La Casita Mexicana: Learning about Jalisco from Jaime and Ramiro

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Mexican Restaurant Los Angeles

La Casita Mexicana brings unprecedented flair to Bell, a city in South Los Angeles.

Bell never had such a fashionable, ambitious restaurant before La Casita Mexicana. As chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu handcrafted their tiny storefront on Gage Avenue, anticipation built.

They laid Spanish tiles and applied stained-glass windows, creating the façade of a casita, or little house. All along, intrigued locals would stop by and say, “When are you guys going to open?” Down to their last $20, not enough money to advertise, Jaime blanketed the neighborhood with flyers offering 50% off. When La Casita Mexicana opened at 3 PM on February 5, 1999, there was a line down the block.

In Los Angeles, a city with thousands of Mexican restaurants, residents are increasingly driving to Bell, an obscure Hispanic and Arab community southeast of downtown, to experience La Casita Mexicana’s authentic, innovative Mexican food. Don’t expect to find tacos and guacamole, items Jaime says can be found at any stand in the United States. According to Jaime, “People think Mexicans eat only tacos and burritos. I never had a burrito until I came to Los Angeles. This is the real food, what we eat in Mexico.”

Jaime and Ramiro, both Jalisco, Mexico natives, met while working for airlines with neighboring offices in Los Angeles. According to Jaime, “I wasn’t happy at the airline. Cooking was my passion. I was ready for the weekends to come so I could cook.” In 1998, Garuda Airlines downsized and Jaime was finally free to pursue his dream of opening a restaurant. He enlisted Ramiro to join him in opening La Casita Mexicana in Bell, a familiar area where rent was cheap. They chose the name to represent their home-style, pan-Mexican cuisine and decor.

Mexican Restaurant Los Angeles

Jaime and Ramiro painted the walls brilliant orange and blue.

Mexican Restaurant Los Angeles

A three-dimensional mural represents popular Mexican produce.

Everything at La Casita Mexicana is made from scratch, with many ingredients brought from Mexico. Jaime and Ramiro grow several herbs and vegetables themselves, in home gardens (such as these epazote and yerba santa leaves).

The menu changes according to what’s in season. Jaime sums up their approach: “Good food takes time to cook…We make each dish one at a time. It’s the only way to make fresh food.”

Jaime and Ramiro take at least two trips a year to Mexico to continue to learn about Mexican cooking.

Moles are Mexican sauces that can blend over 40 ingredients (including several varieties of chiles, nuts, seeds and sometimes chocolate) and are typically described as “complex.” Each night at La Casita Mexicana, all six cooks pitch in to make the next day’s moles in the restaurant’s tiny kitchen. The restaurant offers six moles: chipotle, green, white, poblano, green pepian and red pepian.

Mexican Food Los Angeles

Last November, Jaime and Ramiro traveled to Puebla, “the cradle of mole,” and brought back a recipe for white mole.

In Mexico, white mole is known as mole de novia, bride’s mole, and is reserved for weddings. Poured over chicken and shredded pork at La Casita Mexicana, the silky sauce blends pumpkin seeds, peanuts, white chocolate, almonds, pine nuts, and various chiles. Jaime claims it can’t be found at another restaurant north of the border. La Casita Mexicana serves white mole on weekends.

Mexican Food Los Angeles

Green mole uses Serrano chiles in season, spicy arbol chiles other times. Pepian features roasted pumpkin seeds, or pepitas.

Moles are so ingrained in La Casita Mexicana that Poblano, red and green pepian all find their way onto the complimentary basket of tortilla chips that begins each meal.


La Casita Mexicana: Learning about Jalisco from Jaime and Ramiro


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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