Friday, January 26, 2007

Dining critic candidate No. 45

La Casa Fiesta Mexican Restaurant and Cantina

“Peso Little – Get So Much!”

Have you ever had one of those weeks where life kicks you around like a well-used soccer ball? That’s the time to forego adventures in dining and retreat to a comfortable place that won’t throw any unpleasant surprises at you – someplace like La Casa Fiesta Mexican Restaurant and Cantina.

Nestled in the heart of downtown Monument just north of Colorado Springs, La Casa Fiesta promises "Southern New Mexico style Mexican Food served in a warm, friendly family atmosphere." Whether you’re one of the many regulars or visiting La Casa Fiesta for the first time, the attentive staff will welcome you as if you were a part of their family. You can enjoy your meal in the cozy dining room, and when warm weather decides to return you can admire the mountain views from the open-air patio. It’s a great place to unwind after a tough day, or to bring out-of-town guests for a taste of small-town hospitality.

We visited La Casa Fiesta on a weekday evening. The place was pleasantly busy, but not nearly as crowded as it tends to be on the weekends. We were seated at once and immediately served a basket of warm, crisp tortilla chips accompanied by two versions of fresh, homemade salsa. Much as I enjoy this restaurant and all it has to offer, I find the salsa consistently disappointing. Granted, I have distinct salsa preferences, but on this visit the mild salsa resembled chunky tomato sauce dressed with a touch of undefinable seasoning. Still, it was an improvement over previous recipes that tasted like Campbell’s Tomato Soup sprinkled with a dash of garlic. The spicy salsa, usually ripe with hints of chile pepper, lime and fresh cilantro, was overpowered by diced white onions that rendered any other flavors indistinguishable. I didn’t see a flake of cilantro, and frankly, it just wasn’t that spicy.

No matter what your tastes are, you can find something to like on the widely varied menu. In addition to traditional Mexican fare, La Casa Fiesta offers several different salads (including shrimp salad), charbroiled New York strip, fish fillets and chicken strips. My Chicken Chimichanga arrived stuffed with tender, moist slow-cooked chicken that was lightly seasoned. The deep-fried tortilla was a little chewy and not as crisp as I would have liked, but it was still quite edible and tasty. The whole thing was topped with zesty green enchilada sauce and melted cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses. Fresh diced tomatoes, shredded iceberg lettuce and sour cream rounded out the plate.

My guest opted for the fish taco combination and declared it delicious. Presented in double flour tortillas, the tender and flavorful fish was served in a yogurt-based cream sauce. These tacos are usually topped with shredded cabbage and pico de gallo, which my guest asked to have served on the side – a wise decision in retrospect. Suffering the same fate as its spicy salsa cousin, the pico de gallo’s subtler flavors of green pepper, tomato and lime were obliterated in an ocean of onion. Smooth, yummy refried beans topped with melted cheeses and fluffy, light Spanish rice completed the fish taco combination.

Soft drinks, tea, and coffee are standard drink fare, but you can also order beer and mixed drinks from the bar. Margaritas are served by the glass or in a 32 oz. carafe, frozen or on the rocks, and are available in regular, strawberry or peach flavors. My guest ordered the standard house margarita and found it well mixed, neither too strong nor too weak.

Desserts include fried ice cream, sopapillas and apple chimi – all usually very good. We chose the flan and it was simply scrumptious. Firm without being overcooked, the smooth and creamy custard swam in a light caramel sauce that was neither scorched nor watery. Whipped cream and a hint of cinnamon complemented the already-full flavor. For a small extra charge you can add Kahlua or Bailey’s to the flan, which we’ve done before with wonderful results.

Families are always welcome at La Casa Fiesta. The little people in your group can choose either traditional Mexican dishes or favorites such as chicken fingers and French fries. And as indicated by the restaurant’s catchy slogan “Peso Little – Get So Much,” the prices won't break the family budget, either. Luncheon specials served between 11:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. average $6.00 - $8.00 each, and the larger dinner menu offers items ranging from $7.00 to $13.00.

La Casa Fiesta recently completed renovations that expanded the dining room area and added a large, covered patio for fair-weather dining – a smart move to accommodate the growing number of people who have discovered La Casa Fiesta and bring their families and friends back for return visits. Unfortunately, the expansion did not include enlarging the rather small parking lot. During peak hours you might have to park on the street, but the minor inconvenience will be well-rewarded by a down-home dining experience. Like the “regulars,” you’ll want to come back for more.

La Casa Fiesta Mexican Restaurant and Cantina

230 Front Street

Monument, Colorado

(719) 481-1234

Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily

Reservations: Available only for large groups.

Credit cards accepted: Master Card, Visa

Attire: Casual


Anonymous Submission Reviewer said...

Good atmosphere and location descriptions, although the intro was tiresome. Good food and drink description, but describing the menu as 'traditional mexican fare' was lazy and a disservice to the reader. Excellent inclusion of all pricing, hours, and informational items.

4:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree that the intro was tiresome.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Warren Epstein said...

FYI. "submission reviewer" is not associated with the Gazette.

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait for a table was three times longer than estimated. They seated larger groups arriving after us before us. Questions about seating practice was answered by "If you don't like it leave" and we did.

11:50 AM  

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