By Gary Nager

Photos by Jayne Baker & Matt Wiley

OK, so there’s no doubt that a lot of us — including yours truly — were sad to see Sushi Tsu Japanese Steakhouse close its doors in the same Shoppes of Amberly plazain Tampa Palms as our office earlier this year. But, I was definitely intrigued by the idea of an upscale Mexican restaurant coming in to replace it.

And, in the less than two months that it’s been open, I have to say that I am definitely enjoying getting to know Casa Ramos and owner Mateo Ramos, who is the chief operatring officer of a company that operates more than 40 Azteca and Casa Ramos restaurants, primarily on the west coast of the U.S.

According to Casa Ramos’ company website, Mateo’s uncle José (Pepe) Ramos grew up in Cuautla, Mexico, a small farm village in the Central Mexico state of Jalisco, where his father owned a grocery store.

With a few pesos in his pocket and unable to speak a word of English, Pepe arrived in Seattle WA, in 1973 to begin work as a dishwasher in his cousin’s restaurant. From dishwasher to cook to chef, Ramos also worked hard at learning English. After saving $1,000, and with his cousin’s blessing, Ramos opened a small, 24-seat restaurant in Burien, a suburb of Seattle, in 1974.

Ramos eventually was able to bring the rest of his family to the U.S., which helped the family open additional restaurants, most of which, until the opening of this Casa Ramos, have been called Azteca, including several restaurants which Mateo opened in Orlando, Winter Haven, Davie and New Smyrna Beach.

Today, Mateo says, more than 1,400 Azteca and Casa Ramos employees have become an important part of the Ramos family. “Anyone can serve good food at a fair price,” he says. “But, not everyone can do it with love the way we do at Casa Ramos.”

And, as I said before, I am enjoying exploring both the menu and the inviting décor of this full-premium-liquor bar, where the servers only have four tables in their stations and the service, at least the days and times I’ve been there, is definitely exemplary..

I started with my usual first visit steak fajitas, which are made of delicious, tender flank steak, made sizzling to my medium rare specifications and served over a huge bed of sautéed onions and green peppers, with Mexican rice or white rice, black beans, refried or Rancho (cholesterol-free) beans, pico do gallo, sour cream, guacamole, cheddar cheese and corn or flour tortillas.

Huge portions are to be expected at Casa Ramos, from the award-winning Azteca nachos, which our entire office loved on a more recvent visit, to the quesadilla, burritos, enchiladas, tacos, tostadas and especially, the must-be-shared combination plates. My favorite combo to date is the carne asada y mojo combo, which combines your choice of carne asada steak or chicken, topped with the robust spice of a big grilled jalapeno pepper and accompanied by a nice-sized serving of grilled shrimp and mushrooms served with garlic and crushed red pepper butter. I’m allergic to the shrimp, but the sauce is amazing, and anyone visiting Casa Ramos with me will get to enjoy all of the shrimp if we share this immense platter.

Another shrimp dish Mateo says is among the most popular at Casa Ramos is Camarones Monterey, which are cliantro-and-garlic-marinated extra large shrimp wrapped in bacon, baked and served fajita style. I also definitely plan to sample the marinated lamb shank with a marinade sauce, pico de gallo, avocados and rancho beans, with corn or flour tortillas.

Also highly recommended for more authentic tastes is the Plato Mexicano, which combines taquitos ranchero, carne asada skirt steak, a chile relleno and a Jalisco-style (filled with jack cheese and dipped in a sauce of mild chiles. You’ll even find burgers, salads and “Vegi-Mex” dishes on Casa Ramos’ extensive menu. And, you can definitely taste the cilantro in the homemade salsa.

And, save room for dessert, because Casa Ramos has an amazingly decadent fried ice cream, topped with chocolate or strawberry sauce that is big enough for four people to share. Seriously.

Casa Ramos also can provide catering platters for your football and other parties. Check out the $49.95 fiesta platter on the back of the menu & you’ll probably end up ordering it.

Casa Ramos has awesome Happy Hour specials served 3 p.m.-6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.-close every day. It includes 2-for-1 premium house margaritas, homemade sangria, imported and domestic draft beers and well drinks, as well as half-price appetizers and other food specials.

Casa Ramnos (15363 Amberly Dr.) opens every day at 11 a.m. for lunch and dinner. For more information, call 977-2266 or visit


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