By New Times
By Robrt L. Pela
By Lauren Saria and Heather Hoch
By Deborah Sussman
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Eric Schaefer
By Heather Hoch
He says something in Spanish. No translation necessary for me -- I'd recognize that universal body language as a sign of contentment anywhere.
La Casa Loca, 1957 West Dunlap, 602-870-7774. Lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
7124 N. 35th Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85051-8312
Region: North Phoenix
602-242-2761. Hours: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, Thursday through Tuesday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
I'm not at all happy to report that the west side is also home to a restaurant so weak it doesn't belong anywhere in the Valley. This is La Casa Loca, just down the way from El Coqueto on 19th Avenue. I was breathless to get to this place, inspired by knowing it was a reincarnation of one of my most beloved Mexican restaurants, La Cucaracha, originally in downtown Phoenix. La Cucaracha was one of my growing-up-years of eating, a landmark since 1946 (no! I was not alive then!), and a true hot spot in the '80s. La Cucaracha was the place to hang and mingle. We all knew the waitresses, and when the restaurant closed in 1996, locals bemoaned the demise of yet another Phoenix institution.
I was so happy to see La Cucaracha resurrected that I raced there without calling ahead to make sure it was open. It wasn't. I picked the one night of the week the place is shuttered. Call it blind luck, because once I did eat at La Casa Loca, I wished I hadn't.
I have to admit that La Cucaracha's style has not changed as much as my palate. Two decades ago, it was almost impossible to find good Mexican food in Phoenix. Today that's changed. I'm spoiled, which is what spoils La Casa Loca for me.
La Casa Loca has the same owners and cooks and pretty much the same menu as its original. But now, I couldn't be dragged here even with the promise of unlimited amounts of the cafe's 99-cent margaritas.
Here is the bill of fare: There are tacos, burros, tostadas, fajitas and chimichangas. But we also have the choice of an all-we-can-eat fish fry, pizza, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, BLTs and French fries.
And consider the ingredients: that horrid neon orange cheese, pools of oil, crumbled hamburger as a stuffing and topping, and so much salt that I literally can't eat many of the dishes I get stuck with. And is this salsa or tomato paste?
A chicken chimi sums up this disaster in one bite. The thing is the size of a gopher, slopped with runny guacamole, sour cream and cheese, filled with dark meat and a few sprinkles of green chiles alongside cafeteria-style rice and beans. Ground beef enchiladas are more hideous, abused with mealy, Hamburger Helper-quality insides wet with sour cream. There's no taste to a shredded beef tamale, and green chile is nothing more than Crockpot stew beef with no spice to speak of. Even a taco is frightening, so grossly fried it leaves a slick on my plate, and the hamburger inside sticks together in chewy lumps.
La Cucaracha, La Casa Loca -- either way, I don't see the return of a legend.
I'll make a new tradition with El Coqueto.