There’s been a lot of buzz lately about best and worst lists with the arrival of the new Richmond Magazine’s Best & Worst list. Some people agreed with the winners while others groused about ballot stuffing by business owners looking for a free plug and an award to put up on the wall. Regardless of the why there are some perennial winners out there that must have been doing something right. According to La Siesta’s website they won the award for 10 years straight. Of course the website hasn’t been updated since 2003 and the information is hopelessly out of date on the menu, prices, and hours. But, still, they won for 10 years so they must be pretty good….
The outside must have once been quite grand for a Mexican restaurant. Patios with low walls, a rather large cactus garden, and Mexican themed statues all around. Now you can feel the decay as you walk towards the restaurant. Statues bleached and peeling paint with some leaning at precarious angles where the soil has eroded from underneath. Cigarette barrels with rotting wood. The cactus garden not tended possibly since they last updated the website.
I was a little surprised the lady at the desk greeted us without a trace of an accent and that a number of the waitresses were ‘gringos’. It reminded me a bit of Joy Garden, a once fine ethnic establishment that is now barely adequate and in desperate need of a thorough cleaning. An ethnic restaurant doesn’t have to have a staff of the same ethnicity nor does having one make them good or authentic but I can’t help but feel that there is sometimes a correlation.
We were immediately seated and I couldn’t help but notice the number of rooms not in use. Can’t recall ever having been to Casa Grande when it wasn’t moderately busy but, as it was a Wednesday, maybe it was just a slow night. To started I ordered a Marguerita Espesciale. It was your basic top shelf marguerita, not too bad. I opted for the regular size rather than the 46 ounce one as I wanted to be able to walk out under my own power…
Chips and salsa came out quickly. The chips were ok but a tad stale. The salsa was interesting. It had a deep, rich colour and a very earthy flavour. We speculated that it might have a bit of mole in it but weren’t sure. My taste buds are still a bit scrambled after the dental surgery last week and M’s pregnancy hormones are scrambling hers as well. It didn’t strike me as outstanding but I really liked it for being different than the usual fare at Casa or Mexico which are a bit cookie cutter. The food came moderately quick but not as fast as some Mexican places in town. We dug in.
Finn had the cheese quesadilla. It really wasn’t your normal quesadilla. It was more of a soft wrap taco as it hadn’t really been grilled. The dish also reflected the creeping American influence that could be found on several spots on the menu. It was served with fries.
M selected the Chicken Chimichanga. Visually it was a stand out, especially when compared to some of the other places in town. Too often Mexican food is slopped onto the plate without a whole lot of thought, not even to what is hot and what is cold. This was constructed with thought to colour and presentation. To top that off M really liked it.
I went out on a limb and had the Shrimp & Scallop Quesadilla. It wasn’t quite what I expected. Like Finn’s dish it hadn’t been grilled so it was more of a soft taco with grilled shrimp and bay scallops with sauteed onions (I had them leave off the peppers). There also wasn’t any cheese inside to hold the ingredients together (there was a couple puny shavings of Monteray Jack on top of the lettuce…) so it kind of fell apart on me. The seafood didn’t taste strong or fishy and whole dish wasn’t bad but I thought it could have been better. Casa Grande has a shrimp dish (I think a quesadilla) that will satisfy your shrimp craving for at least a week….
The highlight of the plate were the refried beans. They hadn’t been crushed to a paste and still had pieces resembling beans. The menu stated that they didn’t use lard or animal products in any of the veggie dishes (like the refried beans) so veg-heads won’t have their diets undermined. The lowlight was the rice. Frankly, had better at my elementary school cafeteria in Oregon (actually, since the cook was Mexican the rice we had there was pretty good…). My guess is the rice here was prepackaged.
As sometimes happens with restaurants as they age they seem to be getting a little lazy and are using prepackaged food rather than making it all in house. On M’s plate it was the tri-colour strips of fried tortilla while on mine it was the cream sauce for the seafood with unidentifiable herbs that had been fresh poured from a bottle. That and the ‘early bird’ specials are signs of a restaurant on the wane. I’ve worked at a couple of restaurants that were at this stage. The staff all talks about the glory days as you wait for the owners to give up.
This place also hit’s my growing bad bathroom list. This one smelled. Basically of old, stale urine. Not very appetizing.
Eating there you can see a few vestiges of what made this place worthy of the Best & Worst list. In a couple of ways I actually liked it because it wasn’t like all the other Mexican places in town that all taste strangely like the food came from the same kitchen. I probably wouldn’t drive all the way to Midlothian from where we live in the Northside to eat there but if I happened to be nearby I might stop in.
If I could only find a really good taco I would be happy. Los Baez in Salem, OR, made the best I ever had (although time and memory may have made it into something it is not). Their’s was made with shredded beef, not ground, fresh taco shell, just the right amount of ingredients so you didn’t spill pieces everywhere and the hot and cold remained hot and cold. Good stuff.