On Friday, I ran into the always-uplifting Jaime Martin del Campo at East LA Meets Napa, where he was acting charitable for AltaMed Health Services. La Casita Mexicana co-owner Ramiro Arvizu was back in Bell, manning their restaurant. Jaime tipped me off about the impending pumpkin blossom season, saying to swing by their restaurant for some unique dishes made with blossoms. Considering La Casita Mexicana is the best Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles, this wasn’t exactly a hard sell.
Jaime and Ramiro just defeated an Iron Chef on “Throwdown with Bobby Flay.” Maybe it was their “Throwdown” victory, but La Casita Mexicana was especially festive. Mariachis played, people laughed and Jaime greeted friends and admirers. The duo has developed a following by appearing weekly on Univision, where they dispense advice on how to save money in the kitchen.
The four of us started with obligatory bowls of fresh tortilla chips slathered with burgundy-hued mole Poblano, pepian verde made with Serrano chiles and burnt-orange pepian rojo. Spicy burnt-orange salsa was an added dipping option.
Jaime prepared three dishes for us using the pumpkin blossoms, beginning with elote (sweet corn) tamales mixed with tomato and strewn with cilantro. The delicate, fragrant blossoms paired well with the just-picked corn and sweet masa.
The tamales and quesadillas were excellent, but the best pumpkin blossom dish turned out to be the mind-blowing enchiladas. Tortillas contained sweet cream and corn kernels. They were blanketed with sweet tomato sauce and topped with crumbles of queso fresco.
We ate three pumpkin blossom courses, then hit reboot on our stomachs. Queso Azteca was a firm four-cheese slab studded with mushrooms, Poblano chilies, nopales (cactus paddles) and epazote. We made tacos with steaming tortillas and drizzled them with spicy red salsa.
Jaime and Ramiro won their Chile Relleno “Throwdown” with a vegetarian version, which is terrific, but I actually prefer the Chile Nogada. The blistered Poblano chile came smothered with pecan cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. It was filled with seasoned ground beef, dried fruit, walnuts and candied cactus. Even the rice is sensational, studded with carrots and peppers and flavored with chicken stock.
We drank sweet pineapple-cactus aguas frescas and large glasses of tart lemonade with sinkers of chia seeds.
It’s always worth the drive to Bell to eat at La Casita Mexicana, but thanks to Jaime, his pumpkin blossoms and the friends we brought, this was a truly special dining experience.