As a food person, I feel like I have heard of *all* local restaurants, even if I haven't been to them. So imagine my surprise when a friend suggested we check out Casa Colombia. Casa WHO, I asked? Turns out, it is quite the gem, currently hidden by road construction on East 7th and Concho, one block past Comal and the Texas State Cemetery.
Saturday night, a little before 7pm, my friend and I enter what sort of seems like a side entrance on a house on the northeast corner; there's a small parking lot in back, and spots along Concho. The place was crowded, and there was a group of six that arrived just before us. The waiter/host greeted us, and said it would be a few minutes; true enough, in about five minutes, we were at a table. My friend spent about 8 months in Colombia while in college, so she was thrilled to see some of the traditional dishes that she enjoyed while living there. She chatted with waiter, who was wearing a stick-on name tag that said "In training -- Juan," about Bogata, and while they don't have Colombian beers (apparently hard to get in Austin) he recommended one to her that was similar to the national beers there, and I had my trusty Negra Modelo. And they came with icy cold beer mugs -- nice!
I picked a cheese arepa as an appetizer, which was nice and toasty and melty. Not sure of the cheese inside, but just your good basic white cheese that melts really well. Think grilled cheese sandwich on white cornmeal cakes.
For the main dish, I picked the Pabellon, which is actually a Venezuelan dish, the country next door; I didn't realize it was Venezuelan at the time, it just sounded good, and not quite so heavy as some of other meat dishes. (How do you put accents on letters in Blogspot? Pabellon should have an accent on the "o", but when I cut and paste one from Microsoft Word, it tells me there's a format error.) It's stewed, shredded beef in a criollo sauce with onions, and served with white rice, black beans, and sweet, sauteed plantains, that I call maduros when caramelized like this. The meat was delicious. Extremely tender and flavorful. The maduros were delicious too... I could eat a ton more of them! The rice and beans were fine, nothing to write home about.
On Juan's suggestion, my friend got the house special plate, the Bandeja Paisa, which was beef skirt steak, a chicharron, rice & pinto beans, with a fried egg on top, along with the maduros and a small plain arepa with avocado on the side. I had a bite of her skirt steak, which had good flavor, but I thought was a bit tough. She didn't care for the chicharron, but I absolutely loved it! It was a long piece, that was scored lengthwise and up and down, and then deep fried. So you get little cubes of crispy pork that you just pull off. It looked kind of like a grenade (at the 6 o'clock position in the photo below.... hard to make out I know, because besides the egg and rice, everything's the same color), and you certainly got a pork fat explosion in your mouth!
I would so go back to Casa Colombia in a heartbeat! It doesn't seem that the long-standing road construction along East 7th has affected their business, because the place was packed with gringos and Latins alike. Their website self-proclaims "The Best Hidden Secret in Austin! No More!" -- lo es verdad! Vamanos!