By Kathy Ritchie | Photo by Paul Markow
When you’ve been around as long as La Cocina de Casillas — a.k.a. the Burger House — you have to wonder: What’s the secret? After all, 36 years is a long time.
“It’s just a good location on the 60,” says owner and manager Derek Casillas with a laugh.
Actually, there’s a lot more to the restaurant’s success than its location, and Casillas, who’s been running his family’s business since the 1990s, is the first to admit it.
“I give all the credit to my mom,” he says. “She started it and worked the long hours … she still does the books.”
Before Casillas took over the restaurant’s day-to-day operations, his father, Jesús, and his brother, Bob, manned the kitchen. These days, it’s Casillas who comes in around 3:45 a.m. to start cooking and prepping for the day ahead.
“It’s a lot of work,” he laments. “The first year I started, I wanted to quit, but I stuck it out.”
It’s almost noon in the tiny mining town of Miami, and the line is already out the door. Inside, the line moves fast. Clearly, folks here know what they want before they reach the register. Most of the booths are filled with people who are digging into plates that overflow with burritos or burgers, rice and beans, and red and green chile. The smell of Mexican food permeates the dining room.
Perhaps harking back to the days when La Cocina was better known (and still is) as the Burger House, Casillas still serves up hamburgers. And if you’re hungry, try the Burger Olay: a double cheeseburger smothered in a savory green-chile sauce. Another favorite: the french fries, which are covered in a red- or green-chile sauce, sprinkled with cheese and baked for maximum ooey-gooey satisfaction. It’s the perfect fuel before embarking on a long drive to the White Mountains or anywhere else you might be headed.
If you’re a Mexican-food purist, try one of Casillas’ tacos or one of his hearty burritos. The beef used in both offerings is prepared fresh daily, which is one of the reasons Casillas hoofs it to his kitchen so early. He also adds a blend of spices, like his mother and grandmother did. The burritos are impressive, but if you’re anything like a former Arizona Highways staffer who would roll his eyes at the mere mention of a burrito, Casillas also serves his burritos “enchilada style.”
The perfect compromise.
Casillas takes pride in the food he dishes out. Almost everything that goes on a plate is homemade. What gives him the most satisfaction is knowing that the business he inherited from his mother, father and brother continues to provide for the entire family.
“That’s what keeps me going,” he says. “That’s what it’s all about.”
La Cocina de Casillas (the Burger House) is located at 812 Live Oak Street in Miami. For more information, call 928-473-9918.