Munch goes to Casa Rasta

In what might become a regular theme in this space, Munch again finds some surprisingly good grub in an old South Hills city neighborhood. After last week's journey to Mateo's in Brookline for Italian, this week Munch finds excellent Mexican-Caribbean fusion in Beechview. What's next? Carpatho-Canadian in Carrick? Bahamian-Belgian in Banksville? Omanese in Overbrook?

But back to Beechview, where Munch spent a long-gone youth playing street hockey with Cousin of Munch (COM) and wondering which Beechview had more of: T stops? Or dumpy old man bars? But times have changed, and Beechview, after treading water for quite awhile, seems poised for renewal.

Enter Casa Rasta.

No, really. Enter it. Seriously. Go inside. Wonderful aromas of spices and cooking meats hit you upon entering the cozy little place. Reggae is on the stereo. Fun decorations are scattered about: bamboo accents and witch doctors abound, and there's a colorful clay set of Mexican Luche Libre wrestlers (the guys with the masks) on the counter.

Behind the counter and working the grill are Laura and Antonio, the married couple running the place. Laura is a native of Butler County; Antonio of Mexico City. They'd lived in San Diego for a few years before relocating to Pittsburgh and opening their modest storefront on Broadway Avenue shortly before Christmas.

Having navigated with white knuckles the Burma Road that is a snowy Brookside Avenue, Munch made the obvious inquiry as to what the Mexican gentleman thought about the weather, and if he was questioning the move.

Nada, he said.

"Pittsburgh is one of the most beautiful cities I have seen, " Antonio said.

Tony, babe, you had Munch at hola. But go on ...

"I love the scenery and the views. And I love all of the bridges."

Munch does, too. Plus, he added: "San Diego, it's so expensive just to live. Here, you can afford to live and to have a business."

Flattery will get you everywhere, kid.

So, we have a Caribbean-themed Mexican joint, in an as-of-yet ungentrified city neighborhood, run by a young couple with dreadlocks. Munch smirked thinking this is the type of place that would make the style arbiters that recently named Pittsburgh hipper than Portland do backflips.

But how about the food?

" Muy bueno " as they say in Spanish, or "all fruits ripe" in Jamacian patois, or "rullllee good" as the Beechview natives put it.

Casa Rasta offers a la carte quesadillas, tacos, tostadas, burritos and tortas ($2-$6) in eight varieties. To maximize our sampling, Munch and recurring character, The BBBOM (Blond Barkeep Bud of Munch) stuck to tacos.

Specifically, Munch had the Cochinita Pibil (pulled pork) and the Pollo estillo Jamaiquino (Jamaican Jerk Chicken). These were delicious. The pulled pork was served with jalapenos and pickled cabbage that complemented it very well, and the jerk chicken was a super bite of sweet, smoky and hot, all rolled into one.

The BBBOM went for the Chorizo (Mexican sausage), which she said was spicy and savory, and the Carnitas (Citrus Marinated Fried Pork), which was perfectly cooked and topped with a tasty avocado sauce.

We washed them down with some Jarritos (Mexican pop) and split a side of black beans and Mexican rice (each $1), and they gave us some complimentary chocolate truffles made with ancho chiles.

Each weekend Casa Rasta features a particular Caribbean or Mexican dish, and Munch made a special trip recently for the curried goat tacos. The dish was well-seasoned and well-cooked. Munch has had goat before, and its often a bit tough, but this was nice and tender.

Also available are Rajas (poblano chiles and potatoes), Asada (steak), Carne de Birria (beef) and "Soyrizo" (vegetarian Mexican sausage). Casa Rasta has ambitions to expand, and hopes someday make its own tortillas, and get the proper permits for it to be a BYOB establishment.

Munch and The BBBOM were so happy with Casa Rasta, that Munch would use one of those upside down Spanish exclamation points (if only Munch knew how).

There's a saying about Beechview that it has neither a beach, nor a view (except of the Liberty Tubes). That may be true, but it has a ton of potential. Affordable houses, a central business district primed for development and the best public transit access in the county make it an attractive possibility. Here's to many happy returns, beach and view be darned.

Casa Rasta is at 2102 Broadway Ave., Beechview. Call 1-619-227-2377 or 1-619-227-5357. (619 is the correct area code; Laura and Antonio still have their San Diego-based cell phones).


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