The original La Casita opened as a petite cantina on Julia Street. The Mexican restaurant expanded to a second location on Oak Street with 4,000 square feet of space and an expanded menu focused on creative taco combinations.
Several hallmarks of the Julia Street location made it to La Casita Taqueria, including a happy hour with large $4 margaritas from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily and a list of signature tacos. The Oak Street restaurant's more extensive menu is more fun and creative, but it seems like changes are afoot as the restaurant grows.
At first glance, the list of appetizers read like any standard Mexican joint. There are warm, caramel-colored tortilla chips, guacamole with avocado chunks and a simple-but-fresh-tasting mild salsa. The most interesting item is the cebollitas, — grilled spring onions — which arrive deliciously charred and dusted in smoky chili powder.
Tacos hover around the $4 to $5 mark, which seems appropriate for their heft, and are served on warm, fresh corn tortillas.
One of the best surprises is the cochon de Mexicana taco, a spin on cochon de lait, which arrives under a pile of bright fuchsia pickled cabbage. The meat underneath is tender and almost creamy. A wedge of avocado and smoky ancho chili crema provide nice color and texture.
The El Fuego taco is packed with juicy shredded brisket, pico de gallo, fiery salsa verde that carries a warm heat, tickling the back of your throat, and torched Jack cheese on top.
The camaron y elote taco, a shrimp and corn medley, left something to be desired. What was advertised as "spiced creamed corn" tasted mild and almost sweet, despite the addition of serrano chili slivers.
A plate of pork belly nachos is what it sounds like: A glorious mess more akin to a college kid's experiment than something you would find in a traditional Mexican cantina. Still, it hits the mark, especially if soaking up more than a few margaritas or shots of tequila is the goal. Charred bits of pork belly are crispy and soft, tucked under a blanket of white queso, and layers of grilled pineapple, guajillo chilies and cilantro cut through the richness.
Both the menu and the restaurant have the look and feel of a new business, where things are settling. Some items take longer to arrive from the kitchen than they should, and service — though friendly and accommodating — is still in flux. These are the pitfalls of many new restaurants, and it will be interesting to see how La Casita evolves.