WHO’S IN CHARGE This past April, Casa Vallarta Mexican Family Restaurant opened on Route 1 north in Saugus under the watchful eye of manager Jorge Ramos. The restaurant serves authentic Mexican food with its origins from the Jalisco state on the country’s west coast, Ramos said.
“No disrespect, but from some other restaurants that I’ve seen, it’s just a business,” Ramos said. “At Casa Vallarta, we treat everybody like family, and as friends. It’s an everyday thing. We try to get to know our clients, and for our clients to get to know us.”
The Saugus location is the fourth Casa Vallarta to open in the Northeast, joining restaurants in Northborough, Falmouth, and Cumberland, R.I.
THE LOCALE Casa Vallarta’s brightly colored façade and interior decorations help to make for a festive atmosphere. Even more striking, though, is the sheer number of waiters and waitresses, and how everyone is smiling and engaging.
“We try not to give any waiter more than three tables,” Ramos said. “That way, they can take care of their clients properly, and in an orderly manner.”
As a result, the mood at Casa Vallarta is genuinely upbeat. And that’s infectious.
Casa Vallarta is divided into three sections: a dining room with well-appointed booths and tables to the left, a smaller dining area with larger tables along the windows to the front, and a good-size rectangular bar toward the back with large flat-screen TVs. The restaurant seats almost 200, and when it’s near capacity, there’s a wonderful cantina buzz about the place.
There’s also a small, outdoor deck at the front, though the view of the large parking lot and the Route 1 traffic leaves something to be desired. For added entertainment, Casa Vallarta offers live music on Sunday afternoons and Wednesday nights.
ON THE MENU For appetizers, we ordered a small side of guacamole ($4.25) that was fresh and smooth, and a side of rich, savory queso dip ($5). I couldn’t pass on the calamari ($12), and was delighted with this little extravagance of lightly fried octopus with jalapenos.
The entrée selection at Casa Vallarta is dizzying, with a variety of burritos, quesadillas, chimichangas, enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, combos, and specials. Ramos’s two favorite dishes are the pollo chipotle ($18), sliced chicken breast and mixed vegetables marinated in a special chipotle sauce, and the Vallarta molcajete ($29), a dinner for two featuring skirt steak, grilled chicken breast, and shrimp with chipotle sauce, jalapeno peppers, and frijoles with chorizo.
However, Lauri wanted to go in a different direction, so we agreed to try the Molcajete another time. Instead, my wife selected the tacos carnitas ($13). The three soft tacos came with healthy servings of slow-cooked pork with a mild red carnitas sauce, jack cheese, guacamole, and pico de gallo.
I was tempted by the house egg dishes, such as the huevos rancheros ($11) or the huevos con chorizo ($11), but settled on the chile verde ($13). The plate was enormous, both filling and flavorful, with big chunks of tasty, tender pork in a subtly spicy green tomatillo sauce.
Not surprisingly, we brought a fair-sized portion of our entrées home with us, which I always think of as bonus meals. We’re eager to return.
Casa Vallarta, 114 Broadway (Route 1 north), Saugus. 781-813-3980, casavallarta.org .
Brion O’Connor can be reached at email@example.com.