By Kelley Carlson
A trip to Casa de Bandini is like taking a vacation to Mexico -- but without leaving your hometown. Previously located in Old Town, on the former homestead of Juan Bandini -- a prominent San Diegan in the 1800s — the 32-year-old restaurant settled in at its current home in The Forum Carlsbad three years ago.
Despite the move, “we brought the essence of Old Town to North County,” General Manager Gilbert Gastelum said. Much of the decor transferred with Casa de Bandini, including the bubbling, three-tiered fountain at the front of the establishment. And from the furnishings to the food, this restaurant is a feast for the senses.
Once guests walk through the front doors, they can detect the aromas of soft tortillas being freshly prepared at a station between the cantina and dining room. To the left of the entrance is the cantina, where customers can sit at high- or low-top tables, celebrate happy hour five nights a week, and watch sports on two TVs. The mirrored back bar displays wines and more than 30 tequilas, including Clase Azul -- a brand that’s difficult to find in a restaurant. According to Gastelum, Casa de Bandini is one of only 10 restaurants in the country to offer it.
The bar itself is fashioned of copper, with carved wooden rope detailing and moldings, and accented with oversized iron nails. Dangling from the ceiling is an assortment of chandeliers in shapes such as stars, teardrops and globes. Against one of the walls is a large, 250-year-old, hand-carved, roll-top cabinet with handcrafted art and pottery.
Directly beyond the entrance is the orange-and-rust-hued dining room with hand-painted stenciling. One of the walls showcases ornate gold-leaf Peruvian mirrors. The room feels spacious, as it has an open-beam ceiling and plenty of windows. Hand-polished wooden tables and chairs featuring colorful Oaxacan/Zapotec weavings dot the Saltillo tile floor.
Adjacent to the dining room is the semiprivate Sala de Santos (“Saints Room”), often the site of parties. It’s decorated with figurines and artifacts of saints and cultural folk art from Central American countries, canvas oil paintings of archangels Gabriel and Michael, and an ornate altar of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Two wrought-iron chandeliers illuminate the area.
There is seating outside, as well. Gastelum recommends that customers ask for a patio seat, where they can drink and dine among succulents, cacti, Mexican arid agaves and exotic tropical plants. Pink bougainvillea frame the doorways, and bees and hummingbirds are frequent visitors of the fountains. Yellow-and-orange umbrellas provide shade over the black metal-framed tables, and heaters are nearby if it’s chilly.
At night, strings of multicolored lights overhead add to the festivity. The energetic Cielito Lindo mariachi group performs 6-9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. Tinku serenades guests 6-9 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, and also performs its Andean rhythms and Latin American favorites from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
While evenings are lively, the daytime is more reserved and calm. It’s often popular for quick lunches with friends and business meetings. Families and moms on play dates also frequent the restaurant, choosing items such as Cheese Quesadillas or Bean & Cheese Burritos for their little ones.
The main menu is filled with more than 80 selections, including vegetarian, healthy and gluten-free options.
Breakfast primarily consists of egg dishes. Among them are the Huevos Rancheros a la Bandini -- fried eggs and corn tortillas with salsa española cheese, and grilled marinated top sirloin -- and the Avocado Omelette Español with green chilies.
Frequently ordered lunch and dinner entrees include the Carnitas a la Michoacan, which are morsels of pork served with tortillas, guacamole, salsa and beans; Carne Asada Tampiqueña, composed of seasoned carne asada topped with mild green California chili and grilled onion; and the award-winning San Germán, which is seasoned shrimp sautéed with butter, brandy and chunks of pineapple and combined with creamy wine sauce, over a bed of arroz amarillo, and served in a pineapple half.
There are number of dessert selections as well, but for those who have trouble deciding, there is a Dessert Sampler consisting of Churros, Flan, Sopapilla, Bunuelo Chips and Chocolate Lava Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream.
Casa de Bandini
Address:1901 Calle Barcelona, Carlsbad
Phone: (760) 634-3443
The Vibe: Festive, casual, relaxed
Signature Dishes: Carne Asada Tampiqueña, San Germán, Seafood Tostada
Open Since: 2009 in Carlsbad
Reservations: No. Only for parties of 25 or more.
Patio Seating: Yes
Take Out: Yes
Happy Hour: 4-7 p.m. Monday-Friday
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday
On The Menu Recipe
Each week you’ll find a recipe from the featured restaurant online at lajollalight.com. Just click Get The Recipe at the bottom of the story.
This week: Casa de Bandini’s Chicken Mango Quesadilla