Caucho – Cedar Rapids, IA
If I told you the best margarita I'd ever had was at a restaurant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, you would certainly accuse me of at least some white people shit, or maybe developed the suspicion that I'd had maybe three margaritas total in my life.
But here's the deal––I am no stranger to good margaritas, in all manner of settings, including in their homeland of Mexico, and in all manner of "authentic" Mexican restaurants in places known for their Mexican cuisine, and Cedar Rapids' Caucho still has the best margarita I've ever had, and continues to serve me margaritas superior to all the rest.
Caucho is a project of the folks who own Cobble Hill, my favorite eatery in Cedar Rapids, and one of my favorite haunts. They opened it several years ago in the hip "NewBo" district and it quickly became my favorite Mex place in town, despite the extended family's penchant for the (admittedly less expensive and grandfathered-in) Hacienda Las Glorias, which is still a regular stop when I visit. Caucho's tequila and mezcal selection is top notch and very reasonably priced, and they make their margs with freshly-squeezed lime juice, the way they should be!
On my recent petsitting/rest stop in Cedar Rapids before continuing to Phase II of my summer travel schedule, I stopped in at Caucho twice––once on my own, and once with mama, Georgia, and auntie Amy.
As I mentioned, the margaritas are world class here. Caucho has curated a magnificent collection of top-shelf tequilas and mezcals, and even a sotol, but even their house Lunazul margs are delicious, and $5 at happy hour! Between my two visits, I had top shelf margs with:
Jaja Reposado tequila
Scorpion Reposado mezcal
Sotol, a spirit made from the distillate of "desert spoon" plant, long thought to be just another agave, but recently classified as distinct. The name of the sotol distillery they carry eludes me, but the spirit was bright, grassy, and a shade earthy or flinty, and made my (and my mama's!) favorite margarita of the bunch.
The margaritas are so good––perfectly balanced, letting the spirit shine, and very reasonably priced for their top-shelf selections. On the last visit, I managed to down four of them!
They also have absolutely delicious salsas that they make in house. The chips and salsa course allows you to choose three from their rotating selection of six or so salsas, and they are always top notch. Over the course of the two visits, I sampled the following:
Verde asadero, a mild and tangy green salsa made with green chilis
Avocado and tomatillo, just like it sounds!
Rojo asadero, a medium-hot salsa with tons of smoke, savory notes, and garlic. One of my favorite salsas I've had.
Pineapple habanero, piping hot but sweet. Delicious!
This is Iowa, of course, and they don't have bad corn, so Caucho's house-made chips are truly fantastic. Using a mix of blue, yellow, and white corn from Iowa, they produce delicious tortilla-sized chips to break up and munch on with their killer salsas.
On my second visit, given the higher number of people at the table, we were able to split a couple additional appetizers. Their queso fundido is fantastic––served with their corn tortillas, with melty cheese, allium, peppers, and their house-made chorizo, it disappeared far too quickly!
Our favorite, though, was new to their menu––a Puerto Rican dish called sorullitos, which were "fingers" of fried Iowa masa filled with Mexican cheese and served with an insanely delicious aioli for dipping. So good we ordered another, and Georgia and I spooned up the remaining aioli with our index fingers.
Tacos are Caucho's wheelhouse, though, and I made a point to order an entirely different set of tacos the second time around. They have switched their menu concept recently from only offering orders of a pair of a single type of taco to being able to mix and match up to three different tacos, so I had six different tacos over the course of the two meals, each served on a house-made Iowa corn tortilla.
The first set:
Brisket carne asada with chipotle-mezcal salsa, pickled onion and radish, and cilantro
Beer-battered cod with pineapple-habanero salsa, cilantro-lime crema, and cabbage
Al pastor (the best tacos on their menu, hands down) in traditional style with grilled pineapple and pineapple-marinated onion
And the second set:
"Gringo" with house-made chorizo, beans, lettuce, and crema
Grilled chicken thigh, morita aioli, plantain chips, queso fresco
Cornmeal fried oyster mushroom taco (a special that night!)
No trip to Caucho is complete without their insanely good rice. With roasted garlic oil, scallions, and cotija cheese, it's magnificently flavorful and just beautiful. I ate a whole bowl by myself during my first visit...
Here's the thing––I have learned in my culinary journey not to be afraid to be surprised. The restaurant that taught me to love sushi is in lily white Salt Lake City, hundreds of miles from any ocean. The best Sichuan food I've had in the US (so far) is in Charlotte. The best margarita I've ever had is in Iowa. Go figure!
Good food can happen anywhere. Caucho might be in possibly one of the least "Mexican" states in the country, Iowa, but it's producing some of the best tacos I've had, and, like I have said several times already, the margaritas have yet to be beat. If you find yourself chillin' in Cedar Rapids for whatever reason, I can't recommend a visit to Caucho more highly.