Mi Casa opened in a strip mall earlier this year in the former Momo Dumplings spot near the corner of Franklin and Eagle roads.
The tiny Mexican eatery kind of gets lost in the blur of businesses in the complex, and most certainly overshadowed by its neighbor, Buffalo Wild Wings, which brings in droves of people.
Regardless of its diminutive stature, Mi Casa holds its own when it comes to attracting customers. The restaurant has garnered an ardent following in recent months, thanks to its menu of traditional Mexican fare and incredibly friendly service.
In terms of design, there’s not much a restaurateur can do with the space like this. The reminders of the Himalayas that once hung on the walls are gone and have been replaced with campy Mexican paintings, sombreros and colorful ponchos.
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Festive rancheros and oompa loompa tuba music blares through the speakers, doing its best to liven up the pedestrian suburban space.
At first glance, the menu — with its profusion of smothered burritos, enchiladas, fajitas and combination plates — looks on par with other Mexican eateries around the valley, but after closer inspection, some dishes really stand out as winners.
All guests are greeted with freshly fried tortilla chips, watery yet flavorful salsa (slightly spicy with a hint of Mexican oregano) and saucy refried beans for the dipping.
Starters stay the typical Tex-Mex course, with nachos, quesadillas and queso fundido (cheesy dip).
The chicken taquitos ($8.95) turned out to be a good appetizer choice. Instead of long tubes, Mi Casa makes its taquitos in bite-size pieces, meaning that one rolled flour tortilla — oozing molten jack cheese and spicy shredded chicken — gets cut up after coming out of the deep fryer. The taquito morsels, encircled around large dabs of citrusy guacamole and sour cream, were crispy and dusted with crumbly cotija cheese.
Diners can get torta sandwiches during lunch. One day, I ordered a carne asada torta ($9.25), an oblong-shaped telera roll, toasted and filled with pieces of grilled steak, shredded lettuce, tomato, sliced avocado and grilled white onions. I liked the sandwich, but it had too much mayonnaise and the bun was missing a smear of promised refried beans.
Mi Casa puts out lots of saucy enchiladas. At lunchtime, I recommend the mole enchilada ($7.25), a large corn tortilla wrapped tightly around toothsome pieces of spicy chicken (smothered in a sweet and spicy mole sauce and melted jack cheese) served with refried beans and seasoned Mexican rice. I could have done without all the melted orange cheddar cheese on the refritos, though. (Now that’s an American thing.)
At night, the enchilada plates are larger and cost more pesos. The chile Colorado enchiladas ($9.95), with two white corn tortilla tubes filled with fork-tender chunks of braised beef next to rice and refried beans, offer the right amount of spice thanks to a brick-red enchilada sauce redolent of dried chiles.
Beat the summer heat, like I did, with an order of refreshing campechana ($13.25) and a lime-garnished Pacifico ($3.75) served with a frosty mug.
Campechana is a popular dish in the coastal regions of Mexico. A large, bell-shaped glass gets filled with a chilled gazpacho-like broth — fresh tomatoes, lime, garlic and cilantro — that’s riddled with briny shrimp, tender pieces of octopus, avocado and chopped cucumber.
Those with a big appetite should try the carnitas fritas ($13.50), a monster plate of crispy, fried pork butt (drizzled with a pureed pepper sauce) and grilled onions, next to beans, rice and a dollop of guacamole. A little hat of steamed corn tortillas came on the side.
I’m always on the lookout for the perfect chiles rellenos, and I would place Mi Casa’s stuffed, fried peppers in the above-average category. The highlight of the Numero Uno combination plate ($8.95) was certainly the battered and fried poblano pepper — stuffed with a creamy cheese blend — topped with crumbled cotija cheese and a fiery red pepper sauce. But the pinto beans that came with it were bland, to say the least.
One night, our server talked up the sopapillas for dessert, only to return a few minutes later to tell us they were out. No big deal. We instead finished with the house-made flan ($4.50), a large square of creamy custard adorned with big puffs of whipped cream and maraschino cherries.
All in all, Mi Casa, like most Mexican restaurants, does some things better than others, but the food and service is good enough to keep the diners coming back, myself included.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.