Charlestown gem serves up authentic Mexican eats
By D. Todd Applegate
Photos by Christian Watson
As a self-professed foodie and wannabe chef ’n‘ restaurateur – and one of the Extol Team’s newest members – I am thrilled the role of food writer has been put on my plate. I am ready to dig in. At the risk of losing an audience I don’t yet have, I apologize in advance for the food puns, but hopefully you can develop a stomach for them. I look forward to extolling the virtues of the fare I find in our Southern Indiana community and will relish sharing it with you. So, please enjoy and just try and digest what I’m serving up in these pages. And if you have a place you think I should try, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Extol Eats” in the subject line. –D. Todd Applegate
I wish I had a peso for every time I’ve thought to myself, “I sure would like to find a restaurant that serves good authentic Mexican food.” If you’ve found yourself thinking the same thing, give La Pasadita a try. Just off Highway 62 in Charlestown, the eatery is easy to get to, hard to get in (more on that in a moment) and easy to enjoy…at least once you find the entrance.
Housed in a red railroad car nestled between the “powder keg” tower and the suspended vintage Chevy on the flagpole, La Pasadita is kind of hard to miss. But getting inside the restaurant itself poses a bit of a challenge. There are three possible entrances, each with its own parking area. The key is to locate and stay to the right of the nondescript La Pasadita sign and park near there. With that accomplished and the red railroad car now in front of you, take one of the two entrances, choosing either ramp or steps, to one of two doors, each leading into the restaurant.
After what sounds like a bit of a treasure hunt to this point, you will now have even more of an appetite and as your reward, be ready to enjoy some good authentic Mexican food and in an old railroad dining car to boot. Just be sure you ask to be seated in the dining car, as the restaurant is part train car and part Mexican market and café.
With a name like La Pasadita, you might expect good Mexican food. After Isabel, my kind hostess-waitress-server-cashier, seated me, she asked, “Have you ever had authentic Mexican food before?”
Slightly taken aback I inquired: “What do you consider to be authentic Mexican food?”
Isabel replied, “The main difference between Tex-Mex, which is what most people consider Mexican food to be, is that ‘authentic’ means using traditional family recipes from the various regions of Mexico in your particular restaurant.”
As for the restaurant’s name, “There isn’t an easy translation,” Isabel admitted. The closest translation I could find for pasadita comes from the word pasar, which means “to pass” or “passage.”
While that was close, Isabel added that the word “probably translates to ‘passing by’ or ‘passing on’ when used colloquially.” That was good enough for me as I thought if I was hungry and “passing by” a place, I’d like to try some traditional Mexican recipes that had been “passed on.”
With the treasure hunt and Spanish lesson behind me, I was now seated in the stainless-steel tube of an old dining car, which was behind the big red engine of the now defunct Clark Nichols Railroad, and ready to order lunch.
The menu items were primarily in Spanish but with informative descriptions in English of what you were ordering. In addition to many recognizable offerings, the menu also included chicharrones (pork rings), flautas (deep fried chicken tacos), huaraches (shaped masa cakes), and the atypical Tacos De Tripitas, Chorizo, and Lingua (tripe, chorizo and tongue tacos). There were plenty of huevos (egg) offerings and tortas (Mexican sandwiches) as well.
Incidentally, there is one menu for both lunch and dinner, and specials for each. On the day of my visit, the lunch special ($5) included two tacos (either Mexican style or deluxe with choice of meat ) with rice and beans.
That was my starter, along with a lime Jarritos ($1.50) to drink. There are a variety of Mexican beverages both on the menu and in the cooler to purchase in the market. You can even get a Mexican Coca Cola should you choose. There are three Mexican beers ($3/each) and three domestics in bottles ($3) on the menu. And bottled water, too ($1.)
Soon, out came the salsa and chips and the Jarritos, followed by my tacos. A Mexican Taco here is a small, flat, corn tortilla with choice of meat, chopped onions and fresh cilantro. A Deluxe Taco includes the above plus lettuce, tomato, cheese and sour cream. I had ordered a deluxe with chicken and a Mexican with beef. Both were extremely tasty. The meat was tender, marinated and spiced – but not spicy. I drizzled salsa on both, which was interesting as the sauce was thinner versus chunky, but full of flavor, with onion, cilantro and a notable citrus kick. The chips were crunchy with the right amount of salt. You can get a hotter version of the salsa upon request. It is thicker and amped up with habanero, but not too amped up.
I asked Isabel what was La Pasadita’s signature dish. She seemed to lean toward the beef choices and cited Carne Asada (grilled skirt steak; $8.99) as her choice. I have had Carne Asada elsewhere, so I opted for something different and selected the Guisado De Puerco (pork stew in green sauce) while Extol photographer Christian Watson – who’d just arrived – ordered the Quesadilla Con Carne (translation: beef quesadilla; $8.99) and a mango Jarritos. Both of our meals came with refried pinto beans and rice, tortillas and a small salad comprised of lettuce, tomato and avocado.
The tortillas, which have great flavor and are specially made for the restaurant, are soft corn tortillas served hot off the grill. You’ll notice big corn flavor in this simple little gem. However, be prepared for the texture change of this corn tortilla versus the flour tortilla that most of us are used to, thanks to the Tex-Mex options in this area.
My Guisado De Puerco was served with chunks of tender marinated pork in a delicious green sauce that was more like gravy. An ample portion for sure, as are most things here, but I still wanted more. Like the tortillas, the refried pintos and the rice were really flavorful sides. And did I detect a hint of adobo or secret spice in the recipe?
It was consistently busy at lunch on this day, and Isabel was in constant motion and multitasking. But she seemed to manage and no one seemed bothered. I just would not have wanted or needed to be in a hurry that day.
I didn’t see desserts on the menu but did notice a small case with fresh pastries (Tortas y Dulces) in the market. Just before paying my bill, I ordered a side of guacamole ($1.50) to go. At restaurants, I sometimes look at a single item that can represent the overall quality of the food across similar restaurants, almost like a standard. Guacamole or a cheese enchilada with red sauce are normally my Mexican go-to barometers. Later that night, I tried the guacamole and as expected, it did not disappoint. Simple but good, it was fresh and creamy with chunks of avocado throughout and a noticeable citrus kick, like the salsa. My wife sampled it as well and voiced her approval.
Even though a unique part of La Pasadita and the floor plan, the Mexican market is small and somewhat out of place. But as I walked around and explored, I realized there was everything one would expect in keeping with the overall authenticity of La Pasadita. The market offered all things Goya and La Preferida brands. There were spices, canned goods, sauces, snacks, cookies and candy to choose from as well as drinks and an assortment of Mexican cheeses and chorizo in the cooler.
I plan to make a return trip soon and advise you to climb aboard the train at La Pasadita, too.
Until next time.
Open 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday-Sunday
Family friendly; handicap accessible