Downtown Reading is probably one of the most underrated food hubs in Berks County.
Penn Street alone offers a wonderful variety of options. Yet for those of us who don’t live or work downtown, making the trip into the city for a meal seems like a lot of work.
Sometimes all it takes is a little push to get us suburbanites to head into town. For me, that push came in the form of a half-price gift certificate for Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe.
While the Peanut Bar may be Penn Street’s most famous eatery, it is far from the only option. Just two doors down from the Reading landmark is a restaurant that has been building a legacy of its own for the better part of the last decade.
A display case just inside the front door of Mi Casa Su Casa shows off the accolades that the restaurant has earned in its first eight years of business. The restaurant’s success has led to a second location, as Mi Casa Su Casa also operates a cafe inside the Goggleworks.
Because of its location, Mi Casa Su Casa is perfect for breakfast and lunch for those working downtown. When we walked in, it was clear that Saturdays were a much slower time. But for a couple people sitting at the counter, we had the dining room to ourselves.
Mi Casa Su Casa’s menu isn’t very big, but it is varied, reflecting both American tastes and the Caribbean heritage of the owners.
Did you ever have one of those days when you just couldn’t make up your mind? That was us on this day. There were just too many delicious-sounding options that we decided to create our own mini-buffet by ordering four sides to split between the two of us.
Our waitress delivered our meal, one plate at a time until our table was no longer visible under a sea of white plates.
The first item set down in front of us was the yuca fries. Yuca is a distant relative of the potato, a starchy root vegetable native to South America and a staple food for millions of people. The thick-cut yuca were deep fried to a light yellow and served with two options for dipping: mayo ketchup and garlic butter.
Yuca is much starchier than a potato so the fries maintained a lot more substance through the frying process. But after a nice soak in the garlic butter (which I claimed for myself while Julie happily took the house-made mayo ketchup), the fries went down smooth. Though I have to say they were much more filling than I had expected.
Our rice and beans were next to arrive. When it was presented, the rice was neatly piled on the plate with the beans in a small bowl. The use of red beans (I wrongly assumed black when I read ‘rice and beans’) made it look like a bowl of baked beans, but the flavor was altogether different. There was no brown sugar or bacon. Instead it used mild spices that let the natural flavor of the beans come through.
A pair of beef empanadas served as a stand-in for our main course. The trip through the fryer made the outer pastry crispy and delicious. I was expecting cheese to come oozing out after my first bite, but was pleasantly surprised that the filling was mostly beef, with just enough cheese to hold it together. It was about as perfect as I could have hoped for.
Completing our make-shift four-course meal was an order of tostones, fried plantains. Plantains contain more starch than a banana, making them perfect candidates to join the rest of our meal in the deep fryer (only now do I realize how much of our meal was actually fried). They were delicious, and despite having had more than my fair share of food already, I could not stop popping them in my mouth.
After adding on a couple bottles of soda to our final bill, our lunch was still just $17, a bargain for what appeared to be an endless amount of food. The best bargain Mi Casa Su Casa offers, however, may be the free parking in the lot behind the restaurant, which will save you a little money and a lot of hassle.
Our meal at Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe was well-worth the drive downtown. It was a great meal at a great price. You can’t ask for much more than that.
It took a little motivation to get there, but the food is more than enough motivation to go back.