Casa de Bandini: Best Mexican Restaurant 2009

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Take a stunningly attractive woman; add a pinch of class, a dash of style and a whole lot of cooking skills and what do you get? Diane Powers famous Casa de Bandini Mexican Restaurant

No matter how far you have to travel to get to this place, no matter how busy you are, make time. Why? Because not only is the food priced right but where can you go to get this sort of atmosphere? This place has won so many awards and we are proud to announce it has won yet another… the QuadW 5 diamond award for dining excellence!

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With that being said, we are proud to showcase one of the finest restaurants in Encinitas and we are honored that Diane Powers accepted our invitation for an interview.

Best of Encinitas: What was your deciding factor to move to the The Forum in Carlsbad, Calif?

  • Diane Powers: Customer requests on our customer comment cards and finding the ideal location and building.

    Best of Encinitas: Your restaurant sounds like you put a lot of time and effort into making it orginal. So many custom things. What one thing would you say you are most proud of in the design?

    Diane Powers:  How all the details and colors came together to create a unique, authentic and warm glowing ambiance.

    Best of Encinitas: What is your favorite dish on your menu? What is the one thing that if you were coming for the first time you just “have to try”?


    Diane Powers:  Enchiladas Del Mar – crab, shrimp and pescado blanco enchilada in a savory creamy jalapeno sauce served with arroz Amarillo and black beans.

    Best of Encinitas: Mariachis! This is always a special touch. Do they play only at certain times?

    Diane Powers:  Our group of mariachis perform five nights a week – Wed. thru Sun., from 6 to 9 p.m.

    Best of Encinitas: :Who was your designer?

    Diane Powers:  I’m an interior designer by profession, I designed it myself.

    Best of Encinitas: Diane, you have such fine taste and it is clear why people will just book  Casa de Bandini solid? Is there better times to come than others?

    Diane Powers: The earlier the better. For instance, before 6:30 p.m. since the most popular time for dinning is between 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.  For lunch, we open at 11:oo a.m. and the restaurants most popular lunch hours are 12:00 to 1:30 so most times before or after the traffic is lighter. However, we do serve cocktails in a gorgeous and comfortable outdoor area around our fountain and also in or bar.

    Best of Encinitas: I noticed on your menu that you list the calorie count, the carb count and more in the “heathly eating” section. You also serve breakfast as well and even a kids menu. Is there “not on the menu” items that people could ask for? Diane, we know you have something special the the general public is not aware… we’re friends… what should I ask my server for?

    Diane Powers:  Yes, we have traditional spicy Mexican carrots and chilis, extra spicy “Hot” sauce on request. We also can modify several items upon request. Our customers have often requested the cheese crisp special that we offer in our other restaurants, Casa de Pico (La Mesa) and Casa Guadalajara (Old Town), so very soon we will be adding this item to our Bandini menu.


    Best of Encinitas: How did you get your start Diane?  How did Casa De Bandini’s concept get started?

    Diane Powers: My original Casa de Bandini restaurant was opened in 1980 in the Old Town State Historic Park in a historic adobe built in 1829 by Juan Bandini. This structure was one block from my Bazaar del Mundo Shopping and restaurant complex. I made a proposal to the State Park to develop this empty, run-down building for a beautiful, elegant Mexican restaurant. New life and vitality was brought to this old building and we created one of the most popular Mexican restaurants in California which has won many awards and international recognition.

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    A LITTLE HISTORY:

    For 25 years, one of San Diego’s more familiar sights was the long line of locals and visitors awaiting their traditional Mexican “fix” at the historic adobe built in 1829 that housed Diane Powers’ popular restaurant in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

    In June, 2005, the eatery, along with Bazaar del Mundo, lost its lease for the property in the Park, much to the disappointment of its faithful clientele.

    “We’re thrilled to be open again,” said proprietor Diane Powers. “And we are ready to welcome our long-time patrons, along with the new ones our Carlsbad location will surely attract.”

    As always, Casa de Bandini guests will dine under color-drenched umbrellas in beautiful outdoor patios and enjoy the famous giant margaritas on the restaurant’s intimate sidewalk patio. Indoors, guests will enjoy the cozy dining rooms, alive with fine Mexican folk art and hand-painted walls — capturing much of the flavor of the former location.

    Mariachis will entertain Wednesday through Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m.

    In The Forum, Powers’ trademark style once again enhances the charm of Mexican décor that contributed to Bandini’s original success. Back are comfortable equipale chairs and hand-wrought iron railing and gates; the colorful, hand-woven Zapotec fabric covers; and a charming hand-carved stone fountain framed by a large Talavara-tiled pool. The addition of Powers’ antique cantina cabinet from the early 1900s and stained glass doors — reclaimed from the former Casa de Bandini — complete the effect.

    Using the freshest ingredients and a multitude of sauces to make the unforgettable authentic regional cuisine, Casa de Bandini’s menu showcases past favorites as well as innovative new entrees, celebrated seafood dishes and several healthy choice options (with calorie and nutritional information), a children’s menu and, of course, the same frothy, frosty, giant margaritas that have become a staple at each of Powers’ restaurants — Casa de Pico in La Mesa and Casa Guadalajara in Old Town.

