Already familiar with the burritos and salsas of places such as La Salsa and Titos Tacos, I was eager to experience authentic Mexican cuisine. Not that there is anything wrong with the oily creations of beans and cheese, but I had the feeling these were mass produced to appeal to the tastes of unsuspecting Americans. Stumbling upon one particular episode of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown on the Foodnetwork, I saw the owners of La Casita Mexicana, two brothers with sunny personalities, cook what they said was a traditional Mexican dish: the chile relleno. I was embarrassed to discover that I had never heard of it, as there is no greater sin, in my mind, than to be ignorant of culinary authenticity. They explained that one of the aims, besides making great food, was to represent true Mexican cuisine, and to dispel the myth that it is greasy and unhealthy. Authentic, healthy food is all I need to convince me to try it.
I was lucky to already be in California at the time, so I ventured down into a rather remote part of Los Angeles, which is probably why there were so few people at dinner hour. The walls were painted a messy yellow color that I loved (and would mind on my own walls). I ordered lemonade with chia seeds, which proved to be a refreshing, not-too-sweet drink, and we were brought a basket of chips covered in mole sauce. I had never had mole before, and this was the perfect place to try it first. With 46 ingredients and a recipe that is unique to the family, it was intense, nutty, and had a chocolate undertone (not sweet, but not bitter either). It was one of those things that fill you instantly even though you feel like you haven’t eaten a lot.
As a main course I ordered the mushroom and cactus chile relleno (stuffed pepper), a dish that every kitchen in Mexico makes in its own way, which was preceded by a creamy tomato soup with rice in it. I was eager to taste the cacti, which are harvested on a cactus farm close by. It had a nice texture that absorbed all of the other fresh flavors and complemented the mushrooms very well. The dish itself was quite spicy, which I enjoy, but after a big piece of the chile skin alone, my mouth was flaming (in a good way, of course).
A friend sitting across from me had the three mole enchiladas with cheese. The three different types of mole each had its own unique nutty flavor, one almost tasting like pistachio. While we were waiting for dessert, a group of mariachi came in, and one in particular tried desperately, with no avail, to make me admit there was some birthday or special event we were all celebrating so he could perform for us. None of the others had any success either, and they came out of the restaurant empty-handed. Mouthwatering churros with melted centers surrounded by crispy cinnamon outsides came to our table, along with guavas in eggnog liquor. We also tried the flan, and although it wasn’t my favorite of the three, it had a dense texture with a flavor that wasn’t too sweet. After a evening well spent savoring authentic Mexican cuisine, we left with our postcard and a sense that we would be coming back in the future.