The Heaven Seas

Posted October 8, 2009 in Eats

We’re all familiar with the urban legend of that great hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant. The eatery with that Grail-like reputation that relies on a word-of-mouth pipeline and first-hand accounts (sorry, Twitter). The kind that is located in an, shall we say, un-gentrified part of town. The décor might be seedy, the service might be questionable and time-consuming, but it’s the food that pays the bills here—uncompromising, unvarnished mom-and-pop caliber eats that make taco-cart offerings seem like an uncooked tortilla.


And while La Cascada in downtown Riverside won’t get all five stars for fitting the merits of our fabled purveyor of comida Mexicana, it is nevertheless a fabulous place to get very excellent meat-and-potatoes (or should we say, beans-and-rice?) burritos, enchiladas, tacos and seafood. Plus, it’s location (across from one of Riverside’s most endeared dive bar and next-door neighbor to Back to the Grind coffeeshop) makes it an obvious draw for hipsters and boozehounds who will find it charming to nosh on their carnitas  tacos in a place with a sense of exposed brick wall aesthetics.


Food-wise, they’re not re-inventing the wheel here so, of course, you’re gonna find all your tried-and-true combination plates (usually a mixing and matching of tacos and enchilada choices with rice and beans), but the offerings are so good you don’t have to wait for the after-bar munchies to enjoy their hearty, melty, meaty goodness. For our shot at glory, we sampled the Al Pastor combination plate that features marinated chopped steak—think of it as a twist on your usual carne asada experience. While your palate won’t give an ounce of manteca, the presentation (chopped tomatoes and shredded lettuce) and adding a sliced jalapeno ringlet (the cherry on top) adds a nice touch. La Cascada’s beans and rice aren’t gonna win any comida Emmys here (which is a shame, cuz I do loves me my beans and rice!), but the meat more than makes up for this shortcoming. Juicy, grilled and seasoned to perfection—you’d swear you haven’t had meat this good since your cousin hired a taco lady for his birthday party. In fact, the Al Pastor’s seasoning was such that it almost had that chorizo-like bite to it—and that’s  a good thing. If you don’t know what chorizo is, stop reading this right now. 


Seafood is another thing that made La Cascada famous. However, the true test of a Mex restaurant’s piscatorial arsenal is its Siete Mares soup, which is essentially a grab-bag seafood soup consisting of shrimp, octopus and other ocean-dwelling nibbles. And while its contents may not necessarily stem from the seven seas, it is without a doubt, hot, steamy and nourishing—it’s comfort food gold. Think menudo without the hangover. Squeeze some lemon into your soup bowl, toss in some chopped onions, reach for the foil-wrapped tortillas (they never give you enough, right?) and you’re good to go with this serving from the kitchen of Neptune.


Oh, and did we mention the service? It’s pretty top-notch actually. The servers at La Cascada are ever eager to make sure your dining experience is worth writing home about. You’d think they knew we were reviewing this place . . . but, seriously, you won’t get ignored here. They toss out “How’s everything?” and water refills here like goodie bags at a Paris Hilton bash. I think even the owner came out to check on our status. Points earned, La Cascada.


Lessons learned: La Cascada might want to take a minute to jazz up its beans and rice (cuz even your Mexican staples need to retain their redeeming quality) but they’re doing God’s work when it comes to their tacos, enchiladas and burritos. 


Doña Timos La Cascada Mexican Grill, 3635 University Ave., Riverside, (951) 684-8614; Mon-Sun, 9AM-9PM. M, V.


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