I tried Casa for lunch today, on a whim. I used to eat there long ago, and hadn't been back for quite awhile ... I was reminded why.
INTRO: Casa has always been known for its lunch buffet. This is strictly a 1970s Kansas version of "Mexican" food, which consists of ground beef wrapped in different forms in a tortilla, usually with a melted cheese-food-product ladled over it. As a college student, I could down enough of it to make lunch last til breakfast the next day. That is about the only redeeming quality.
LUNCH BUFFET: Stop one is salad, which is a giant bowl of fresh, crispy, shredded lettuce which, with a glop of the strange but tasty "verde" dressing is not really a very good salad, but good enough to lead off this meal. Just before the main course was a bowl of what I took to be a cold bean salad ... it was fresh, and had a little bit of flavor, but not much. From there it's all downhill, straight into bad 70s Kans-Mex. Today we had "beef enchiladas", which meant the hamburger meat was in a tortilla wrapped length-wise, and opened on the end, with an inoffensive chili sauce ladled over it, if you please (I pleased, and it helped some, but not enough). Then came the "cheese burritos", which were little squares folded from flour tortillas with a splotch of jack cheese melted inside, then over-toasted under the broiler so they went right on past crispy and into tough and nearly impenetrable. They used to do a decent cheese enchilada here -- maybe they do on some other day of the week -- but this burrito-ish square wasn't close to decent. The rice and beans were rice and beans, wholly forgettable. The tortilla chips are the most unremarkable of any restaurant I've visited anywhere ... no better than Doritos, and maybe not quite that good, even with a ladle of melted cheese-food-product over them. You can get tacos at the end of the line --- the crispy, folded corn shell kind you remember your mom making in the 70s, with hamburger meat, shredded lettuce and shredded cheddar.
SERVICE: Oh, my. It's a buffet lunch. How hard can the service part be? The ladies in the buffet were the tops of this bunch, friendly-ish and efficient enough. The wait staff is either overtasked or just not trying very hard. I would expect 3 things from a waiter at a lunch buffet: 1- find me a seat; 2- bring me some chips and salsa, and 3- keep my drink full, at least somewhat often anyway. As to #1, I stood at the entrance surveying the nearly empty room for several minutes, but was then led to a bizarre little corner table that was close enough for chow. #2 - a while after I returned from the buffet, a basket of the same chips that are on the buffet were brought to the table, I was asked if I wanted mild or hot salsa, requested hot, ordered iced tea, and never saw her again. The iced tea showed up via some other worker, and was tasty and fresh, but not enough to last through a buffet of Mexican food ... if she had ever brought me any salsa I would have been really thirsty. #3 - total failure. Okay, I should add a #4 -- that would be to bring me my check when it's over. So, #4 - also failure, as I sat looking at my full basket of chips, uneaten in the absence of the salsa that never came, rattled the ice in my empty tea glass, and finally gave up and walked to the cashier, who took my word for it that I had the buffet and iced tea, and rang me up at just under $10. Who was it, up above, that said to go to Taco Bell? ... they've got a point.
AMBIANCE: Dimly lit, outdated, quasi-adobe dining room. Babies crying behind me, fat people coughing incessantly across the room, piped-in Mexi-muzak ... what more could I have wanted?
CONCLUSION: Not Mexican food, unless your only reference is the ground beef and taco seasoning of your mom from the 1970s. Fast food Mexican at Taco Bell, Taco John's, or even Taco Tico is as good a choice for lunch. There are many other good choices in Topeka --- from local joints like Pepe & Chelas, El Mezcal or Tacos El Mexicano, to chain places like On the Border, Chipotle and Qdoba --- and every last one of them is WAY better than Casa.
BOTTOM LINE: Don't eat here.