As my two friends and I scanned the long menu at La Casa de Frida (4002 N. Main, 713-880-1564) last Wednesday evening, we found ourselves bewildered.
"Why is there a random Italian section on here?" my friend Hala asked.
"Yeah, I don't get it," echoed friend and coworker Craig Malisow across the table.
"If y'all think that's weird, look at this one," I said, pointing to a dish called Pollo Linda that promised an "Asian twist" of some kind.
Linda is the chef here at La Casa de Frida, a family-run place that's been run by the same folks for 30 years on North Main. It was formerly Rico's Cantina, then -- for a very brief period last year -- Rico's Luchadores. That Mexican wrestling-themed concept didn't pan out, so the family has now switched gears to a Frida Kahlo-decorated Tex-Mex cantina that offers Italian and Chinese food on the menu in addition to college "club" nights on Fridays and drag shows on Saturdays.
I think it's safe to say that La Casa de Frida will last about as long as Rico's Luchadores did. And it's safe to say that the Rico's family has absolutely no idea what they want to do with the place. In its current incarnation, La Casa de Frida is a bizarre mess.
I could not convince either of my dining companions to order anything off the Italian portion of the menu, a trend I see being repeated until Chef Linda takes the Chipotle Frida-ttuccine Alfredo and other such randomness off the predominately Tex-Mex menu. I took one for the team and ordered the aforementioned Pollo Linda, while my companions played it safe with shrimp enchiladas and shrimp chalupas.
The queso and guacamole that came out were both disappointing in their own ways -- the cheese in the queso was gummy and tasted of flour -- but the guacamole was the worse of the two. Someone needs to tell the kitchen that making guacamole does not just mean taking the avocado flesh out of the skin and mashing it up until it visually resembles guacamole. Other ingredients are required. Say, salt, for starters.
Our dinners didn't fare much better. My Pollo Linda was, indeed, the bastard child of Chinese and Tex-Mex cooking: sweet and sour chicken with pineapple and bell peppers served over a bed of cilantro rice, with so many jalapeno seeds in the sweet and sour sauce that it made my eyes water with one bite. While this doesn't sound appetizing, the odd combination of flavors somehow worked. But I wouldn't want to order this again unless they eased off the spice level a bit.
Hala's enchiladas were filled with fat, fresh shrimp that didn't taste like they had ever seen a freezer. Unfortunately, the enchiladas themselves were topped with an Italian-style ragout that -- like my sweet and sour sauce -- was far too spicy. Once scraped off, she ate only the shrimp out of the enchiladas. Not a very good deal considering the $15 price tag.
Malisow ate roughly five bites of one of his chalupas. Taking a bite for myself, I could see why. Where our dishes blazed with heat, his lacked any flavor whatsoever aside from those fresh shrimp. Three strikes, and La Casa de Frida was out.
The saving grace of our meal, however, was our wonderfully friendly waiter and his skillfully made margaritas on the rocks. After he cleared our plates, he showed us some pictures on his cell phone, pictures that eerily resembled celebrities like Shakira and Erykah Badu. As it turns out, he's one of the two drag performers there each Saturday night.
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"Me and Carmen over there," he said, pointing to a bored-looking drag queen in half drag toward the back of the empty restaurant, "We do all sorts of celebrities."
"We had to cancel this Saturday," he said with an exaggerated pout, "because of the cold weather." Malisow examined the photos again as the waiter told us about the trials and tribulations of wearing five pairs of stockings at a time.
"You make one hell of a woman!" Malisow finally said. And later, on the car ride home, he told me, "You know, the only good thing about that place was the waiter."
I had to agree. Maybe La Casa de Frida doesn't have a bright future as a restaurant, but the Heights could certainly use a great drag revue.