We love family. But we also love competition among family members. It's in our blood to want to be the best or have an edge over that one relative. Bring cooking into the equation and it becomes a battle. Casa Reynoso is a longtime staple in Tempe, cooking up Mexican food made to comfort and welcome us. Robert, son of Tempe owners Antonio and Roberta, has his own Casa Reynoso in a Chandler strip mall. The Reynoso chain is rooted in family ties and started in Globe in 1984, then moved to the Valley with encouragement from Antonio's mother, Salustia.
We set out to find out who would win the battle: the parents or the son?
See also: Battle of the raspados
At each restaurant, we ordered the same dishes: green chili mix chimichanga, combination No. 7 plate, with an enchilada, beef taco and chile relleno, and an ice cream dessert.
In This Corner: Casa Reynoso Tempe
The Setup: You've probably passed this restaurant many times. It's literally tucked in the corner of a Fry's shopping center. The quaint place is filled with Mexican décor, and Mexican music plays in the background. The restaurant has been around since the '80s, so it's not rare to see the servers and cooks catching up with customers, asking how their families are doing.
The Good: First, the green chili mix chimichanga. There was a good balance of meat and sauce in the chimichanga, with most of the flavor coming from the green chili, which had a little kick to it. It came with complimentary guacamole and sour cream on the side, which we loved.
Combination No. 7 was next: A red cheese enchilada, beef taco, chile relleno, and rice and beans on the side. Biting into the chile relleno was like biting into a pocketful of cheese. It was perfect. The breading was not too thick and definitely not drenched in grease. Tender, juicy beef is the way to go. The taco did everything right and didn't last long on our plate. The rice was perfectly seasoned and fresh. We don't like when beans are weighed down with lard, and if these ones were, we couldn't tell because they carried a thin consistency, lending well to the dish.
To top off the meal we ordered fried ice cream, which traditionally is a scoop of ice cream that has been breaded and fried and served with whipped cream and cinnamon on top. Casa Reynoso had cinnamon and whipped cream, but it was deep-fried with shredded coconut. It was a new experience and a technique new to us.
The Bad: Because of the lack of flavor, the pork in the chimichanga didn't do much to elevate the dish.
We had to give our red enchiladas a dash of salt to give the flavor some oomph. There was only a thin layer of cheese inside, so what we basically got was a tortilla in sauce, garnished with cheese.
With the expectation of a traditional, breaded scoop of ice cream, that's what we wanted. A forewarning would've softened the blow.
In the Other Corner: Chalo's Casa Reynoso Chandler
The Setup: Chalo's is much smaller than his parents' restaurant, with a more casual dining feel, suited for those on a lunch break. It still carries the same atmosphere and attitude of getting to know their customers on a personal level. The maroon walls and dim lighting make it perfect for enjoying your meal in a laid-back setting.
The Good: The chimichanga was all kinds of good. The pork stole the show with its flavor and tenderness and benefited from the green chili mix.
This time, we were satisfied with our enchilada's flavor and stuffing. The red sauce was seasoned well and had bit of spiciness to it, which we loved, and it was full of cheese. The chile relleno's breading was not too thick or greasy. Like the other restaurant, the rice and beans were done just right, with the same consistencies and flavors.
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Instead of fried ice cream, the Chandler location serves up an ice cream special -- Nick's Ice Cream Special -- named after a customer. Nothing was fried, but a pile of butter pecan ice cream was served in a cinnamon bowl with whipped cream, honey, sugar and cinnamon on top. It was a collaboration of all things sweet that we love and couldn't find it in ourselves to put the spoon down.
The Bad: The chile relleno seemed deflated, with a small layer of cheese nestled inside. Because the beef was so good at the Tempe location, we hoped the same would stand for this casa, but it was lacking in flavor and juiciness. The chimichanga was a little smaller than the first, but we can live with that.
The Winner: Both locations had some great aspects to their dishes, and some not so great. But the Chandler location takes the prize this time. We loved the enchilada sauce and the pork in the chimichanga. The original Casa Reynoso gave us a new experience when we tried their version of fried ice cream, but some of the components lacked flavor. But both restaurants have friendly and inviting customer service that will keep us coming back.