Restaurant Review: La Casita

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

When people ask me - and they frequently do - what's the best Mexican restaurant in Columbus, I can tell they usually mean "Mexican restaurant of a certain type." In other words, instead of, say, a bare bones mom-n-popper in the back of a market, they probably want a gringo-friendly party palace with good free chips and salsa, boat-sized slushy margaritas, bouncy music and a color-photo-filled, order-by-number menu approximately the size of the Mexico City phone book. Nothing wrong with all that, I go to those places too.

Anyway, if you're seeking a top-tier version of such a fun-forward establishment, look no further than the terrific La Casita. This place rocks.

And on the rocks is how you should order your margarita here. And if you order La Casita's "Original" (made with fresh lime juice, Hornitos tequila and Cointreau) with half the sugar (as I do), you'll be drinking one of the best margaritas in Columbus.

Sip on that smile-making quaff and check out this raucous, fiesta-happy joint. Yes, it's bright and bouncy and has all of those aforementioned attributes of the standard burrito haunt. But it's also smaller and cozier, and nicer in most every way - including its cheery, polished wood-paneled walls, arched brick-rimmed windows and loopy wooden chairs with wickery accents.

Oh yeah, and La Casita's food is better too. A good starter is the refreshing Tostada de Ceviche ($3). A nice, crispy fried corn tortilla was piled high with diced whitefish, plenty of carrot, onion, a touch of jalapeno and cilantro. A fresh and creamy avocado slice helped balance the bright flavors.

For a considerably more substantial appetizer, opt for the wonderful Birria ($5.50 per "cup"). A veritable bucket of rich, tender, juicy and perfectly salty pot roast chunks was swimming in a thin, glistening red chili sauce. It wasn't overly spicy, just really delicious.

Considerably more heat emanated from the flaming hot Torta Ahogada ($7.29). A huge, flat and puffy roll was packed with carnitas pork plus a guacamole schmear, then totally soaked in an incendiary, devil-red chili broth. Highly recommended, but only for asbestos-throated types.

Milder pork arrived with the almost elegant Lomo de Puerco ($11). Three large but lean slabs of rosemary-scented and just-not-dry pork loin were lightly doused in a chili sauce, cheese and pico de gallo. Comes with rice and beans - choose the soupy and excellent whole pintos.

The Fajitas del Mar ($17) breathed life into that ubiquitous cast-iron dish. This one had a big ol' nice-tasting and flaky fish (tilapia) plus an ocean of good seared shrimp and scallops.

Like real tacos? Served on soft corn tortillas with radishes, lime, onion and cilantro, La Casita's are the real deal and a steal of a deal at $2 each. Try the barbacoa, carnitas or chicken - all were juicy and delicious.

As for the towering slice of milky and comforting Tres Leches cake I had for dessert ($4.59), my friendly waiter told me his wife made it. I told him he was a fortunate man.

You'll be a fortunate diner if you choose to get your Mexican food at La Casita.

La Casita Mexican Restaurant

1355 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side

614-457-0823

Cuisine: Mexican

Price: $ (up to $10 per person)

Patio: Yes

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday