You may remember the recent film simply titled, Frida starring Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo, among Mexico's most famous and prolific female artists.
A young couple, transplanted from the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, have opened a charming, authentic little Mexican eatery that pays homage to this late great artist. Casa Frida, 5239 S. Peoria Ave., opened several months ago and has been realizing popularity and success almost from day one.
Emmanuel Montes and his wife, Nancy Hernandez-Montes, who interestingly enough never met until they were both in Tulsa, traveled extensively throughout Mexico where they experienced some of the freshest and tastiest food they had ever eaten.
"We wanted to bring that to Tulsa. We know that people want quality," Hernandez-Montes said. "We know that they appreciate food made from scratch"
Some of the recipes used are family favorites from her mother, Isabel Hernandez, and others came from Mr. Montes' mother, Pina Cruz, who also helps her son in the kitchen.
A painting of Kahlo hangs on the wall, behind a counter with four or five of those great, permanent soda shop-style stools we all loved spinning around on as kids. The rest of the dining room is comprised of a half-dozen booths along the wall. The entire place could fit in a large sized living room. The restaurant is colorfully painted, fresh, clean and very inviting. Hernandez-Montes said she and her husband are hoping to expand and use a small hallway for extra café tables, but at this point Casa Frida only has enough room for 35 or so diners. A basket of chips and a dish of mild salsa were placed on the table while we decided on what to order. The menu is brightly decorated and charming, and covers all the bases, from a nice breakfast menu to tortas, a Mexican sandwich on birote, a kind of fat sandwich roll and a large variety of other authentic temptations.
If you've never had a classic torta before, you should give one a try. This sandwich has everything but the kitchen sink on it: your choice of meat and beans, rice, vegetables, avocado, sour cream and cheese. You name it, it's on there. Casa Frida's tortas are either served "wet" or ladled with red or green sauce, and must be eaten with a knife and fork. This is a sandwich done right.
Casa Frida's creative enchilada section boasts items such as enchiladas verde, rojas, enchipotladas, with a chipotle sauce for the brave souls and a feature item called enpipianadas. Handmade corn tortillas -- all Casa Frida's are -- wrapped around your choice of fillings and topped with a creamy sauce based on toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds and peanuts. Everything in this section comes with beans and rice; all can be made to suit the vegetarian and all come in at $6.99.
Other offerings include taco options with a variety of meats and the fajita department, which offers a choice of beef, chicken, shrimp, chorizo, pork ribs and a variety of enhancements all for $11.99.
Go Gordo. Like almost every item on Casa Frida’s menu, the gorditas aren’t prepared until an order is
placed, so diners can be quite sure they’re geting the freshest product available. A small, thick tortilla of
cornmeal flour is hand-pressed, then fried and immediately split and filled with your choice of meat. The
tortilla is hot and soft, and the meats are tender and delicious.
Some unique items round out the rest of Casa Frida's menu, including chili rellenos, made in house of course, shrimp in a spicy diablo sauce, Pollo Toluqueño: a grilled chicken breast topped with chorizo and cheese; Espinaso del Diablo: chopped pork ribs cooked in a salsa asada and Carne a la Tampiqueña: grilled steak served alongside two red cheese enchiladas, black beans, and avocado. All are served with rice and your choice of black or pintos, plus handmade tortillas. The most expensive thing in this section is $9.99, and that's for the two shrimp dishes. Everything else ranges from $5.99-$7.99.
We finally settled on gorditas, an entrée probably most easily defined as a thick or puffy taco. In fact, gordita translates to "little fat one."
First of all, like almost every item on Casa Frida's menu, the gorditas aren't prepared until an order is placed, so diners can be quite sure they're geting the freshest product available. Gorditas pretty much have to be made when they're ordered, so expect them to take a little extra time, especially on a busy night, which this turned out to be.
A small, thick tortilla of cornmeal flour is hand-pressed, then fried and immediately split (for a visual reference picture a whole mini pita bread) and filled with your choice of meat. The tortilla is hot and soft, and the meats are tender and delicious -- each better than the one before. A serving is three gorditas and you can mix and match the fillings, so between Katie and I we had the carne asada, carnitas and de palo -- a combination of chorizo and carne asada, chicken, chorizo and barbacoa, described by Hernandez-Montes as being like Mexican barbeque, which the name implies. All were delicious, fresh and moist. A wonderful meal.
A real delight, aside from Hernandez-Montes, who was a charming host, was a drink called horchata. I have only found it a few other places in town, but it is delicious. It's a very sweet beverage made with rice, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla and Mexican cinnamon. Some variations also include ground almonds and cloves and I have also had it with undertones of star anise. It is a delightfully refreshing drink served over ice. The spices really pop when they are chilled, and I highly recommend you try one.
Casa Frida is just behind a shopping area, which houses a great little Hispanic market, well worth a trip in itself. The restaurant is nestled into a corner, and you need to really look for it, but I guarantee others are finding it.
The longer you wait, the harder it will be to get in and enjoy some really outstanding authentic food in a charming atmosphere.
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