    Earlier, in 1971, on the site of a rundown Casa de Pico motel, which was languishing in a dilapidated courtyard in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, designer Powers dared to undertake a legendary transformation. She leased the property from the state to create what would become the Bazaar del Mundo, eventually a leading Southwest tourist destination and the most successful concession in the California State Park system.

    DianeAfter 34 years, Powers lost the lease for the property and immediately planned the design and development for her new signature dining and retail establishments.

    Powers graduated college with honors, earning a B.A. in design from San Diego State University. In 1968, she bought renowned designer Ilse Ruocco’s firm and began extensive travels throughout Mexico and other Latin American countries, gaining insight, understanding and a passion for Latin American culture. It was then that the inspiration for a Mexican attraction began, as she imagined combining the country’s cuisine, arts and crafts, landscape and architecture into what became one of San Diego’s top three visitor destinations.

    Responding successfully to a California State Park Request for Proposals for a “Mexican–inspired Shopping Environment,” Powers converted the rambling rooms of the Motel into a labyrinth of exotic specialty shops and charming restaurants.  To create a vivid ambiance, she landscaped with a profusion of flowers and plants and added a variety of artistic and soothing fountains. The result of the metamorphosis was one of San Diego’s most vibrant retail enterprises; it had become the largest 100 percent woman-owned business in San Diego, and Powers became the head of one of the nation’s top 500 woman-owned businesses.

    Over the years, Powers’ Bazaar del Mundo has been credited for attracting Old Town’s more than six million visitors annually — an accomplishment that warranted her being inducted into the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau’s (ConVis) Visitor Industry Hall of Fame in 2001. (The Hall was established in 1999 to recognize individuals who have made significant lifelong contributions to the community and the local hospitality industry.)

    In 2002, Powers received the Finest Service Award from ConVis for individual visitor services. The Bazaar’s annual Latin American Festival was named one of the “Top 100 Events in North America” by the American Bus Association in 2001. In 2000, Powers received a Living Legacy Award from the non-profit Women’s International Center and was named one of the year’s “Working Woman 500″ by the national Working Woman magazine. Other awards for Powers include the 1997 “Woman Business Owner of the Year” by the San Diego Chapter of the National Association of Woman Business Owners; the 1996 “Best Multicultural Tourism Program” from the California Department of Tourism; the 1994 “Entrepreneur of the Year” for her contributions to tourism by the California Tourism Industry Association; and the 1994 “Total Excellence in Management” award from the San Diego Business Journal.

    Restaurants Casa de Bandini (now open at The Forum in Carlsbad, Calif.), Casa de Pico (now in Grossmont Center in La Mesa, Calif.) and Casa Guadalajara (in Old Town in San Diego) have earned numerous awards, including:

    Casa de Bandini:
    •    ”Best Mexican Restaurant” from The San Diego Union-Tribune Readers Poll in 2002
    •    Gold Medallion Award, “Best Mexican Restaurant” from the San Diego Restaurant Association in ‘90, ’92, ’94, ’97, ’03 and ‘04
    •    “Finest Service Award” from the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau in 1999

    Casa de Pico:
    •    “Best Mexican” from San Diego Magazine’s Best Restaurant’s of San Diego annual readers poll in 2008’
    •    “50 Best Hispanic Restaurants” in the nation by Hispanic magazine in 2004 and 2005
    •    ”Best Margarita” from San Diego Magazine’s “Best of San Diego” readers’ poll in 1998

    Casa Guadalajara:
    •    “Hot 150 Restaurants” by San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles magazine in 2009
    •    “Award of Excellence” by Zagat Surveys in 2008
    •    First prize for “Cold Mixed Plate,” “Seafood Combo” and “Hot Fish” at the Ensenada International Seafood Fair in 2002, as well as several second place honors

    Today, Bazaar del Mundo Shops and Casa Guadalajara reflect Powers’ design expertise, her love of brilliant color and adherence to the spirit of the Latin American marketplace. Powers has traveled throughout the world to acquire unusual merchandise for the shops and decor for her restaurants, as well as impressive artifacts for the gorgeous courtyard and exterior environment.

    Design Center Inc., the business she long-ago purchased from Ilse Ruocco, is located adjacent to the Shops on Taylor Street. The business has developed a unique signature image, with many of her projects featured in local and national publications.

    Powers has served on civic boards including the Old Town Chamber of Commerce Business Improvement District, the San Diego Restaurant Association, the California Parks Hospitality Association and the Golden State Concessionaires Association.

    Previously, she served as a board member of the Mingei International Folk Art Museum and the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau. Powers has also served as a consultant to the San Diego Historical Society and the Santa Barbara Historical Society.

    For more information about catering or private and/or group reservations call 760-634-3443 or visit www.casadebandini.com. Casa de Bandini will be open daily Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is located at 1901 Calle Barcelona Carlsbad, Calif. 92009

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