A Packed Pittsburgh Weekend: Work, Regatta, Bike and Tacos!
A few weekends ago, during all the Pittsburgh Regatta festivities, I had to do my time and work the weekend. Not only did I have to be at work by 6:30am on a Saturday, but I had to get up even earlier than usual to load my bicycle in my car while most other yinzers were snuggled up in bed, or having the worst drunk sleep ever from a Friday night out. After I did my 8.5 hours, I changed into my bike clothes in the work parking garage and made my way to Southside to meet up with Nate and our friend Caitlyn for a Saturday afternoon ride with the goal (of course) of tacos at the end of the trail.
We started our bike ride in Southside through Station Square and then to the very crowded foot paths at the Point and Three Rivers Heritage Trail due to the Regatta and Pirates game. To escape the crowds, we ventured towards Millvale and looped back over the 30th street bridge to head to the Strip District for our much needed taco dinner. We stopped at 2031 Penn Avenue to lock our bikes and head into Casa Reyna.
Mid Ride Tacos at Casa Reyna
Now if you remember from the Mexi Casa post, I was supposed to be at Casa Reyna earlier that day but the restaurant was closed. The hours are Mon & Tues 11-230pm, Wed & Thurs 11-9pm, Fri & Sat 11-10pm, Sunday 11-4pm.
We went downstairs to the dining area and boy were we all in awe of the space. Exposed beams running above us with patio style lighting, intricate paintings (with ceramic tiles framing some artwork) hanging on the brick walls, dim lighting, wooden tables with colossal wooden chairs (that were surprisingly very light to move). I felt like I was not in Pittsburgh, but transported either somewhere out west or down in South America. The hideaway gem made me forget that I had to be back at work the next day.
Before I could look around at all the paintings, I ordered the house margarita. I was surprised by the color of the margarita when it was served. I didn’t look at the menu beforehand to see that the orange brandy was used to give it a mango orangy color. The margarita was strong with the Cazadores tequila, brandy, and triple sec which I can’t complain about, and it didn’t have that syrupy thickness to it that comes with using a mix so that was also a plus.
I didn’t really look that intently at the menu because I knew I was going to get tacos. I was running on 5 days without a quality taco. That said, I did notice at the top of the menu, Casa Reyna sources many of their own ingredients locally, or grow them on their farm at White Oak Farm. They also make their own corn and flour tortillas from natural ingredients. I knew that made their own tortilla chips from having them at other restaurants, but I did not know the rest of the story.
Before I could get to the taco section, Nate interrupted my focus to suggest a salsa sampler with the homemade tortilla chips. We could get either two salsas for $3 or four salsas for $5. We tried two of the five salsas and I let Nate pick the salsas. He was nice enough to not pick the hot and spicy ones so that narrowed it down from 5 to 3 salsas. We went with the casera and the tomatillo verde.
After that menu interruption, I set back to scanning the menu and oh my goodness I then saw chihuahua cheese on the menu! It was listed with one of the appetizers and with the quesadilla entree. Now you know this is one of my favorite cheeses, but I had to keep my eye on the taco prize for the time being, so I resisted the urge.
Finally to the taco section. There were many options to meet my taco cravings. First, we had the choice of 2 regular tacos or 4 mini tacos. Second, corn or flour soft shell. Third, choice of Mexican (onions and cilantro) or American (lettuce, cheese, tomato, and sour cream) toppings. Lastly, choice of two fillings (bistec, barbacoa, tinga, lengua, al pastor, chorizo, snapper, shrimp, picadillo, and carnitas). The picadillo taco sounded interesting made with seasoned ground pork and beef with potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery so I ventured away from the common fillings to order that taco, then I also ordered the al pastor.
Our salsa sampler arrived shortly after ordering with the two salsas and a basket of chips. The casera salsa had a blended tomato base with onions, cilantro and jalapenos. The heat built up slightly with this salsa but very tolerable. The casera salsa was light and refreshing that helped to tone down the salty chips. The homemade chips were a little too salty for me. The tomatillo verde was tomatillo based with onions, garlic and serrano peppers. It was also classified as a moderate level spice according to the menu. The consistency of this salsa was not like the other tomatillo salsas I tried before which had the applesauce like thickness. This salsa was smooth and slimy like they were trying to bring back the slime from Nickelodeon. Caitlyn said the onion really stood out in the salsa. I think I liked the casera salsa a bit more than the tomatillo verde.
Side note, I had to look up the definition of serrano peppers later on because I had never saw them on the menu before. The serrano pepper is a smaller but very similar looking version of the jalapeno pepper. They are classified as a medium heat. What I found most interesting about these peppers is the meaning behind the name. Serrano extends from “sierra” meaning mountains in Spanish. This makes sense with the peppers originating from the mountainous Mexican states of Puebla and Hidalgo.
After scooping many chips into the casera salsa, our tacos arrived. I did not know that the tacos were served with little ramekins of rice, beans, and tomatillo verde salsa. The first taco I tried was the picadillo on a corn shell with onions and cilantro. This is very hard for me to write about right now because I am currently starving and I want this taco right here with me! However, according to the above hours I would be breaking and entering if I physically tried to get the picadillo in my belly. This taco was meaty and loaded full with what I trusted was the listed ingredients on the menu. I just couldn’t tell the ground beef and pork, carrots, onions, celery and potatoes apart because it was fully blended. This may sound odd, but the picadillo taco reminded me of my mother’s homemade sloppy joe. This was my FAVORITE taco I have had in awhile.
The next taco I tried was the al pastor with onions and cilantro on a corn shell. I thought this taco couldn’t stand its ground next to my new favorite picadillo but it managed to do a very good job. The marinated slow cooked pork was juicy and the chunks of meat were not dry or overcooked. I believe the al pastor had the arbol sauce incorporated in the mix as it was very orange in appearance. The marinade and sauce soaked up the double layer corn shell and really juiced up the taco. I didn’t even think to use the tomatillo sauce because I was distracted with the flavors already in the taco. There was a little bit of spice that complemented the sweet little sensations from the pineapple. If I am craving a quality al pastor taco in the Burgh, I am thinking Las Palmas, Tako and Casa Reyna as my top choices so far.
After our taco fueled dinner, we cruised back on our bikes toward the Point. We were super excited to hear that Smashmouth was performing at the Regatta so we tossed some frisbee while we anxiously awaited to hear some Walkin’ in the Sun, I’m a Believer, of course All Star, and many more from one of my favorite bands from when I was in middle school.
Price: 2 tacos $11 with a cup of rice, beans, and salsa. 4 mini tacos $10, and a slight up-charge for shrimp and fish fillings.