The most frustrating aspect of covering restaurants is my inability to eat where I want, since a good chunk of my career revolves around what’s new or upcoming. Proven winners would make my regular rotation, if such a thing existed. Weekly sojourns to reasonably priced restaurants like Elena’s Greek Armenian Cuisine and Spicy BBQ would certainly take place. So would trips to La Casita Mexicana, which is probably the most well-rounded Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. A chance encounter with chef-owners Jaime Martin Del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu at Street Food Mondays led to yet another trip to Bell, and this time, it was for breakfast, a meal that I’d never had the pleasure of enjoying at La Casita, until now.
My arrival coincided with the filming of their weekly cooking segment for Univision’s “Primera Edición” morning show. Martin Del Campo and Arvizu are beloved in L.A.’s Latin community, and as the Jalisco natives delve deeper into their native culture, their influence continues to grow. So does their need to share. They now own La Tiendita Mexicana, a colorful store two doors down from La Casita Mexicana that sells rarely seen Mexican provisions.
After filming, the duo invited me to join them at La Casita Mexicana for breakfast, where we shared a number of small plates with children from their cooking class, plus the childrens’ parents. Every meal at LCM begins with complimentary house-made tortilla chips drizzled with a trio of addictive moles: Poblano, pepian and verde. The chefs divulged the core ingredients of their spicy, flame-red salsa: tomatillo, roasted chile de arbol and pumpkin seeds.
We split four small samples of Los famosos “Chilaquiles” ($8.99 for a full order) all involving salty crumbles of cotija, silky crema, red onion and crispy tortilla chips. We started with Rojos, a milder option lavished with tomato and Cascabel salsa. A 12-year-old at the table compared La Casita Mexicana ‘s salsa roja to the Buffalo wing sauce from Domino’s. Not exactly the ideal “compliment” to pay chefs who have been working almost daily for the past 12 years to perfect their salsas in Bell. It’s a good thing they’re so nice.
My taste buds typically crave bold, aggressive flavors, and Martin Del Campo and Arvizu certainly have some of those in their repertoire. Chilaquiles CHIPOTLE STYLE were the spiciest variety, with lingering chile heat.
La Casita Mexicana also makes chilaquiles with two types of pepian, and Martin Del Campo described chilaquiles blanco involving four kinds of Mexican cheeses, milk and dried chilies. Many of their specials are elusive. It took years before I finally encountered their blackberry mole, but I’m hopeful to one day time my visit right and find chilaquiles blanco on the specials board.
The humble omelette, known in Spanish as Torta de Huevo ($8.99), isn’t a dish I normally would have ordered. Thankfully, Martin Del Campo took the initiative. We split two varieties, including “La Jalisciense” filled with crumbly chorizo and queso fresco and topped with equal parts of salsa verde and salsa roja. Torta de Huevo “La Casita Mexicana” was similar in texture – surprisingly fluffy and light – but filled with nopales and mushrooms. In both cases, the red onion and herbs added texture and complexity.
Admittedly, combining the eggs with the beans didn’t immediately make sense, but I took the chefs’ lead, loading both into a steaming, fresh-pressed tortilla and spooning on some house salsa.
Of course an earning morning breakfast wouldn’t have been complete without coffee. The chefs provided café de olla, which centers on coffee that Martin Del Campo and Arvizu import from Veracruz, served with a plate of cinnamon-dusted chunks of brown sugar.
Since La Casita Mexicana always satisfies, it was no surprise that breakfast also worked out well. Near the end of the meal, Martin Del Campo gave more reasons to return. He said that based on recent travels to Mexico, they’re looking to introduce mole from Veracruz with a base of apples and bananas, plus cacao flan. It looks like I’m bound to become a regular after all.