The plate’s hot!

Casa Ramos’ Mexican fare is a sit-down fave

Plato Emperador.

Plato Emperador.

Photo By matt siracusa

Casa Ramos Mexican Restaurant
216-C East Ave.
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; till 10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., and till 9 p.m. Sun.

Casa Ramos

216 W. East Ave.
Chico, CA 95926

(530) 894-0119

I was born and raised in California, and I’ve been to a lot of Mexican restaurants. I’ve burned my fingertips on plenty of hot, oval-shaped plates, and I’ve walked out painted-glass doors moaning and holding my doggy bag in one hand and my stomach in the other on many occasions.

Since I moved to Chico, I have become partial to one particular sit-down Mexican eatery, Casa Ramos. The family-run restaurant on East Avenue is one of 10 Northern California branches (including a second Chico store at 2490 Fair St.) opened by Marcos Ramos between Yreka and Placerville. Each restaurant serves the same menu inspired by Ramos-family recipes, and the favorite that brings me back is the “northern style” (with a wavy-shaped shell instead of flat) taco salad, which comes with beans (refried or cholesterol-free whole “rancho” beans), lettuce, cheese, tomatoes and meat over a crispy shell for $8.50. But after choosing to venture to other pages of the menu during a recent visit, my usual order started to seem a little boring.

The trifold menu is jam-packed with appetizers, burritos, tostadas, combo plates, fish, fajitas and a selection of the Ramos family’s personal favorites. My dinner date and I were feeling adventurous and decided to share the molcajete, a Mexican-style stew with chicken and steak sautéed in mushrooms, onions and tomatoes, and topped with cheese, green onions and jalapenos for $13.89. We chose flour and corn tortillas. We also ordered a mahi-mahi tostada (a crisp shell filled with Mexican rice, lettuce, grilled mahi-mahi, pico de gallo, sour cream and house dressing for $8.99) and left the dressing on the side.

We munched on thick, crunchy corn chips and peppery salsa and surveyed the traditionally colorful décor. Orange-sherbet walls, forest-green patterned carpet and comfy booths featuring tropical-bird accents are just a few things that catch the eye. The place was particularly decked out during this visit—unabashedly, I must say—with tons of Halloween decorations, including furry spiders strewn from the ceiling and scarecrows painted on the windows. The many booths around us were filled with extended families, dinner parties and couples of all ages.

I snapped out of my stare fest when one of our polite and friendly waiters (we had a few—a chips guy, a waitress—even the manager strolled by) brought our food out in one quick swoop.

The chicken and steak in the molcajete were tender and moist, and the right amount of sauce made it easy to scoop the meat and vegetables into a tortilla without making a mess. I dipped a few chips into the sauce and it reminded me of a mild tortilla soup.

We barely made a dent in the tostada after scarfing down the stew, and used salsa instead of the house dressing to keep it lighter. The pico de gallo and shredded lettuce were cool and fresh, and the mahi-mahi was mild and not too fishy or salty. We boxed up most of the tostada and the rest of the stew and ate them with corn tortillas from the fridge the next night for dinner.

I ordered a super burrito for takeout the following week, and the friendly woman on the phone told me my Macho Burrito (rice, beans and picadillo wrapped in a flour tortilla and topped with burrito sauce, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and Cotija cheese for $11.99) would be ready in five minutes. I also got a large side of the house guacamole ($4.25).

I was pleased that the guacamole wasn’t too salty and had chunks of avocado, tomato, onion and cilantro mixed into the bright-green avocado puree. The ingredients in the burrito had fused together and were heavy with red sauce by the time I dug in.

The picadillo (shredded beef and pork cooked in spices) was juicy, lean and had a pleasant hint of garlic. The Mexican rice puffed up after sitting in the steamy burrito and was a little heavy with the refried beans. Next time, I’ll order whole beans.

The dining experience at Casa Ramos reminds me of sitting in plush booths in my hometown with my family as a child, munching on quesadillas with a tiled wooden table at my chin’s level. Casa Ramos’ staff is personable, the menu is accommodating and the food satisfies a major hankering for steamy, saucy, Mexican-American-style grub. As the weather cools down, I know I’ll be going back for a bowl of their tortilla or albondigas soup very soon.