O'FALLON — The carved wood door and the handmade furniture are the first inklings that La Casa Mexicana is different from other area restaurants serving south-of-the-border food. The menu cinches it.
Owner Rufino Jacinto, 37, points out the details inside the eatery that opened Jan. 25 on busy Central Park Drive. Hand-carved wood corbels and posts, solid wood table and benches, including giant and comfortable bar seats, are imported from Mexico. Add brick walls and arches, even clay-tile overhangs and the flavor of Mexico is apparent.
"These details are important. We wanted them to complement the food, but also be different from other restaurants," Jacinto said.
For Jacinto and his family, this is the second La Casa Mexicana they have opened; the other is in Edwardsville. Plus, they own restaurants under other names in Mount Vernon and Salem.
"My family started working in the restaurant business in Atlanta," he said. They immigrated to the United States when he was 15 and he eventually went to work in one of his brother's restaurants. "I've always worked, since I set foot in the U.S."
The restaurant is managed by another owner, Miguel Guzman.
They created a big and varied menu. Freshness is vital, Jacinto said, noting that frozen food is not used. Made-in-house items include salsa, beans, rice, tamales and tortilla soup ($4.99).
Choices include classic tacos, nachos, fajitas and burritos. There are 21 dinner specialties, five steak and 10 chicken choices and more than 15 seafood offerings. Lobster Quesadilla ($10.99) is a flour tortilla stuffed with lobster meat and cheese, served with lettuce, sour cream, guacamole and tomatoes. Seafood Kabobs ($11.99) is charbroiled shrimp, scallops, bell peppers, zucchini, onion and cherry tomatoes on two skewers served on a bed of rice.
While you are welcome at dinner to order tacos with shredded chicken or seasoned ground beef (two for $9.50; three for $10.99, served with rice and beans), consider Tacos al Pastor ($9.50), three soft tacos stuffed with marinated pork, pineapple and onions and served with beans, pico de gallo and a special sauce.
Molcajete ($16.99) is a specialty of the house, arriving sizzling hot in a footed stone bowl, called a molcajete. Inside you'll find grilled steak, chicken, shrimp, onions and tomatoes, topped with Monterey Jack cheese and a special sauce. It is served with three corn or flour tortillas and above-mentioned sides.
The lunch menu offers six lunch combination platters, such as a tamale, burrito and rice for $7.50, as well as 13 specialties that include Huevos Con Chorizo ($6.75), scrambled eggs with spicy Mexican sausage, served with rice, beans and flour or corn tortillas. In a hurry? Try the Express Lunch and choose from seven wrappers, such as taco, enchilada and chalupa, and fill one with ground beef or chicken (or just beans and cheese). With sides, it's $6.25.
There's a full bar, but also try a Mexican soda in fruit flavors such as mandarin orange and mango for $2.99.
If you have room for dessert, try the flan. The custardy dish, $2.75, is served the traditional way, with a creme caramel sauce. There are six other sweets from which to choose.
La Casa Mexican Cantina & Grill
1222 Central Park Drive, O'Fallon
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays and to 10:30 p.m. Fridays; 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturdays and to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Offers: Lunch and dinner, dine-in and takeout
Information: 618-622-9833. The website is under construction, but there is a Facebook page.