Off the beaten track

Castillo’s Restaurant

Santonio Rodriguez prepares El Tricolor Burrito at Castillo’s Restaurant.

Santonio Rodriguez prepares El Tricolor Burrito at Castillo’s Restaurant.

photo by amy beck

1125 Rock Blvd., Sparks, 356-0356

Since I’ve revamped my basement, I am in a frame of mind where the two dirtiest words I can spit at anyone or anything are “code” and “violation.” Thus when my husband and I lugged our twins past the tray with fresh paint on the floor at Castillo’s Mexican Restaurant, just south of Oddie on Rock Boulevard, I gave him a grave and knowing look and whispered, “Code violation”—not that I really know that or care much. We used to live in that part of Sparks, and an element of colorful lawlessness has always come with the territory.

There are a number of such oddities. One is the establishment is still misidentified in the Yellow Pages as “Castillo’s Restaurant and Bakery,” although they haven’t made baked goods for some time. Another is the entranceway, where there are two adjacent doors from what looks like formerly separate business addresses, although the dividing wall was knocked out, and now Castillo’s has vast space for dining as well as evening entertainment. There is no place for tips on the credit card slip. (That part was sad because we loved our server and only had a little cash for her.)

If the food had sucked, all this might have been “tacky,” but in the case of Castillo’s, it counts as “character,” because both our lunches were, in one simple word, fantástico.

My husband and I are big on seafood. This initially looked as if it might present a problem. Castillo’s menu is clearly geared for lovers of traditional meat-loaded Mexican dishes. A quick glance at the combination dishes with rice and beans, such as the Super Rodeo (chili, beef enchilada, and chicken taco for $10.99) and the Los Chismosos (beef taco with chicken enchilada for $7.99), gives the picture. But between our server’s earnest attempts at English and my husband grunting something like “no carne” and “camarónes, por favor,” we were able to substitute shrimp in both our dishes.

Despite being asked to think outside the caja, our cook managed magnificently. In my experience, a lot of Mexican places take a laissez faire attitude toward shrimp, heating them as they are and letting spices, condiments, and, as often as not, the diner’s de-shelling skills do the technical work after the fact. Our guy was more exacting, dicing and gutting the shrimp into little florets that he lovingly peppered, salted, buttered and pan fried to perfection before adding an ample quantity of them to our entreés.

My husband’s Sombrero Charro ($8.99) was clearly a simple taco salad upon arrival, but the shrimp went beautifully with the standard salad constituents and excellent beans and Spanish rice. He didn’t need as much of the rancho dressing that was heaped on, but he managed to eat around it.