After years of eating certain types of food, one often constructs a sort of box that those experiences fit into. There is a comfort in knowing that when you go into a restaurant of that type, you’ll get a fairly consistent meal – the subtle variations being the thing that draws you back to one or the other more frequently. But every now and then, you can have an experience that takes you well outside that box.
A friend and I were chatting about the selection of Mexican food in the neighborhood around where I work. I can walk to about 15 or so taquerias or restaurants and I’ve tried many of them. Burritos, quesadillas, tacos, tortas – all are readily available. My friend asked me if I had ever tried a torta from La Casita Chilanga. He said they were pretty great but that I should go during off hours, as there was usually a line out the door at lunch. Hmm, I was intrigued. So a few days later, I stopped by on my way home.
First thing: this place is tiny – their part of the building is only about ten feet wide, and that might account for the line out the door. Second thing: the staff. A typical taqueria employee can be found wearing a t-shirt with the establishment’s name on it and an apron. So it got my attention when a guy came out of the tiny back room wearing spotless chef’s whites. I read the menu, noting that the tortas were prepared with onion, tomato, avocado and a special aioli. Aioli?!?! What??? That wasn’t something I had everseen on a taqueria menu. This was sounding better by the minute.
Now, most tortas I have had have been made with the same selection of fillings that taquerias are known for: pollo, carne asada, chile verde, and so on. But La Casita Chilanga went its own direction again, offering such things as grilled chicken breast, breaded beef (milanesa), smoked ham, turkey sausage, ham, cheese and pineapple and several others. Some tortas I’ve had were served on something uncomfortably similar to a Wonder™ hamburger bun, while these are made with a baguette style roll (and it’s a nicely fluffy bread, too). They finish them on a panini grill. Now I know the real reason the line goes out the door.
All of these little details are great on their own but the most important question is: was it good? On that front, La Casita Chilanga delivers. I’ve been back several times since this first visit and tried a variety of their sandwiches. Every one has been excellent.
As I said, there are some food experiences that are comfortable, even predictable. That isn’t to say they’re bad – they aren’t. That’s why one keeps going to the those establishments that deal in that fare. But an experience like my first visit to La Casita Chilanga was a real eye opener. So many of the expectations I had when I walked in the door were shattered. It was a reminder that stepping out of the realm of the “usual” can be a great thing. I appreciate them for going their own way. And for making a tasty sandwich.
La Casita Chilanga 2928 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, CA 650.568.0351