I've dined at plenty of the pancake spots around town, as well as two of the four Carlos' restaurants – Crystal Lake and Burtons Bridge, but not Fox Lake or Lake Zurich – so I had an idea what to expect when I headed into the new Carlos' Pancake House on Williams Street in downtown Crystal Lake.
I entered, and it starts with a lobby near what looks like it was the bar area in the old Retro Bistro.
Now it has a display with some flowers and fruit.
I headed toward the back to reach the new dining area. It took us only a minute at noon on a recent weekday to be seated along the right wall. The room is spacious and warm, with brick walls, light brown wood floors and dark brown tables and chairs.
The decor isn't overdone at all, but it's neat and simple.
The easy part of the order was the kids' meals, two of which were pancakes. There was one order of chocolate chip pancakes ($5.75) with a side of bacon, and a happy face pancake ($5.75) – a chocolate chip Mickey Mouse-looking pancake with a whipped cream face – with a side of two thick sausage links.
Both were pleased with those orders when they arrived. They were huge portions, and although the happy face got mostly finished, the two large chocolate chip pancakes did not.
The other orders were more difficult choices simply because there was such a wide variety of selections. The regular favorites such as pancakes, waffles, French toast, egg combinations, omelettes, crepes, Benedict and skillets are there. But the menu also has breakfast quesadillas, breakfast burritos and a wide variety of Mexican breakfast specials.
One of my fellow diners ordered a three-cheese omelette ($9.95 for make-your-own) with fresh fruit and hash browns on the side and absolutely loved it. I was asked if I could make an omelette like that at home multiple times in the days since.
Another diner then picked out the drunken crepe ($9.25), which was a crepe with cut-up bananas, whipped cream and eggnog. They were light and fluffy and had a good taste, but they could have used a little more eggnog.
After contemplating the Mexican Benedict ($10.50) with chorizo, I instead opted for the chilaquiles ($9.25) from the Mexican specialties menu. It came with two side options, and I went all out, ordering both rice and beans and a "side" of pancakes that ended up being two pretty large pancakes that essentially were the size of the kids' meal.
The best way I can describe the chilaquiles are like breakfast scrambled egg nachos, as they are eggs, tortilla chips, cheese, sour cream and sauce (I chose green) mixed together. Wow, was it good. The chips kept a slight crunch, but it's definitely a eat-with-your-fork dish, in case you were imagining different.
The service was friendly from start to finish, and they stopped by frequently to make certain our coffee ($2.75) and waters were refilled. There are plenty of options on the menu that I know I can come back, try something different and be pleased again another time.
• The Mystery Diner is an employee at the Northwest Herald. The diner’s identity is not revealed to restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a story.