Casa Sanchez is one of those Long Beach institutions that everybody raves about when you first move here, but then you try it on your own and just can't see what the big fuss is about.
Bland, poorly cooked meats and burritos overstuffed with beans instead of actual ingredients ensured I only went to the greasy spoon Mexican restaurant on Anaheim St. and Termino Ave. twice. Once to get a gristle-filled $4 chile verde burrito and again to make sure I wasn't going crazy when I told a friend their guacamole tasted like liquefied pennies.
It took years for someone to finally inform me that I didn't have to suffer through Casa Sanchez #1's unhygienic cooking practices and grossly unkempt outdoor patio (think horse flies and pigeon poop) in order to get a whiff of the best Sonoron food in town.
Apparently, there are three other Casa Sanchez locations in the city, each owned by another member of the Sanchez family, and all of them are infinitely more palatable than the one on Anaheim.
My new favorite is Casa Sanzhez #4, owned by the oldest relative of the bunch, a man clearly more dedicated to quality and authentic North Mexican flavors. His all-inside restaurant is not only cleaner and the food authentic, but it is constantly only filled with Mexicans who speak little English--always a good sign.
Here on industrial Cherry Ave. in North Long Beach, I can always order any of the burritos, mariscos, tacos or dinner plates off the extensive menu without fear of the inconsistency and general grody-ness that plagues Casa Sanchez #1.
The burritos are always a good bet, massive knife-and-fork endeavors, stuffed with tender, spiced meat, an appropriate amount of beans and onions and salsa. And with more than a dozen protien-filling options--from carnitas to chicken picado to chicharones--there are endless reasons to return.
And then there are the infamous "super quesadillas," cheese-centric rounds so massive they have to give it to you para llevar in a pizza box (para aqui comes on a pizza tray). For only $7, two burrito-sized tortillas are united with a pound of melted cheese and filled with whatever meat you choose. On the side comes sour cream and non-metallic guacamole for dipping and for added spice, pick up some salsa verde and roja from the self-serve salsa bar by the front counter.
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A Long Beach lifer who accompanied me on my nuevo Casa Sanchez quest told me that when he was a kid, the one on Anaheim was just as good, but the quality dipped sometime in the '90s and so he stopped going. Discovering #4 was a re-awakening of sorts, a necessary journey to salvage the Casa Sanchez legacy.
Where other Sonoran joints may fall short, this institutional installment lives up to its rancho claims, a place where the daily specials list includes both good deals (half a super quesadilla and rice and beans and a drink for $6) and SoCal oddities (costillas de nopales) and the important futbol game is always on.
Casa Sanchez #4, 5925 Cherry Ave., Long Beach, (562) 423-7386