There are dozens of great places to eat in downtown Kamloops, but none quite like Casa Azul.
Immediately upon walking in you’re greeted by servers whose charming dispositions make you feel like you’ve gone home for dinner, even if you aren’t actually Mexican. Brightly coloured handmade decor that fills the ceiling and covers the walls adds to a comfortable, yet unique experience in the Kamloops food scene.
Though the tables on the patio and near the door get a lot of light, towards the back the restaurant becomes quite dark, especially later in the evening. If you value being able to read your menu closely and carefully, try to stick to the front of house. The servers, however, are all happy to recommend their favourite dishes and help you tailor them to your liking.
Chips and salsa arrived right away at each table — and while for the spicy-food-haters out there that may be an instant turn-off, have no fear: they serve a very mild salsa to begin with, and then offer different levels of heat for your meal.
To go with your chips and salsa, of course, you need a beverage. While the bar offers a lengthy selection of margaritas and Mexican sodas, I opted for the pina colada mocktail: creamy and not too sweet, and perfect for in-between sampling of some of the hotter items on the menu.
When I first read the word queso, I was, of course, thinking of the cheesy dip served with tortilla chips that you gorge on, straight from the jar, all summer long. And although that type of queso does exist on the menu, there is another kind that is 100 per cent the greatest thing you will ever eat: the chicharon de queso.
Instead of the cheese being the dip, the cheese is what you dip. It’s a fried piece of cheese, rolled up and easy to pull apart for scooping up mounds of guacamole and pico de gallo. Though the cheese can be a little bit oily, and very hot (give it a minute before you start dipping!), it’s so unique compared to any other queso dish I’ve had before. And, really, how can you go wrong with fried cheese?
Every new restaurant seems to have artisan tacos on the menu nowadays, so I wanted to check out Casa Azul’s house recipe: Casa Azul de Pastor. Pork, pineapple and sauteed onion served in fresh tortillas made for a mouthwatering combo; the meat was cooked just right, and combined with the sweet flavours of the onions and pineapple, made for the perfect fusion. There was perhaps a bit too much tortilla for the amount of toppings offered, but that could be easily remedied with more salsa.
Upon the server’s recommendation, we also ordered the chicken fajitas, which come served sizzling in a skillet with warm tortillas. Add in the verde salsa, some pico de gallo and rice, and you’ve got a dish packed with flavour that will fill you up in no time.
No Mexican feast is complete without something sweet after all that heat. Fresh housemade churros served with ice cream and drizzled with a sweet sauce are the cherry on top of a fabulous meal. The crunchy outside of the warm churros matched with the soft ice cream offset each other perfectly.
One thing I will say is the service there can be inconsistent. We found one meal came out, then the appetizer, and then the second meal. And it isn’t particularly fast. But if you go somewhere like Casa Azul, you don’t want to be in and out, you want to take a moment to enjoy the food and the people.
Next time you’re downtown and looking for a new spot to check out, give Casa Azul (330 Victoria St.) a shot. Pro-tip: if you can get down there before about 5:15 p.m., you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting the table right at the front, in the big window, where you can people-watch while you sip your pina colada.
Courtney Dickson loves nothing more than a cool morning with a good book and a strong cup of tea. Oh and she's a writer based in Kamloops. You may have seen her work in magazines such as This, Herizons and Shameless but you probably wouldn't remember because no one reads bylines.