Santa Ana is becoming a growing boomtown with shopping malls, fast-food eateries and swanky restaurants galore.
However, this erstwhile farming town southwest of the capital still has neighborhoods that have not been invaded by the never-ending development. San Rafael de Santa Ana is one of these, and it is here that you will find Casa 76.
Owner Gilda Sancho has converted her home of 20 years into a delightful restaurant surrounded by a colorful tropical garden, offering tranquil dining away from the bustling center of town.
The restaurant specializes in pasta and pizzas, but also offers choices for those who prefer a “less Italianized” menu, Sancho says.
Full of energy and enthusiasm about her recently opened venture, the charming Sancho is the owner of the original Casa 76 in Ciudad Colón, farther west along the valley.
Her son runs the Ciudad Colón restaurant, while she concentrates on the new location.
“It’s nice to be operating out of my own home,” she says.
The large house is built of a mixture of wood and every imaginable construction material.
“It’s like a patchwork quilt,” Sancho says.
The only new additions she has made are a large modern kitchen, bathrooms and an enlarged parking area.
The first thing you notice is the white wooden facade with its large, shuttered windows.
Alfresco dining on the spacious veranda is a pleasant alternative to the interior dining room, where family dining tables and a large, open fireplace add to the friendly feeling of a private home.
Once the rainy season is over, Sancho says, the garden will be lit to offer attractive seating among the shrubbery.
I’ve visited Casa 76 twice and really enjoyed the ambience and food. I’ve since recommended it to friends who agree with me, and were happy with the friendly service and atmosphere.
For starters, the menu offers salads that I’m told are enormous and delicious, but should be ordered to share, or as a main course. Hot and cold appetizers include the usual Italian antipasto plates, salmon and beef carpaccio, mussels and soups. Prices, not including tax and service, range from ¢2,000 to ¢4,500 ($3.80-8.60).
Twenty-two varieties of pizza boggle the mind, and calzones, stuffed oven-baked pizza turnovers, come with three different fillings. I tried the Casa 76, which was generously stuffed with ham, salami, mushrooms and bacon. My only complaint was that the bacon was undercooked for my liking. I have heard enthusiastic reviews of the Calzone Especial with ham, mushrooms and blue cheese. Prices for calzones and pizzas –which come in small, medium and large – range from ¢3,150 to ¢6,900 ($6-13).
Pasta lovers have 11 choices offering an interesting variety, and not one complaint have I heard. The fettucine puttanesca, a great favorite of mine, was delicious, as was the alfredo and del mar with a variety of seafood. A vegan guest ordered the simple spaghetti pomodoro and thoroughly enjoyed it, while the lasagnas and raviolis were all deemed excellent.
I’ve yet to try the pizza, but the talents of chef Jovanni Ramírez, when it comes to pasta and sauces, are certainly worthy of praise. The menu also offers chicken, steak and fish dishes (¢5,250-6,500/$10-12). The former two were fine, but the salmon was excessively salty, and a disappointed diner ate only a few mouthfuls.
The three desserts, panna cotta, ice cream and the traditional tres leches, all ¢1,500 ($2.90), remained unsampled by my crew.
Perhaps the generous portions of pasta and pizza defeated even the heartiest appetites.
Casa 76 has no liquor license, but you are welcome to bring your own, and there is no corkage fee. However, the fresh fruit drinks served in individual jugs are delicious and will sate anybody’s thirst.
Location: On theOld Road
to Santa Ana from Escazú, 200 meters west and 500 meters south of El Estribo Restaurant. Or from the Santa Ana Red Cross, 1.6 kilometers east and 500 meters south.
Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, noon to 9:30 p.m.; Friday to Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. Closed Mondays.
The Little Theatre Group has chosen Casa 76 as the venue for its annual Angel of Love fundraising concert in aid of Hogar Tom & Norman, a home for abandoned old folks in the Caribbean-slope town of Guápiles. The concert will take place Dec. 16 at 2 p.m.
Those attending may sample the restaurant’s offerings before or after the concert. Owner Gilda Sancho says she is delighted to host the concert and is happy to discuss the holding of other events at Casa 76.