Casita (North Adams, MA)

When we first moved to New England, we’d occasionally make some road trips down to Western Massachusetts, and we still routinely visit the Pioneer Valley, but for several years the more western reaches of Massachusetts seemed to fall off our radar. But a few recent trips hiking on Mount Greylock (MA’s highest point, and a decent hike) re-introduced us to the area, and have lead us to check out a few of the more interesting destinations. On a recent weekend, we went to The Clark Art Institute to see both their permanent collection, and a visiting Edvard Munch exhibit (pics here, they really do have a great collection), and afterward explored some of the area’s food and drink scene. After a pleasant round of beers at Bright Ideas Brewing in North Adams, my eye landed on a nearby option for dinner: Casita.

Located inside the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (aka MASS MoCA) complex, Casita drew my eye for two reasons. The first is a silly one: growing up in an area with extensive Hispanic influence, giving someone my last name of “Kaszeta” would get rendered as if it were Spanish (Casita: little house). The second is that I adore Mexican restaurants, especially those that go beyond the usual Americanized menu of tacos and burritos and try to really exercise the more flavorful palette of Mexican flavors and ingredients, like mole, huitlacoche, masa, and chamoy. And that’s exactly what Casita is setting out to do: serve up fine food using classical Mexican flavors and ingredients, while also showcasing local Berkshires meat and produce. Casita started as a food truck, Chingón Taco Truck, that was getting good word of mouth the last few years with their tacos, burritos, and even a Mexican-inspired hamburguesas. In April this year they moved into a spot in MASS MoCA across from Tunnel City Coffee (which I need to go back and visit…), right next to the primary location of their food truck. It’s a really nice spot they’ve outfitted: bright and airy, with good outdoor access in better months, and it’s got good access to both museum patrons and visitors to the nearby brewery.

A notable upgrade from their food truck days, Casita has a full bar, with a nice selection of local beers, some good wines, and a nicely crafted set of cocktails combining Mexican cocktail themes and local ingredients. I ended up going for their version of a spicy margarita, the the “Sexy lil’ Marg”, with arbol-infused Elvelo Blanco tequila, lime and curacao. Carol opted for the subtly different Midnight Margarita, with Evelo Blanco, Ritual Sister smoked pineapple liqueur from Matchbox Distilling in NY, and “magic simple syrup”. Both were flavorful and well composed, and nicely complemented the other flavors of the evening.

For our first appetizer, we went for a fusion dish, the “Mexican Ravioli”. These were ravioli made with blue-corn masa infused pasta with chile-braised beef filling, topped with a huitlacoche cream sauce. Everything here was great: the braised filling extremely flavorful and tender, the addition of masa to the pasta gave it both a nice flavor and kick to the texture, and the huitlacoche sauce was nice and earthy. I always love huitlacoche (“corn smut” in English), and it’s one of those under-appreciated ingredients; the sauce here reminded me pleasantly of my huitlacoche quesadilla from this spring back in Minnesota at Oro.

One thing I like about brightly-lit and airy dining rooms is that you get a really good view of what other people are ordering, and after seeing three orders of the roasted carrots going to other tables, we decided we had to try them as well, adding to our order. Roasted carrots with a house-made chamoy (a Mexican sauce made from pickled fruit), served over castlefranco radicchio in a light vinaigrette with toasted sunflower seeds and dried apricots. The surprise star here was the excellent castlefranco radicchio, which is some of the best radicchio I’ve ever had, very lightly dressed. The carrots were perfectly roasted and herbed (these reminded me of the spiced pomegranate-glazed carrots I usually make for Thanksgiving), and the chamoy a perfect example of one of those fairly unique Mexican sauces that doesn’t get much exposure in the US.

For my main course, I went for their “Al Pastor Pork Chop”, a double-cut, bone-in chop with pineapple salsa, tomatillo sauce, and some braised greens. This was a solid dish. The pork itself was splendid, one of the most tender and delicious pork chops I’ve ever had, with perfect grilling and crisping of the fat. The pineapple salsa added nice, rich pineapple notes along with some spice, and the tomatillo sauce adding some really good earthy and acid notes. A solid winner.

Carol went for the confit chicken thigh, which is essentially Casita’s version of the classic chicken mole. Served up with mole negro, hoja santa rice, and toasted sesame seeds, this was one of the richer and more flavorful moles I’ve had in recent history, reminiscent of the excellent moles at Red Iguana. Another nice surprise here was the hoja santa rice, having the nice lime-like herbal notes of hoja santa (Mexican Pepperleaf), another of those unique flavors that you don’t experience much in the US.

While the dessert menu also had a lot of great options, we stuck with two mainstream options: the churros, and some Mexican Chocolate ice cream. Both were really good; the churros light, fluffy, and crispy without getting too greasy, and the ice cream smooth but bold in flavor.

I really loved Casita. I adore good Mexican food that really leverages good Mexican flavors and ingredients, and Casita serves this up quite well. The restaurant is pleasant, the staff friendly, and they’ve managed to build a great food and drink menu that showcases both Mexican and Berkshires flavors. This was probably my favorite restaurant visit so far in 2023, and I’d love to go back.

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