The word “authentic” seems to have been mostly bastardized as of late, the calling card of gabacho hipsters and their dislike of ethnic things that they fully believe shouldn’t be a part of your own culture. I can only imagine their well-coiffed collective cabezas exploding the minute they walked in to Casa Juanito, 4718 S.E. 29th, in Del City.
The espíritu of the lamentable Pancho’s is kept alive, at least when you first enter, by the cafeteria-style service, complete with an organized line where people can pick up a tray and choose their desired Tex-Mex platters, paying before eating; additionally, Casa Juanito’s also offers a pandilla of daily specials, of which I ordered the Juanito Special ($8.70), straight off the menu boards.
The woman behind the glass, joking and laughing while selling tacos and slinging enchiladas, was more than happy to take my order, promising it would be sent to my table in a few minutes, giving me a few minutes to explore the restaurant.
Full of old-school murals of happy villages and old ladies cooking, even the ever-present Virgen de Guadalupe eventually shows up; as the ranchero music plays overhead, this business, owned and operated by Gumaro Lopez, is a Tex-Mex work of art, an immovable feast built on the graveyard of what was probably an old pizza parlor some 25 years ago.
As the hurried waiter brought my set-up of hot chips and even hotter salsa, the aforementioned jovial woman brought me my Juanito Special. Consisting of two flour tortillas filled with pollo and topped with their own especial tomato sauce with Monterey jack cheese, as well as a well-portioned helping of rice and beans, as per usual, it was a plate of puro Tex-Mex that I was more than ready to get down and boogie with.
While this may be seen as muy basico as all get out by some, it is actually one of the most sabroso meals I’ve had in a while, definitely taking me back to growing up in South Texas with every bocado; the homemade tortillas were perfectly suited to the pollo, with the tomato sauce and jack cheese blend being a mixture that, while seemingly plain, was well-suited to the menu and well-suited for my meal. The rice and beans were bastante bueno too.
Casa Juanito may not be the Mexican that some of you claim to be so desperately craving, but this Del City joint is filled with more Latino owners, managers, cooks, employees and, mejor de todo, Tex-Mex food, than whatever upscale montón de mierda is popular this week, and really, what’s more authentic than that, ese? Cómpralo ya!