Kid Hit Menu Items: Enchiladas at Casita Mexicana are likely to please, and they can be prepared a variety of ways. The waitress was very accommodating with Sophie, the seven-year-old in our group, making sure the components were how she liked them. Sophie was pleased with the cotija cheese enchiladas with chicken on the side, and especially the potato wedges (“These are SO good!”). Rice is silky smooth, and chips with a trio of delicious moles are also available without, in case a little bit of spice is a problem. I think it would be rare to find a kid who’s not into a cooled down queso fundido and the noodle soup that comes with entrees. Lemonade with chia seeds is fresh and not too sweet, and they’ll serve it in a covered plastic cup. Plus there’s fresh homemade tortillas, which have a variety of consumable and distractable (i.e. baby likes the feel) uses.
Adult Perks: Crowds come for the deep, intricate specialties by chefs Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin del Campo. The famed chile en nogada is a simple and bold composition, with an outer chile that still holds some bite, subtle and sweet pecan cream sauce, ground meat studded combined, walnuts, candied cactus, and dried fruits, finished with a sprinkle of tartly sweet pomegranate seeds. The La Casita chile relleno is loaded with clean flavors from mushrooms and nopales, which I love in any form — other than in its untouched state, naturally.
Pros: Friendly staff and the highly affable chefs/owners are welcoming. The interior is brightly colored and festive, with cheerful tile work, Colonial paintings, wall-mounted fruit and vegetable sculptures, and lots of press clippings and certificates/proclamations.
Cons: The restaurant has a wider front area, and it narrows towards the back to share space with the kitchen. Because of its size and popularity, Casita Mexicana is best enjoyed as a daytime (it’s open for breakfast, too) or early dinner place, or at least until the expansion happens.
Changing Station: No. I used a bench out front, but ONLY because the table in the window was empty at the time and there were no onlookers.
High Chairs: Yes. In fact, Isaac did so great in the industrial plastic high chair that we joked about the folks at Stokke “laughing all the way to the krone bank,” since lately he refuses to sit in the Tripp Trapp.
Parking and Access: Free street parking in front which is plentiful during the week. Given the City of Bell’s recent scandals, it’s either a very good or bad thing that the spaces aren’t revenue-generating.
Other Tidbits: Before Bell became known for public financial misdeeds — I believe “the epicenter of civic corruption” is a phrase I heard on the radio in reference to this challenged community — La Casita Mexicana made it a major food destination. And even though it was just me and the baby meeting some friends, trips along the industrial spine of Los Angeles appeal to my toddler’s transportation obsession and my love of industrial landscapes. Exit the 710 (which is such a white-knuckling freeway — all those trucks!) at Atlantic/Bandini Boulevard, and pass the FedEx facility, and then cross a series of train tracks. Or cruise along Soto for some truly outstanding examples of WPA Moderne, Art Deco, Googie, commercial vernacular, and other architectural styles. (Because I still can’t help but take pictures of buildings as if I’m working on an historic survey, see below for a couple of examples.) Casita Mexicana’s particular stretch of Gage Avenue isn’t entirely dissimilar from other streets that read like relics of Henry Huntington‘s streetcar suburbs, such as say, parts of Venice Blvd. Maybe it’s the mixed zoning, wide lanes, low-slung structures that range from 1920s buildings to strip malls, and inconsistent occupancy. Needless to say, Casita Mexicana is a buzzing spot on an otherwise somewhat quiet block filled with modest small businesses.
Bonus: Ramiro and Jaime are raising awareness of food and health issues affecting children via their Univision television appearances, which feature their cooking classes for kids and visits to local farms. (Check out Noah Galuten’s LA Weekly Squid Ink piece.) I asked the chefs about it, they told me how incredibly excited the kids were to be there. “Oh my god, they LOVED it,” Ramiro said. Even though the first session started at 5 a.m. Awesome work, guys!
4030 East Gage Ave., Bell
Hours: Daily 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. Amazing building on Gage Ave. near Casita Mex. Wonder if Calco Tile being in nearby South Gate has anything to do with this decorative tile work. This photo doesn’t do the Sears complex justice. Someday someone better figure out a viable use for it.