Sam pulled up a Google map of Gate City Boulevard on his phone, slowly scrolling block by block down International Restaurant Row in search of buried treasure. He scoured other thoroughfares too, assembling a roster of places he’d never been — most of them taco joints. He texted me a list, about a dozen long, adding that he planned to work his way through it over the summer.
This is why we’re friends.
I’m not exaggerating. I get along with Sam, of course, and his wife Katie, but we first became friends because he reached out about food, basically cold-calling the food writer in town and figuring we’d have plenty to explore together. Since then he’s introduced me to Captain Chen’s and Indu Convenient Store, and we’ve passed hours eating food and talking about our lives. But mostly about food.
It doesn’t hurt that in addition to being an adventurous eater, Sam’s also a skilled chef, making him more of an unpretentious connoisseur than a fanboy.
So when you follow my advice and check out Mi Casita on Gate City Boulevard, credit my unpaid-yet-enthusiastic researcher Sam Logan.
We recently walked in the doors of the pocket-sized Mexican restaurant with no idea what to expect, and a little bit overwhelmed by the extensive, pictograph-style menu that’s more common for a Chinese takeout joint. The sign out front for empanadas had me jonesing, but we couldn’t ignore the bounty of choices that can’t be found at most Latin places around here.
There are huaraches and tlacoyos, the latter of which I can vouch for at Mi Casita and both of which can be occasionally spotted on a Triad menu. But the restaurant also offers a bouquet of options that I can’t remember seeing at a local restaurant, or maybe ever — panuchos, pambazo, entomatadas, picadas and sincronizadas, among others. This is where the pictorial menu came in handy, as did our server’s willingness to answer our stream of questions about what differentiated the items.
I didn’t even see the delicious-looking molletes — grilled Mexican bread with sausage, beans and mozzarella cheese served with jalapeño slices on the side — until I read through the menu at home. But the menu will only get patrons so far; it doesn’t tell them, for example, that the handheld burrito comes with carrots, potato and peas, or that Mi Casita takes it a step above and gently grill the burrito itself. The best way to learn about the food here, as always, is to order some.
Sam swung for the negritas — fried corn tortillas that are mixed with black beans, making the patty look almost like a portabella mushroom cap stuffed with cheese and green salsa. He snagged a panucho, a similar open-faced dish with shredded chicken, lettuce, sour cream and wonderfully fresh-tasting cheese. Neither of us had tried either entrée before, but gave both thumbs up. Meanwhile his tlacoyo — a spicy, masa-based dish that reminded me of a cross between a tamale, pupusa and a loaded baked potato — provided a heavy counterweight that was almost too much. I noticed another customer going in on a trio of them, though.
I picked the tostada as a reference point, and I’m very glad I did because Mi Casita excels at it. Maybe it was the punch of the flavors or the freshness of the ingredients, but either way, Sam and I loved the tostada.
A small white board propped on the restaurant’s counter — where customers order and pay — announced several off-menu items, and when Sam pointed out the pozole, I knew I had to get it. I ordered without inquiry, later learning that the flavorful, hot red soup comes with hominy and pork at Mi Casita, though our server said they switch it up sometimes. I can’t ever remember seeing pozole on a menu — it’s the sort of rich, somewhat spicy dish you might expect to find at a Mexican home birthday party, but not a Triad restaurant. It’s more than enough to fill you up on its own.
After sampling Sam’s food and downing my tostada, I couldn’t bring myself to finish the pozole, though I’d highly recommend it.
Mi Casita covers the basics too, of course, going so far as to offer bacon-wrapped hot dogs. And as the tostada proved, they do the standard fare well. But when a restaurant offers things like a $8 hollowed out pineapple stuffed with mango and chopped pineapple and then topped with chili powder and “snacks,” why stick with the ordinary?
Visit Mi Casita at 4411 W. Gate City Blvd., Suite 119 (GSO) or find it on Facebook.