Opened in 1985 by a group of experienced restauranteurs, Casa Nueva Restaurant, Bodega and Cantina is as much a social experiment as it is a place to grab a bite to eat. A worker-owned cooperative, the restaurant currently employs 23 “worker-owners” serving up Mexican cuisine infused with distinctly Southeast Ohio flair. Casa Cantina is many things; it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner menus as well as serving as a bar and nightclub in the evenings, where live bands and raves can often be found. It’s difficult to define exactly what the main purpose of the business is, but it gives a lot to the community.
As its name implies, Casa Nueva serves primarily tex-mex dishes; enchiladas, burritos, quasadillas and the like. However, it’s not the standard such place. Instead, this is one of many Athens places that is a product of the “localvore” movement; it serves local takes on each item using local ingredients and supported by local providers. Indeed, Casa Cantina is another centerpiece of the movement in town. This is a successful bid. Casa’s food tastes fresher than your typical Tex-mex foods. This is a one-of-a-kind place, and it’s very, very Athens.
What it does make is prepared very well. The Enchilada platter, the first item I tried on the menu was the Enchilada platter. I was surprised at how great the food was. Instead of re-fried beans and Mexican rice, this enchilada is served with locally-grown black beans and cilantro-seasoned white rice. These sides are a step above the typical fare; they’re unquestionably better.
Most of the ingredients taste very different from things you’d taste in a standard tex-mex place. The vegetables taste fresher. The meat is more tender and altogether it’s just a better tasting product. I have a huge appreciation for the extra effort that goes into ensuring what you’re biting into is pure Athens. It comes at a slightly elevated cost, which is completely worth it to me.
Service is pleasantly good. The workers here are friendlier than normal. It’s a great credit to them, I think, that they seem so deeply concerned with their jobs. I can’t help but wonder if service of this caliber is the result of each and every worker feeling he or she is in charge of your experience. There are no managers or underlings.
Casa Nueva is progressive food. With a huge number of organic options and a menu where every item can be made vegetarian, this place is a rare gem. It’s definitely something I would call an essential taste while in Athens.
- Breakfast here is very good. The enchiladas and burritos and other items from the griddle are strong contenders for a seriously good meal.
- There is an extensive list of events that goes on in Casa Cantina each month. Consult the schedule to see what entertainment you enjoy.
- Plenty of organic and vegan options make this an ideal place to take friends who don’t eat meat.