Thursday, February 01, 2007

No. 45 rewrite

La Casa Fiesta Mexican Restaurant and Cantina

“Peso Little – Get So Much!”

Nestled in the heart of downtown Monument is a restaurant that used to be one of the area's best kept secrets, a little place called La Casa Fiesta Mexican Restaurant and Cantina. Judging by last year's expansion to accommodate the growing number of customers, La Casa Fiesta's secret is out.

The folks at La Casa Fiesta consistently deliver on their promise of "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 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.

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 a preference for salsa that's a little more complex, but on this visit the mild salsa resembled chunky tomato sauce dressed with a touch of unidentifiable 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 full-flavored 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 diverse menu. In addition to different varieties of burritos, tacos and sizzling fajitas, La Casa Fiesta offers several different salads (including shrimp salad), charbroiled New York strip, fish fillets and chicken strips. My Chicken Chimichanga quickly 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's recent renovations expanded the dining room area and added a beautifully designed outdoor seating area, which can be enjoyed even during cool weather thanks to patio heaters and a retractable rain shield. Unfortunately, the expansion did not include enlarging the rather small parking lot. During peak hours you might have to park on the street, but La Casa Fiesta's fresh, home-style Mexican food is worth the minor inconvenience. Give it a try and then share the secret of your favorite new dining spot with everyone you know.

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


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