Longtime Encinitas buddies and business partners Clayton Wheeler and Craig Applegate have opened seven sandwich shop franchises over the past six years. But when it came to opening their first original restaurant concept this year, they opted for a cuisine that’s closer to their hearts.
Casero Taqueria, which opens today in the Square at Bressi Ranch center in Carlsbad, was inspired by their many road trips to Baja California. Casero means “homemade” in Spanish, and the restaurant’s made-from-scratch menu was inspired by the small, rustic family-run taquerias they’ve both visited over the years in Mexico.
“We have tried to get as close to that as we possibly can with this menu, while still conforming to all the regulations required for a restaurant here. Casero is a modern-day Baja restaurant,” said Wheeler, 31.
Casero Taqueria occupies one of the larger restaurant spaces in the newly opened Square at Bressi Ranch center. It features 3,500 square feet of indoor space and a 1,500-square-foot hillside patio. Customers order their food at a walk-up counter, then everything is cooked to order over a wood fire and delivered to the tables in the 155-seat restaurant and bar.
Wheeler said he and Applegate hope their fast-casual restaurant’s menu — developed by chef consultant Alex Carballo and executed in-house by chef Julio Castillo — fills a niche in the Mexican food market that’s been long overlooked.
“You’ve got the fast-food burrito shops and you’ve got the sit-down Mexican spots that have been around for 30 years and haven’t changed their recipes,” Wheeler said. “We wanted to take truly authentic Mexican food back to its core. Our goal was to use recipes that have been passed down for generations.”
A la carte tacos are the focus of the menu at Casero. Corn tortillas are made fresh in-house throughout the day in the exhibition kitchen, and diners can choose their fillings, including carne asada, carnitas, pollo asada, al pastor (pork), birria (goat), line-caught fish, shrimp and vegetables. They range in price from $3.50 to $4.50 apiece, depending on the protein.
There are also salads, soups, sides, tortas, ceviche, shrimp cocktails, empanadas and other Mexican specialties, ranging in price from $2 to $13. For groups, there’s a family-style dinner of various proteins, tortillas, sides and toppings, serving up to four people for $24.50 to $32. And there’s a $5 children’s menu.
Wheeler and Applegate, 35, wanted the menu to be approachable to ensure it can serve customers in all income ranges. That’s a strategy that has worked successfully for the duo since they opened their first Board & Brew franchise in 2013 in Carlsbad. Now they own seven Board & Brews in San Diego and Orange counties.
“Through Board & Brew, we learned that value and quality go a long way,” Wheeler said. “We wanted to fit that same mold, that you can come here and not break the bank and get a delicious meal. We want to have the seats full all day and everyone happy and full.”
The restaurant has a full bar, serving tequilas and mezcals and a rotating selection of 10 beers on tap and a few bottled varieties of both Mexican and locally brewed Mexican lagers. The 18-seat indoor/outdoor bar’s signature cocktail is a house margarita.
Because everything is made in-house at Casero, the restaurant also has a “mercado” case up front, where customers can buy fresh-made tortillas, chips, guacamole, ceviches and seasoned meats to cook at home. There is also a small play area for families with small children.
“We’re really excited about the concept and we’ve had a good welcome from people who can’t wait for us to open,” Wheeler said.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Happy hour, 3 to 6 p.m. daily.
Where: 2675 Gateway Drive, Suite 195, Carlsbad
Phone: (760) 405-4195