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New Success For Former Old Town Faves

Casa de Pico moved to La Mesa.
Courtesy photo

Knowledgeable San Diegans can attest that a large component of the cultural authenticity found at Old Town State Historic Park is the cuisine served at its restaurants. For many years, the trio of eateries comprising restaurateur Diane Powers’ empire—Casa de Bandini, Casa de Pico and Casa Guadalajara—stood out as the popular favorites of the historic property.

In 2005, Powers lost the lease to Casa de Bandini, Casa de Pico and the variety of shops comprising the portion of Old Town known as Bazaar del Mundo. All of the businesses were forced to shut down, leaving Casa Guadalajara, the only venue located outside the Bazaar del Mundo limits, in operation.

News of the closings came as a shock to multitudes of regular patrons who had helped make the restaurants a success. Powers could contend with losing her lease but was in no way ready to surrender the legacy she had worked to establish. She and her staff went to work to reincarnate both restaurants in other areas of San Diego County.

“Our wonderful foundation of employees and our strong customer following made our decision to find new locations to open Casa de Pico and Casa de Bandini very easy,” says Powers.

The decision may have been simple, but finding just the right spots was significantly harder. “The buildings needed to be the right size and have the right look and feel in order to create the atmosphere and ambiance I had so clearly in mind,” says Powers. “The locations had to be able to accommodate my own sort of landscaping with lush gardens and an area for a fountain.”

Casa de Bandini is now in Carlsbad.
Courtesy photo

On top of physical requirements, it was important to Powers that the restaurants be in areas where many of her loyal clientele were located. The first restaurant to undergo a rebirth was Casa de Pico, which touched down on the outer border of La Mesa’s Grossmont Center shopping mall in August 2005 and featured the exact same menu, aesthetic and dynamic as before.

It didn’t take long for veteran customers to catch wind of the move and find that the restaurant’s authentic flavors, made-from-scratch tortillas, salsas and sauces crafted using strictly fresh ingredients (nothing comes from a can), had survived the move intact.

The same can be said for Casa de Bandini, which re-opened at The Forum in Carlsbad in June of this year. The food has kept the place as consistently packed as it was in Old Town (weekend wait times regularly exceed one hour), but Powers says there have been other important aspects to maintaining consistency.

“I’ve also paid great attention to the authentic materials and folk art that I have hand-selected for each restaurant,” says Powers. “These are unique items I’ve collected on my travels to Mexico, not just touristy items thrown on the wall. In fact, many pieces I’ve used are from the 1940s. I’ve had many of these items in storage for a long time…just waiting for the right wall.”

Given that business at both venues has risen to the same level it was in Old Town, it would appear Powers has indeed found the right walls.

“We’ve so appreciated our customers, both locals and visitors, who’ve made it their business to find us in our new locations, make us welcome in these new communities, and continue to patronize and support our restaurants,” says Powers.

Though the result of a less-than-desirable impetus, fans of Powers’ restaurants countywide, particularly those living far from Old Town, now have new options for enjoying those same old flavors.

Details »
  • City: Carlsbad, La Mesa
  • Phone: (760) 634-3443 & (619) 463-3267
  • Address: 1901 Calle Barcelona, 5500 Grossmont Center Drive