By Russ Lay | Outer Banks Voice on April 8, 2019
Woo Casa es su casa.
That’s exactly the feeling Aaron and Katie Wooten wish to convey at their new restaurant, Woo Casa Kitchen, which quietly opened last week in the Outer Banks Mall.
Woo’s home is your home.
The menu is simple and eclectic — and something entirely different.
We’ll get to that later, but for those who don’t know the Wootens, some history will help explain the concept behind the restaurant and the cuisine.
Woo Casa Kitchen’s name might imply a menu torn between Asian and Tex-Mex, but “Woo” is the nickname of Aaron Wooten, who with his wife Katie, are the proud owners of the Outer Banks’ newest restaurant.
“It’s kind of like Woo’s house. He’s the master in the kitchen, he put it all together — the whole menu, even the murals on the wall. It’s his baby.”
Long-time OBX foodies probably know Katie and Aaron on sight, even if you didn’t know their names.
For the last 17 years, Katie has been a fixture at Mama Kwan’s. Katie was likely your server on numerous occasions.
Before that, “when I was a teenager,” Kaies says, she worked at Quagmires, an iconic oceanfront restaurant whose loss has been long lamented by visitors and locals alike.
“Katie trained me as a server there, but I soon moved over to being a bar-back, then a bartender,” Aaron said.
He’s worked all over the beach, including later stints at Kwan’s, Lucky 12 and for the past six years at the Roadside Bar and Grill in Duck.
For several years, Aaron and Katie talked about owning their own restaurant, but the talk began to turn more serious over the last two years, especially after the birth of their daughter, Julien.
“Working late hours bartending takes too much time away from the family, especially with a child at home,” Aaron said.
The result was the decision to take the plunge and open an establishment with daytime hours, leaving the nights free for family time.
The concept evolved from that premise as well as other experiences.
“The basis of the restaurant’s theme came from our travels, especially to Costa Rica, our favorite place. A lot of the inspiration comes from there, along with an Asian flare,” Katie told us.
“We just love the Costa Rican lifestyle, and the food there is just great,” she added.
The menu offerings are where the entire concept of Woo Casa comes together.
“When we talked about opening our own restaurant, I’d say the entire basis was we wanted to be a restaurant where we’d like to go to lunch! This is what we want, this is how we eat, this is how we cook at home, so Woo Casa is really from our home. It’s the Wooten’s house,” Katie said.
“We do a lot of rice bowls at home we do them here. Everything is fresh, nothing is frozen, it’s all colorful, and it’s chopped every day, even the French fries”
And rice bowls form the center of the menu, an item Katie says is “her thing.”
“You’ll see everything on the plate. The kale. The cabbage. We roast the corn with paprika and some spices. We roast the sweet potatoes. Everything is individually roasted and put on the side, but it’s all meant to brought together along with the rice and if you want, some protein,” she said.
“Then we’ll do a pico or mango salsa. When it’s all stirred into the bowl, you’ll experience a full-bodied, earthy, flavorful yet healthy food that is filling, yet doesn’t weigh you down. It’s a nice change from the food world we live in right now — something that’s good, colorful, fresh food.”
While the rice bowls may be the stars right now, Katie and Aaron said their other offerings are also becoming hits in the two short weeks they’ve been open.
Aaron says the tacos — bean, chicken, shrimp or fish — have been a big hit, along with the hand-cut and seasoned Casa fries.
Katie said she was skeptical, since “everyone is doing tacos and fries,” but Aaron was confident the two items would be popular, and repeat customers are proving it was the right call to add the duo to the menu.
The tacos are sold and priced individually, so those with a hearty appetite can order as many as it takes to satisfy that lunchtime appetite. If you need more encouragement, Aaron makes the trip to Wanchese himself to select the fish.
Katie and Aaron said they will be using “as much local seafood as we possibly can” since it is an important component in keeping with the fresh, healthy and flavorful theme Woo Casa wants to execute.
If it’s meat you crave, there are buffalo sliders.
Another menu item that’s already a hit is Banh Mi, a pork dish that hails from Vietnam. They are served as a pair. We took some home as a to-go order and we’ll be back for more.
Aaron marinates the pork for 24 hours in a brine and then another 24 hours in a sauce.
Woo Casa’s wings are a specialty of Aaron’s. They’re Buffalo-style wings that also marinate for 24 hours before hitting the grill.
In fact, other than chips and the Casa Fries, you won’t find fried foods on the menu, another nod to serving healthier fare.
You should also explore the tuna sashimi and poke, steamed clams and shrimp, salads (including a jerk salad). If you want to change it up a bit, just about anything they serve can be put in a wrap.
Breakfast items will be introduced in time, with wraps, fruit bowls, bean bowls and an egg dish that Aaron says will be similar to huevos rancheros.
As is evident from the offerings, vegan choices will be plentiful as virtually all dishes can be enjoyed without the proteins and only vegetable stocks are used in the kitchen.
Woo Casa will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the Wooten’s want folks to know take-out is a major focus, not a side-offering. In fact, they originally envisioned an establishment that was more take-out than dine-in, but when space became available at the Outer Banks Mall, they decided to go with a larger dining area than they had contemplated.
The ambiance is bright and island style, with colorful murals, island tunes, and a playful feeling. You’ll feel right at home in shorts and flip-flops. There is table and bar seating. Beer and wine will be served, but not mixed drinks or cocktails.
“We worked for some of the biggest names out here, Kevin (Cherry) and Kwan (Gray) from Mama Kwan’s, John Kirchmier (Quagmire’s) and we learned from them how to run a restaurant, what to look for, what not to waste. Kevin has helped us answer some of the big questions,” the couple said.
If the early reviews on social media are any indication, Woo Casa is likely to become another OBX icon and a welcome addition to the growing list of establishments that are putting Nags Head on the map as a star in its own right within the greater Outer Banks constellation of restaurant excellence.
You can learn more from their website: woocasakitchen.com/ and the menu can be viewed and take-out ordered on the home page.
Their Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/WOO-CASA-1037276946480242/
You’ll find Woo Casa in the northeast corner of Outer Banks Mall (the portion closest to Outer Banks Hospital) at 5000 S. Croatan Highway (Milepost 14) or you can call them at 252-715-0089.
They are closed on Sunday. Operating hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.