Let's Eat: 2001 Critic's Choice

4013 W. Broad St.
Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. -10:30 p.m.
Dinner entrees $5.95-$13.25
Reservations not necessary

Of the numerous ethnic cuisines available in Richmond, Mexican seems to be the most prolific — and the most prosaic. There is a certain sameness to Mexican food and to the atmosphere in which it is served: Tape mariachi music and endless fiesta themes dull diners into ordering the same old fried chimichanga or black-bean quesadilla. But Su Casa is different.

Su Casa spins the genre away from McMexican and toward something more accurately described as "diner" in the down-home, comfort-food sense of that word. Much of that transformation is the result of atmosphere. Su Casa is tiny. It boasts regulars. Pictures of several generations of the Greek family who own the place hang framed on the wall behind the register. The patriarch greets you as you squeeze past to your table, the matriarch mixes the margaritas, and the next generation runs the tables.

Where atmosphere ends and food begins, Su Casa's all-Mexican cooking staff kicks out delicious and fresh classics such as tacos, chilies rellenos, enchiladas and 19 different one-of-this-and-two-of-that combination platters for about $6.

But don't overlook the house specials like the enormous Su Casa for two and the delicious carnitas — pork chops served with rice, beans, salad and flour tortillas. Like to make a scene? Try the fajitas delivered to your table on a searing-hot iron skillet trailing a plume of raging smoke. Truly celebratory, and a real head-turner - N.P.

1601 Park Ave.
Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday 9a.m.-8 p.m.
Dinner entrees$9.95-$15.95
Reservations not accepted

Whether for a quick bite at the bar or a more elaborate three-course meal, Kuba Kuba brings a welcome breath of fresh air to Richmond's restaurant scene. Its menu and décor, are more than just inspired by Cuba's flamboyant (and now hip) culture. Brightly colored murals and Cuban-style merchandise contribute to the funky laid-back feel of this Fan restaurant.

Try the impressive entremes appetizer, a kind of Latin antipasto plate, that will give you a good feel for the full spectrum of flavors this kitchen uses to work its magic. It's an artful heap of interesting morsels such as grilled chorizo sausage, queso blanco (a soft cheese) scallop ceviche, tasso ham, roast garlic, artichoke hearts, asparagus, marinated olives and Cuban toast.

On the casual side, Kuba Kuba's Cuban press sandwiches are irresistible grilled creations that may well be the best sandwiches available in Richmond. Kuba Kuba also has a solid specials list that offers sophisticated treatments of fresh fish and meats with Cuban flair. Try anything the kitchen is offering with fresh tuna, and you won't be disappointed.

Kuba Kuba's dessert offerings by themselves warrant a trip. The frozen chocolate coffee mouse served in a coffee mug and topped with whipped cream is a heavenly creation, as is the traditional trŠs leches cake, best enjoyed with a strong cup of Cuban coffee. The only downside — it's not always easy to get a table. — B.I.R.

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