About 10 years ago, we spent about five days in the Western Michigan resort community of South Haven. We had wanted to go back for a number of years and we finally decided to take a long weekend earlier this year to visit again. The hotel we wanted to get into was booked for a couple of the nights we planned to be there, so we ended up staying up in Holland, MI - 30 miles to the north - instead. We did get back to South Haven for a good portion of a day while we were there and ended up having lunch at a Mexican restaurant by the name of Su Casa Restaurante.
South Haven seemed to have changed over the past 10 years. Some of the shops that we remembered from before were out of business. It seemed sort of run down and sleepy compared to nearby resort/tourist destinations such as Saugatuck, Holland and Grand Haven. If decompression is what you're looking for, South Haven is sleepy enough that you could easily achieve total relaxation. But if you're like us who likes to go and do and see, there's not much in the town to satisfy that desire.
We seem to remember more restaurants in town, as well. We remember a great bed and breakfast/restaurant that had wonderful breakfasts, but that was closed. A steakhouse on the outskirts of town we had eaten at in the past seemed to be closed, as well. And there were only a couple three restaurants open in the downtown area. We walked around for quite a bit on a warm afternoon before we decided to go get something for lunch. We had been to a place called Clementine's in the past and while we remembered it as being just "OK", it seemed to be the only place open in downtown South Haven that had a full lunch menu. But even in the middle of the afternoon the wait to get into the place was approaching a half hour. We decided to go down the street to Su Casa and get some Mexican food. (See map)
The original Su Casa opened in 1986 in nearby Fennville, MI. Edgardo and Maria Suarez came from Mexico to Michigan with a dream of opening their own restaurant. Over the years, their son, Edgar, and his wife, Constance, became involved in the business. The restaurant did so well in Fennville that it expanded into a three-story, 9,000 square foot facility. It was the summer of 2009 that Edgar and Constance opened the South Haven location.
It was after 3 p.m. when we walked into Su Casa and it, too, was packed. We thought it was sort of interesting that most restaurants we went to for lunch around Western Michigan were very busy deep into the afternoon. We figured that a lot of people had the same idea as we did. Su Casa was so busy that there were very few tables available. We walked through the long narrow dining room, past the bar and into a back dining room. There was one table available, but it was next to a family with a fussy kid and a baby in a carrier that was crying. We noticed a table clear back up front that was opening up and we decided to take that one instead.
As we waited for someone to come by to greet us and drop off some menus, we noticed the bleached brick walls next to us. The bar area was bright and lively. All the seats were occupied when we got in the place, but it began to thin out as the afternoon went on. A lot of the restaurant looked very contemporary, but the bleached bricks on the wall opposite the bar area gave away any hint of the restaurant being in a modern building.
It was about 10 minutes before a waitress, Lili, came over and said, "Did you guys just sit down here?" We told her we did. She replied, "Sorry about that. My boss usually is out here to greet and seat people, but we've been so busy today that he's had to help out in the kitchen." She gave us each a menu and asked if we wanted something to drink. Cindy ordered a margarita and I got a Dos Equis Amber on draft. Another waitress dropped off a basket of homemade chips along with three different salsas - a pico de gallo salsa, a green salsa and a hot pickled carrot salsa.
Actually, the carrot salsa was the most interesting of the three. The taste of the pickled carrots had a little bite to them and they were actually pretty good. I joked to Cindy that if I had these available, I'd probably eat more carrots. She said, "I see jars of them up on the bar. Maybe they do sell them." Turned out that they did, but we didn't buy any. More on that later on.
As we looked through the menu, we found it to be somewhat interesting with some of the foods they offered at Su Casa. They had something called Millanesa - a breaded chicken breast steak or beef steak, probably a Mexican version of chicken fried steak. You could get the Millanesa Rellena - the same thing only rolled and stuffed with ham and Chihuahua cheese. They had pork tamales that caught my eye, as well as enchiladas topped with a salsa verde (green sauce).
It seemed to take forever to get our drinks. Lili finally brought my beer and it was another five mintues before Cindy got her margarita. It occurred to us that they were woefully understaffed in the place. Tables where people had gotten up and left stayed cluttered with used plates and glasses, sort of like how we found our table when we sat down.
Lili came back to take our order and since it was so late in the afternoon, we decided to eat light. Cindy wanted a side salad and then wanted to split an order of the enchiladas with the salsa verde. We asked Lili if we could get one of them chicken and the other two beef. She didn't think that would be any problem. In fact, she came back again a couple minutes later and said, "I just want to make sure I have this right - two beef and one chicken. Right?"
Cindy's side salad came out and it was pretty much like any side salad you'd see at any restaurant. But it took awhile for the enchiladas to make it out to the table. By this time, we were already there for about 40 minutes when Lili dropped the enchiladas off. We had heard a guy at a table across the way give one of the waitresses a ration of crap for being so slow with the service. We heard her say, "I'm so sorry, but we are so busy today."
The guy sort of brusquely said, "Well, then you should have called in more help."
The enchiladas - we correctly guessed - were pretty small. It wasn't that good of a value for $10.95. They had the green salsa on top, then were topped with Chihuahua cheese. The only problem is that they gave us three beef enchiladas, forgetting that we wanted one chicken and two beef. Cindy didn't mind though. "They're so busy, I'm sure the kitchen is overwhelmed, too," she said. Refried beans, rice and chopped lettuce and tomatoes accompanied the enchiladas.
The enchiladas were actually pretty good. I really liked the salsa verde on the top - it had a nice little kick to the taste. The rest of the items on the plate were pretty non-descript. We made short work of the enchiladas and sort of poked at the beans and rice until we figured we were done.
We waited and waited and waited for Lili to bring us the check. A full 10 minutes after we were finished, Cindy was able to flag down Lili to get our bill. It was another five minutes before she came back with our check. We were going to see if we could get a jar of the pickled carrots and just pay cash for them. I put my credit card in the folder and left it there for Lili to pick up. And we waited another five minutes. By this time, it was well past an hour since we first sat down at Su Casa. When she didn't come to pick up the check folder, I just decided to cut my losses and laid out $30 bucks (the bill came to about $26 with tax) and we left without getting the pickled carrots.
Later on when I was doing research on Su Casa in South Haven, I found a handful of comments on a couple three travel and restaurant sites where others experienced slow service at the restaurant. It didn't seem to matter if they were there on the weekend or at night through the week - there were a few people who experienced the same thing we did. The food, while very good, wasn't that good of a value. Su Casa was a nice place to get lunch, but it was a good thing that we weren't in any hurry while we were there. The service wait was excruciating at times. But food options appear to be limited in South Haven these days, so you have to put up with the slow service if you want to eat at Su Casa.