[Disclosure: I received a few complimentary items on my last visit to La Casa Loco]
Mention the fact you live in Rugby to anyone during a conversation about food and the question will come.
“Is that Mexican restaurant still there?”
By ‘that Mexican restaurant’ they’re talking about La Casa Loco, and yes, it is indeed still here. In fact, it’s very much a Rugby institution.
Ask anyone who has lived in the town for a while and they’ll be able to recount memories of cocktail-filled nights stuffing their faces with chimichangas, fajitas and other Mexican and cajun dishes, before donning one of the many sombreros hung on the wall and having one too many drinks to end the evening.
You’ll find it upstairs in the Churchside Arcade on Little Church Street but don’t be fooled by its unassuming entrance. Walk upstairs and you’ll find yourself in a vibrant restaurant full of personality. During lockdown the owners carried out a full refurb, updating its look and changing the layout so there’s more seating and a longer, more spacious bar.
A brave move, given the circumstances, but they kept their longstanding business running with the offering of takeaways, including some innovative ways to keep delivery costs down (which I wrote about for the Telegraph here if you’re interested). Fast forward a few years and judging by how busy they were on a week night when I visited, La Casa Loco is going nowhere fast.
The menu is broad – it always has been. There are the classic big guns – the fajitas that arrive spitting and sizzling, ensuring you’ll be sporting ‘eau de cooked meat’ for the rest of the night. Far more appealing and kinder to the wallet than any pricey perfume, I reckon, though some may disagree.
There are enchiladas – big fat, parcels filled with a choice of protein and served with Mexican rice, soured cream, salad and salsa – plus their deep-fried siblings, the aforementioned chimichangas. Not for the faint hearted. There’s chilli, jambalaya, racks of ribs and more. Big, hearty portions that have defeated many a fan, despite their best efforts.
But along with refining the restaurant, on my latest visit it seemed some thought had gone into how to cater for those of us who can’t quite manage Herculean portions. There’s a smaller-sized portion of enchiladas, created with the aim of reducing food waste. And don’t worry, there are plenty of simpler, lighter dishes on the menu, from a burrito bowl to various fish dishes, including that classic of prawns pil pil (because who doesn’t like prawns swimming in a sea of garlic butter), and fish of the day.
The restaurant may have been there for years, but the menu doesn’t just sit unchanged. Newer additions include ‘premium tacos’, with fillings of Carne Asada (Beef), Al Pastor (Pork) or Chicken Tinga – all full of flavour and clearly the product of some decent hours cooking time.
We also can’t forget the starters – nachos are always a predictable winner, but their quesadillas are a decent start to any meal, especially when washed down with one of their many margaritas, or a frozen daquiri. The tostadas are a good choice too, a crispy corn tortilla with a mountain of your choice of topping, refried beans, cheese, shredded lettuce, soured cream, jalapeños and Pico de Gallo.
There are desserts – for those of you who can manage to get that far. But if you’re struggling, take my advice and order the churros with their little pots of dips, because they don’t really count as a sweet anyway, and the sugar will balance a tequila out nicely.
La Casa Loco is a great place for a hearty feed and many a drink. But don’t be misled by my one-dimensional approach to life. I get that not everyone is quite as extreme as me when it comes to food and drink, so be consoled that La Casa Loco isn’t just a one-trick pony. It may summon up happy memories of sangria and sombreros, but as well as the main menu and special party menus, there are dedicated taco and tapas menus for a slightly lighter meal.
A lunchtime visit on a Saturday has a different feel – daylight and light-bites are the order of the day (with cocktails of course, because why wouldn’t you). I’ve recently discovered it’s dog-friendly too, which adds La Casa Loco as an appealing lunch or early evening option, and the addition of a pretty affordable ‘early doors menu’, and there’s a kids menu too, keeping it family-friendly. At one point they did bottomless brunch, too, though you’ll have to check whether that’s still the case, and of course they still offer takeaways.
In short, La Casa Loco seems to have landed on a formula that works perfectly for its location and audience – and which probably explains why it’s still going strong after all these years. It serves up decent food, with plenty of choice for everyone and a not-unreasonable price tag.
There’s variety, there’s fun, and there’s a willingness to adapt to what people need and make sure you’re catering for as many people as possible, from the good-time gang like me and my pals, to families, groups, and everyone else in between. Long may it last.