With a brief break in the summer heat, I made my way to Casa Del Mar near Red Bicycle at the Pines at Philo and Windsor Roads in Urbana. For those familiar with the area, Casa Del Mar is in the building formerly occupied by Milo’s restaurant. Although I miss Milo’s, I’m always ready to try something new, and this day was no exception. Not having had Mexican food for quite some time, I sat down ready to try a wide variety of dishes. While waiting for my food to arrive, I spent time looking around at the new décor. Even though I am already tired of the recent heat wave in Champaign-Urbana, I couldn’t help but appreciate the tropical theme of Casa Del Mar. Bright colors with a strong tree and sun theme, I felt welcome despite the heat implied by the environment.
Finishing up the complimentary crispy chips and cool salsa, I started with a shrimp taco ($3.25) to whet my appetite, as the taco was the lightest item I ordered. The grilled shrimp blended so well with the crunchy lettuce and rich shredded cheese. The juicy shrimp were cooked just the right amount and seasoned enough to have flavor, but not so much that the shrimp taste I so enjoy was overwhelmed. In retrospect, ordering multiple shrimp tacos may have been wiser, as I was left wanting more after finishing my single taco.
Ready to move onto something entirely new, I used my fork to devour my chile relleno ($3.50). For those, like me, who haven’t had a chile relleno before, let me explain: This chile relleno I ordered was a lightly battered poblano pepper covered in cheese and a tomato-based sauce. The gooey cheese was amazingly rich and was complemented by the mild sauce. Even better, the poblano pepper was juicy, fresh, and had only a hint of spice. Much more filling than I expected, I highly recommend the chile relleno for anyone looking for something cheap and delicious at Casa Del Mar.
Moving onto my main course, pollo el rey ($10.25), I was curious how the combination of ingredients would work out. Refried beans, rice, cheese, chorizo, chicken, and jalapeños sound good individually, but what about together? Thankfully, the pollo el rey did not disappoint. The heat from the jalapeño and chorizo were nicely countered by the richness of the beans, rice, and cheese, although I wouldn’t have minded a few more jalapeños, as I wanted more than just stray pockets of spiciness. The seasoning of the chicken and onions provided a nice flavor base for the other ingredients as well. Overall, the pollo el rey was a nice mix of ingredients and quite filling.
At last, I made it to dessert. Unable to decide between the two, I ordered a sopapilla ($2.75) and coconut flan ($3.99). Since I’ve never eaten sopapilla before visiting Casa Del Mar, I decided to start with that dessert. A wafer-thin dough shell dusted with cinnamon, covered in whipped cream and with a hearty drizzle of chocolate syrup, my sopapilla was a nice snack-sized dessert. Wonderfully crispy with a lighter cinnamon taste than the smell indicated, I was pleased overall with this fried pastry. However, next time I think I’ll try it with a dollop of vanilla ice cream for something a bit different. It’s quite rare that I can eat ice cream with something crispy, after all.
Ending my meal with the coconut flan was a wise decision. With a hearty helping of whipped cream and the coolness of the flan, I had my craving for ice cream somewhat satisfied. While I expected the flan to contain coconut, I was somewhat taken aback by the amount and size of the crunchy flakes of coconut. I don’t dislike coconut flakes, but the flakes did interrupt the creamy texture of the flan. I would still order the coconut flan again, although now my expectations will be more in line with the reality of the dessert.
As far as my time as Casa Del Mar went, I enjoyed it. Service was prompt, with the staff making sure my plates were picked up and my water was always full. The chile relleno was the standout dish for me. It's hard to beat a juicy pepper drenched in cheese and sauce, after all. Next time, I plan to save a bit more room and try the delicious sounding campfire s’more lava cake.
Casa Del Mar
2870 S Philo Rd
Su-Th 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
F + Sa 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Photos by Matthew Macomber