Sometime back in the summer, Marie and I were invited to a meetup at this unassuming little Colombian restaurant called Casa Vieja over in Doraville, but we were not able to attend. Some months went by and Emily, who writes Spatialdrift, went here for lunch with some co-workers, and once I read her review (linked below), I just about punched myself in the face for missing out on a meal here. This place looked good. We resolved to get over here before the month ended. Our friend Helen seemed keen to give it a try as well, so one Saturday night, while the Bulldogs held off an unbelievable threat from a powerful and hungry LSU in what was a thrilling, nailbiting, and very distracting game – let’s hear it for smartphones and very patient and understanding friends – and while the girlchild rampaged with friends back in Smyrna at Anime Weekend Atlanta, we dug into some meat. Lots and lots of meat.
Casa Vieja is located in a beat-up strip mall called the Roland Center on that stretch of Shallowford that runs parallel to Buford Highway. During the day, I suppose that it looks like any older, dilapidated shopping center. At night, with dozens of passengers arriving from Mexico and Texas at the neighboring Tornado Bus Company depot, and the owners of the La Sultana Bakery on the other side of the place having cookouts in the parking lot, it’s a whirlwind of activity, with lots of people all over the place.
Inside, Casa Vieja has been decorated to look like Six Flags or something. There are barber poles and fake storefronts and cartoony signs for the doctor and the village pharmacy, with football – not the Georgia and LSU kind of football – blaring from the televisions. Vincent and Helen joined us, graciously accepted that, after we didn’t stop the Bayou Bengals on 3rd and 22 and just had to get that damn ball back, I was going to be a little distracted, and they talked about Holland’s football team while I sweated bullets. Somehow or another, food was ordered and I did not have a heart attack*. We won by three.
I cautioned Marie that the bandeja paisa was said to be an awful lot of food, but maybe she could share an order with the toddler. She could have shared it with six toddlers and still had lunch for the next three days. This came with a grilled steak, sausage, pork belly, a fried egg, plantains, an arepa, and beans and rice. All this for eleven dollars and it was really good. Marie’s not a particular fan of pork belly, so I ate most of that.
Vincent and Helen and I each ordered an empanada. Our server brought us a squeeze bottle of salsa verde and a plastic jar of the house aji sauce. As I mentioned when I wrote about Machu Picchu, there are a hundred and one recipes for aji sauce and many of them are so wildly different in taste and flavor that they bear no resemblance to each other, like the way that eastern North Carolina thin vinegar barbecue sauce is not a darn thing like the thick, sweet brown sauce of Kansas City. This aji sauce was a very thin and watery mixture full of cilantro and onions and it was just wonderful. Bite off the end of an empanada and put a spoonful of this into the pastry, and definitely plan to use the sauce with your main dish.
I had the chuleta valluna, a pork cutlet that was similar in preparation to schnitzel, hammered thin and breaded. It was also pretty good, and really big, and came with a salad and rice. I wouldn’t have been as satisfied as I was if we didn’t have the aji sauce for the meat.
We were all very pleased and happy with our meals. Unlike our September visit to Cơm with Vincent and Helen, the trip didn’t leave anybody completely punching the air with happiness over a dish, nor unsatisfied that the restaurant was not as good as it once was. Consensus was that this was a perfectly fine dinner at a pleasantly traditional place. This isn’t a “Latin Cantina” like Presto in Marietta, which, while good, is out to accommodate everybody, especially guests unfamiliar with regional cuisine. Casa Vieja is certain to surprise diners with a menu full of dishes that are miles removed from the southeastern “Tex-Mex” tradition. I’m very glad that we chose this place.
*The heart attack came during the Tennessee game the following week. My ticker is still recovering. The girlchild jumps from around corners saying “boo” at me just to see what’ll happen.
Other blog posts about Casa Vieja:
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