud pie dessert was a truly amazing experience. The Oreo Cookie crust perfectly complemented the coffee ice cream topped with hot fudge whipped cream and sliced almonds for a rich and decadent taste.

4. CARLOS & PEPE’S ON WHEELS: You don’t have to visit the 17th Street location to experience the deliciousness of the Mexican cantina. The new Carlos & Pepe’s on Wheels food truck has been making its way around South Florida events to remind the community that fresh, authentic Mexican isn’t just reserved for restaurants. “Food trucks, particularly taco trucks, are a huge thing in Southern California and this is a great way to offer our staples to more of the community,” she says. “It really resonates with customers, and people have been very receptive to our street tacos.”

5. COMMUNAL TOUCHES: With Carlos & Pepe’s being a mainstay for over 40 years, Paula’s vision was to create a fun place that feels like home for locals and visitors alike. The eatery aims to celebrate the diverse tapestry of Fort Lauderdale with plans for engagement initiatives and collaborations with local organizations to reinforce its commitment to being an active and contributing member of the Fort Lauderdale community. It also features a dining area for 18 to 20 guests for private and corporate functions so guests can host special gatherings. “This place means so much to so many people, and we wanted to create another watering hole where they could gather to enjoy watching sports or have a nice relaxing dinner,” Paula says.

SHORT TAKES

  • Carlos & Pepe’s is open daily for lunch and dinner. 
  • Weeknight happy hours last from 3 to 6 p.m. for outdoor and bar seating and include light bites.
  • The new owners also introduced four course and four cocktail pairing dinners, Taco Tuesdays, and brunch service every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • The brunch features classic dishes like Huevos Rancheros, Breakfast Tacos, a Gringo Breakfast, and a Hangover Burger, with traditional bloody marys and mimosas available.
  • The restaurant also hosts various mariachi musicians and classic car shows throughout the year. For sports fans, upgraded TVs adorn the bar area for great viewing areas.

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