My knowledge of Casa Fiesta was absolutely nil before I tried it. I briefly looked it up online to see where it was located in Rantoul and left it at that: My eyes read “Casa Fiesta Mexican Restaurant” and I closed my browser tab. I decided I would see how the experience would play out organically, which is a bit risky for someone like me, an über planner.
First thing first: if you are driving from Champaign-Urbana, take the more direct route on Route 45. It doesn’t take but a minute longer and it’s more scenic than I-57. My drive was under 30 minutes each way.
My expectations were that I would get to try someplace similar to El Toro, but perhaps with some alternate takes on a few classic dishes. I thought we’d be eating at a sit-down place and, considering how hot it was, that perhaps I could have a margarita.
When I arrived, I was initially
crushed a bit dismayed to see that Casa Fiesta is simply a drive-up/walk-up taco stand. I would be lying if I said my expectations took a dive, but I plowed on, hoping to be pleasantly surprised.
My companion and I quickly had to regroup with what we would order and where exactly we would eat. Considering it was over 90 degrees, sitting outside to fry at the lone picnic table wasn’t altogether appealing. We opted to take our food back to my house; I reasoned it would be a good test of how the food held up, at least.
We parked and gave the walk-up service a try. I should note here that there was a car at the drive-thru the entire time we were there. Although the area was quiet with little traffic, this place was doing steady business. The walk-up window resides in a shallow indoor area that has four stools at a thin lip of a counter if you decide you can’t wait to eat and need to stuff your face. I can see this playing out well at night or on a cooler day if you’ve got no other place to be. One employee handled customers at the walk-up and the drive-thru simultaneously, while the only other employee manned the kitchen.
The menu is quite extensive for such a small place. Appetizers are strictly chips and dip, be it guacamole, white cheese, bean dip, or queso fundido. These run you anywhere from $3 to $3.50, so it’s a mere difference of one or two quarters in price.
Additional food categories were: tacos, quesadillas, nachos, fajitas, lunch specials, dinner specials, “Agave Specials,” sides, and desserts. To say it’s a lot to process is an understatement, but in this case, it was nice to have too many options versus too few. Moreover, everything is reasonably priced.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed and not knowing which chef’s specials were the thing to try, my companion and I played it safe. We decided to get an order of three shredded chicken tacos in soft corn tortillas (3 for $6). You can also opt for flour or hard shells. The tacos come with minimal toppings. It was either lettuce and cheese or onion and cilantro. We went with the lettuce and cheese.
For myself, I ordered ground beef nachos “fajita style” with onions, peppers, and tomatoes. (Base nachos run $7; if you get steak or shrimp with the fajita style, you’ll pay $9.25). You’ll still be asked what you want on your nachos and you have a choice of a few extra toppings, although I noted jalapeños were not one of them. I made sure there would be cheese and sour cream along with the onions, peppers, and tomatoes, and left it at that. We also ordered some chips and guacamole.
The food smelled extremely enticing as the aromas filled up my car on the return drive home. We tore into our food when we got settled in. My companion said his chicken tacos were fantastic and he destroyed all three, but not without adding some red pepper flakes for spice. My nachos really hit the spot with the multitude of flavors. I admit I was impressed and ate my fair share. The chips and guacamole were overall very good. The guacamole is not the best I’ve ever had but there wasn’t much to complain about, either, except that it’s so chunky that it’s not all too easy to dip chips into. The chips tasted like they were made in-house and were crisp and sturdy; all pluses. The tortilla chips in my nachos had absorbed a lot of cheese and toppings by the time we were able to eat and had gotten a bit soggy, but I used some of the fresh chips to scoop up all the gooey deliciousness. The nachos can easily feed two people for a meal, or serve as an appetizer for three or four.
The “lows” of Casa Fiesta aren’t dealbreakers. The only real disappointment was the salsa that came with our order. It was just pureed tomatoes with a couple of cilantro leaves thrown in and that was it — no salt and no real taste other than plain tomato. We ignored it altogether. Secondly, if Casa Fiesta offered a good salsa, hot sauce, or jalapeños with their orders, it would go a long way for people to be able to customize flavor and spice of their dishes. However, these aren’t reasons to avoid going back, merely personal preference.
All in all, the food is extremely tasty and hits the spot, whether you’re craving a snack or a full-on meal. While this joint appears like a small taco stand that offers only a handful of menu items, it surprises you with a full restaurant’s menu of dishes to choose from to keep you coming back. If you live in Rantoul, you have a gem of a Mexican food place just down the street. If you come in from any of the surrounding areas, it’s worth the drive and the gas money. Bonus: you can even call ahead for pickup.
215 E Sangamon Ave
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Photos by Zoe Valentine