Pick the right name, and it says a lot.
Yep, you guessed it -- the little Beechview restaurant does tacos, a touch of tropical Caribbean heat.
To most of us Northerners, Caribbean and Mexican food are two separate things. But Mexico isn't separated from that body of water by much -- its Gulf is right next to the Caribbean. Mexican food has plenty of interesting regional variations, too. There's more to it than the monolithic combo-plate menus we tend to get around here.
Chef/owner Antonio Fraga lived in Mexico City until he was 14, then began traveling all over the country. He spent time in Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, where he picked up an interest in the distinctive flavors of the Caribbean.
"We try to make it nice and humble as possible," Fraga says. "Not to be too pretentious about it, and focus more on the quality of the food they're getting. Usually, when people talk about a restaurant, they talk about the ambience more than the quality of the food, or the taste."
Fraga is selling his place a little short. The ambience of this tiny shop along the T line on Broadway is as warm and inviting as grandma's kitchen -- well, if grandma listened to a lot of reggae -- and about as big. It fits only about three tables and some barstools along a counter.
Quesadillas are $2, tacos are $2.50, burritos and tortas are $6. Two tacos are enough for a nice light lunch, and three are a fairly filling meal.
The obvious place to start is the Jamaican jerk chicken, but there's also Mexican sausage (chorizo), pulled pork, steak, citrus-marinated pork, and beef, each with a customized assortment of onions, cilantro, and several sauces and salsas. The sauces get changed up a bit -- an amazing, spicy yellow pepitas mustard wasn't there on a second visit.
For a place with a big grill out front, the vegetarian options are surprisingly strong. The potato and poblano chile tacos (or burritos, quesadillas, etc.) are particularly good.
"I've been trying different vegan plates," Fraga says. "Trying to get into healthy eating, giving the vegetarians and vegans a little more variety in the menu. When it was hot (outside), we tried a cauliflower seviche. It sold super-good. People kept asking for it."
Fraga has plans to expand the menu to larger, full-plate entrees sometime soon, while keeping the simple, unpretentious vibe of Casa Rasta going.
"It's the same cooking I do at my home for my kids, and my family did for me back in Mexico," he says.
Casa Rasta, 2102 Broadway Ave., Beechview. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; noon to 9 p.m. Sundays. Details: 412-223-6106; www.casarastapgh.com
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
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