You don’t have to go far to find a place to kick back, relax and feel like you’re on a vacation.
by Mandy Moran Froemming
You don’t have to go far to find a place to kick back, relax and feel like you’re on a vacation. The Tex-Mex flavors on the menu are a mix of owner Jay Estenson’s experience in the food industry. Casa Rio, the third warm-weather inspired eatery in its location at 201 Jackson St., is one of Anoka’s newest restaurants. Specialties include the fried tacos (featured on Tuesdays), the seafood enchiladas and the quesadillas, among many other favorites on the menu.
Estenson said what is served up at Casa Rio is done a little bit different than what you might see at other restaurants. “Everything is fresh, everything is homemade here,” he said. The recipes and menu items have been inspired and created by what he has cooked, eaten and seen over the years. Many of the recipes are unique to Casa Rio, including the Casa Ria, a margarita infused with beer and a few other secret ingredients. Estenson calls it, “an old neighborhood recipe.” Food is in the family for Estenson. His father purchases his first restaurant, a Dairy Queen, when Jay was eight years old. After seeing success with it, he sold the DQ and opened a supper club, the Black Angus, in Fargo, N.D. So Estenson grew up working in the restaurant industry. He spent 10 years with El Torito restaurants in the Twin Cities, eventually managing two of its stores. And when Estenson opened the doors of Casa Rio he was already very familiar with the local restaurant scene. He was in sales with U.S. Foods, and had already been part of the Anoka restaurant scene and knew many of the local owners and operators.
Estenson’s two daughters, Marie and Michelle, are part of what he describes as a terrific staff. They had their work cut out for them at Anoka Riverfest on Saturday, when Casa Rio was in the thick of the action on Jackson Street. Casa Rio, which translates to the appropriate “River House” in English, is right at home in Anoka. Estenson said there was a lot of thought and behind the scenes planning before the restaurant’s opening.
At Casa Rio you will find him in the kitchen, or working the restaurant floor. “I try to run out as much food as I can, talk to the customers, see how they like it and hear their suggestions,” he said. And that has led to some tweaks to the menu since opening mid May. “So far we’ve heard a lot of great feedback – people are really enjoying the food,” said Estenson.
Add featured margaritas, along with a daily happy hour, and Casa Rio is looking to find its niche in Anoka. There’s a big open space in the back where families can gather for birthday parties, pinatas included. “This has been a lot of fun,” said Estenson. “I wasn’t really surprised by how hard of work it has been, but I’m learning a lot. I’m learning something new all the time.”
Mandy Moran Froemming is at firstname.lastname@example.org