A shout out today to Brandon and Jake who have started a smart new website taking a close look at the vast landscape of Mexican food restaurants in the greater Quad Cities area - QC Mexican Food. Click on the highlighted link to check it out.
This is one place they really liked - a place that we've driven by a number of times and finally decided to stop in to recently. It's a small Mexican restaurant in Moline by the name of La Casa Mexican Grill. We have a lot of good to excellent Mexican restaurants in the Quad Cities and we were eager to give La Casa a shot to see if it was as good as the others we really like.
Carmen Cruz is a Moline native who was living in Chicago and working for the Department of Defense in information technology. She would come home to see family in the Quad Cities on the weekend and she envisioned opening a restaurant in downtown Moline that would use fresh, organic and natural ingredients. She wanted the restaurant to feature more of a fast food fare - one where the food was made in front of the person as they ordered. Carmen Cruz bought an old gas station at the corner of 19th Street and 6th Ave. in Moline (see map) and turned it into a restaurant - gutting the inside and transforming the outside. With the help of two sisters running the place for her, Cruz opened the doors to La Casa Mexican Grill in early November 2011.
The interior of La Casa is sort of spartan. There's not a lot of decorations or pictures on the brightly colored walls. There's a handful of booths and tables in the dining area. Out front, there's a couple three metal tables that can be used on occasions when the weather is nice. It was sort of cloudy with intermittent rain drops the first night we were there so sitting outside was not an option. Actually, sitting outside would probably not be an option for us because it was basically just some tables situated in front of the place. People coming in and out of the place would be walking right past the whole time you're eating.
We found a booth toward the back of the place and a young lady came back to greet us and drop off some menus, a small basket of chips and three sauces in squeeze bottles. She asked us what we'd like to drink and Cindy got a Margarita and I got a Sol beer. They had the prerequisite Mexican beers as well as a couple three Anheuser-Busch or Miller products.
The three sauces that she left at the table were a sort of sweet red salsa sauce, a somewhat spicy - but not overly spicy - chile verde sauce, and a chipotle sauce that had a bit of a smoky bite to the taste. We liked the chili verde sauce the best out of the three. The chips were just all right, but we went through them pretty quickly. When we asked for another basket of chips we were told that it would be 99 cents. A second basket of chips from La Casa wasn't worth 99 cents.
The menu features a number of authentic Mexican entrees. Cindy was impressed by the number of soups they had on the menu. I noticed that they had a lot of different entrees with different meats and the like. They had beef enchiladas with a cheese sauce, but I noticed that they had carnitas (pork) on the menu and a chile verde sauce on a couple other items. When our server came back to take our order, I asked her if they could make carnitas enchiladas with the chile verde sauce on top. She went back to ask the cook and then came back and said, "No, we can't do that." I kind of chuckled, shook my head and said, "All right, then." Most restaurants will be able to accommodate a special order, especially if they have the ingredients available. But we had the chile verde sauce that I could use on top of the enchiladas, so it wasn't all lost for me.
I ended up ordering the beef enchiladas - three smallish enchiladas with ground beef. A large amount of rice and refried beans came with the enchiladas - in fact, the rice and beans covered more than 50% of the plate. I poured some of the good green chile sauce on top over the Chihuahua cheese melted on the enchiladas and that satiated me for the moment. The enchiladas were fine - not the best I've had - but good for what they were.
Cindy got La Casa's chicken taco salad, only it was served in a bowl and not in an edible tortilla shell like you'll find at some Mexican restaurants. It had some sort of a creamy mayo dressing on top with shredded lettuce over grilled chicken. The chicken was seasoned in some sort of spices - I guessed it was cumin and chili powder. Cindy thought it was all right.
We went back a few weeks later and decided to try their tacos. I got three tacos - a barbacoa (shredded beef), a carnitas (pork) and a carne asada (steak) all with double corn tacos, Mexican style with cilantro and chopped onions. The barbacoa was chopped into fine bits, but still pulled apart rather easily. The steak was cooked well done, but still was chewable. And the pork carnitas had a nice seasoning on the large chunks of meat. The cilantro was fresh, as were the chopped onions. I doused the tacos in the green sauce to give them a little more of a zippy taste.
Cindy got a steak taco and a chicken taco. Once again, she wasn't certain she liked the chicken that they served at La Casa. She didn't think the seasonings they use with the grilled chicken was all that appetizing. Still, she thought the steak taco was good.
While La Casa isn't our favorite place in the Quad Cities, it does have a lot of interesting food on the menu. What we had on our visits is good, but I'm still somewhat amazed that the chef won't bend on items that aren't on the menu - but the ingredients are - even if it means an upcharge. And charging nearly a buck for another small basket of chips seems somewhat petty. Other than the very good chile verde sauce they serve on the table, and the very good service we received from both young ladies on our visits, La Casa is somewhat down on our list compared to other Mexican restaurants we like in the Quad Cities.