She Said: El Parian was a staple of our dining habits, when we used to go to five or six restaurants on a regular rotation, before we started this project. So, when we heard it closed and a new Mexican restaurant had opened in its place, we were curious, but with mixed emotions. But when we tried another place after church recently that had people lined up out the door, waiting out on the sidewalk in July, I suggested a change of plans in favor of Casa Catrina. No waiting!
He Said: In fact I think this is not so much a "new" restaurant as El Parian rebooted. The fact that the Casa Catrina Facebook page actually refers to things happening at El Parian when you look back before May suggests that the same people, or a least some of the same people, who owned or managed El Parian are behind the new concept of Casa Catrina.
She Said: When we arrived, I was instantly won over by the décor and logos that employ the Día de los Muertos Catrina, the made-up, posh and fancy skeleton who personifies the Day of the Dead celebrations. I love myself some Catrinas! Every time I go to Mexico, I come back with a new one, and now I can get my Catrina fix right here at home. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same as El Parian, with festively carved and painted benches, and a friendly, festive vibe.
He Said: Day of the Dead face on the sign outside and a large Catrina greeting you when you come in the door, do give the place a very Mexican feel. The booths and tables have not been changed from El Parian decor, and they’ve always been bright and evocative of sunny Mexico. Soccer on Spanish language TV stations in the dining area also hearken back to the El Parian days.
She Said: There wasn’t a margarita menu, so I didn’t know if they had options such as mango. I went back to basics and just ordered a medium margarita on the rocks. The medium is a good size here, not leaving you wanting more, not as big as yo’ head, so it perfectly fit the meal. I would order that again.
He Said: They have Coke products available, and I ordered my usual Dr. Pepper. Didn’t get a refill, which would have been nice.
She Said: Most of the time at this kind of traditional American Mexican restaurant (you know what I mean), I go for the vegetarian combination plates. They offer those here, but I was intrigued by some of the new things on the menu and went farther afield. After digging into the chips and guacamole, which was very fresh and tasty (and just needed a teeny-tiny bit of salt), I was quite pleased with my fish tacos. I wasn’t sure when I saw them if I would like them: three soft-shell tortillas with big chunks of ingredients, tilapia, onion and tomato. But the seasonings and light sauce made all the difference, and I ate them quite happily. I couldn’t finish all three, but could next time if I skipped the guacamole. I liked that the fish was not breaded or fried, just seasoned and pan sautéed.
He Said: As one of the 856,000 Mexican restaurants in Conway, Casa Catrina offers all the standard taco-burrito-fajita-tostada-chimichanga meals that you’re used to from Mexican restaurants in town, but as Jones suggests they also have a number of other not-so-obvious items on the menu. I decided to go for one of these: It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that when I saw salmon on the menu, I went for it.
Almost without exception when I order salmon at a place like this (i.e., one that doesn’t specialize in sea food, or one that does most of its business in burgers or sandwiches or Mexican-variety fast food) it comes overdone. That was not the case here. The fish was grilled just right, and served over cilantro rice and sliced zucchini, topped with a mushroom sauce that also contained some Mexican seasoning that give it just the hint of a kick. I was surprised it was that good, and I loved it.
Also, it may go without saying but I’m saying it anyway, the server did immediately bring out corn chips and salsa to munch on while we looked at the menu. Jones ordered guacamole dip as well since she has a bizarre, twisted aversion to tomato products.
She Said: Service was very good, fast, efficient, professional, attentive without being distracting. I couldn’t ask for better. I also like that they take the check at the table. (That was one thing I didn’t love about El Parian, paying at the counter.)
He Said: Yes, you can now pay at the table. There was an echo of El Parian in the service, which was always very quick there, the waiters sometimes actually running to get things to you fast. I didn’t see any running here at Casa Catrina, but service was certainly fast and efficient.
What We Got and What We Paid: One large guacamole (for complimentary chips), one salmon dinner, one order of fish tacos, one Doctor Pepper, one medium margarita, all for $39.97.
Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 18 minutes.
She Said: I enjoyed everything about my visit to Casa Catrina, and I will certainly be back.
He Said: The salmon was a delightful surprise, and I’d like to go back to try other things on the new menu.
So…He Said and She Said: Go here for pretty Catrinas, tasty food and fast, efficient service.
Editor's Note: Eat It, Conway is produced by local author Jay Ruud and his wife (poet and novelist Stacey Margaret Jones). The couple has begun an attempt to eat at and review, every restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The Log Cabin Democrat and thecabin.net are publishing Eat It, Conway with permission from the authors. Visit them online at jayruud.com and on Facebook at Eat It, Conway. In addition to restaurant reviews, Ruud authors movie reviews on the site.