Los Alamos is a place of unexpected history. Pink sunsets cast over desert valleys and majestic mountains while rivers carve their way through them. This New Mexico valley is known for its beauty; but, is also known as home to the atomic bomb and the Manhattan Project. The landscape, however, is the stuff that dreams are made of. Luckily, you can find a small piece of that dream immortalized here in the Las Vegas valley.
RED OR GREEN CHILI?
The walls of Carlito’s Burritos pay homage to the Los Alamos area from the admiring eyes of Karissa Clafin. The restaurant was one of only two New Mexican restaurants in the city of Las Vegas. As of this year, though, it is the sole proprietor of authentic New Mexican cuisine in the city with a community thrilled to see it survive. Carlito’s brings a perfect blend of Native American and Mexican to an area new to the local palate.
Inside this humble location, the savory smell of smoked meat fills the restaurant along with the sweet aroma of my new favorite dessert: Sopapillas. The chef, Dave, is a soft-spoken guy whose flavorful food speaks volumes. Just like all the patrons, he later tells me of his lineage from New Mexico and his passion for the food as well. No matter who you ask though, the star of this establishment today is Karissa. Spanning over three months and 80 cumulative hours, Karissa captured the essence of not only the food but a place that patrons admire just as much.
The thrill of chasing your dream is an invigorating one. It’s a roller coaster but the triumph in it all brings you back for more. For Karissa, the ride is just starting with her first ‘official’ piece. Like many, her artistry began years before. Adverse to doodling at school, a challenge to draw something more specific grew to commissioning her art. Eventually, it led to practicing as a tattoo artist, something she still hopes to pursue in the future. Over the years, however, her medium expanded further than her roots.
LOS ALAMOS AT HEART
Karissa always knew art was her key to happiness in life, or at least getting out of her small hometown. She’s originally from Pahrump but moved to Las Vegas in her late teens. Perfecting her craft led to another passion that we both share. Cannabis introduced her to the cannabis industry professional in 2016. She actually was with Exhale before it was the shop we all know and love today. At The Clinic, she worked through the medical cannabis days, transitioning to recreational and through Exhale’s creation. You can hear the joy in her voice and see the admiration in her face as she recalls the things that led to this moment. Her new place with big empty walls has inspired her to create bigger pieces. Her love of trees -both kinds-, her adoration of rocks, and her love of creation inspire her even further.
“Cannabis as medicine, just like the creation of art, is a process. It’s trial and error to find what works. “
Karrisa’s ode to Los Alamos will forever hold a special place in the community’s hearts. The combination of hot springs and nostalgic areas resonates with not only Karissa but almost every passing patron. The entire restaurant has a connection to Karissa or her mural. Even the restaurant owner had his personal mark added to the landscape. As everyone has a connection to Karissa, they have a deeper connection to the art. The Southwest side of town introduced me not only to a new type of food but a community with something more than passion for the history that made it.