Casita Serves Inventive Mexican in a Sophisticated Space in Sherman Oaks
It’s the whole enchilada.
CategoryEat & Drink
Written byJeffrey Saad
Photographed byAndrea D’Agosto
I have been a chef and restaurant owner in my life—both in San Francisco and here in Studio City with La Ventura. And although I’ve moved on to another profession (real estate), every time I hear about a new restaurant opening my blood starts pumping. For me, the adrenaline is visceral, as if I have skin in the game. Will it be authentic or have an inspiring twist? Will it have any real sense of atmosphere? Will they nail the service? Most importantly, will the food be delicious?
Yellowtail Passionfruit Aguachile
So when I heard the owners of the Valley’s hottest eatery—Taisho—were opening a new venture, I was curious. Taisho, which manages to pack ’em in even on weeknights, is a modern Japanese restaurant that boosts your spirits the moment you walk in the door. The hostess smiles warmly; the bartender remembers you from last time. There is fantastic fare and something else that’s rare for the Valley: sophisticated interiors and a discernably cool vibe.
The new eatery, Casita, serves Mexican fare in the former Pearl District space. Interiors are soothingly pleasant. Rattan light fixtures of different shapes and sizes along with verdant indoor plants hang from the ceiling. The spacious dining room is framed on one side with booths and on the other with a sprawling adobe bar. The most impressive change: The entire street-facing facade has been transformed into a wall of sliding glass. It fully retracts, creating a seamless dining space with tables spilling out onto the elevated patio out front.
Casita’s chef (also a partner), Adam Titze, has cooked his way across the country. Born and raised in the Midwest, he worked at several restaurants in Chicago and then here in LA. He says his goal is “to take classics and do them the best I can with bright pops of flavor and an added twist.” A classic example is his take on flaming Greek saganaki, which he “Mexicanizes” by swapping out the kasseri cheese with panela and flaming it with mezcal instead of brandy. Adding to the drama: It all happens tableside!
The other two owners, Christian Corben and Paul Carroll, have decades of history working together on eateries like Katana, Sushi Roku and BOA Steakhouse. They’ve also collaborated on a couple of restaurants at W Hotels.
They intend to imbue Casita with the warm and friendly vibe that characterizes their other eateries. “We want to be like the TV show Cheers, ‘where everybody knows your name,’” says Christian.
“Just like when we opened Taisho and people said, ‘You’re going to open a sushi bar on Ventura? Are you crazy? There are already so many!’ But like Taisho, Casita will be different. It will have amazing food and hospitality from the heart.”
Above: Christian Corben and Paul Carroll
“We just want everybody to come in and feel like they got a hug,” adds Paul.
The expansive menu ranges from small to large plates and from raw to roasted. “You can come in multiple times a week and have a different dining experience each time,” says Paul.
The aguachile has serrano peppers, yellowtail and lime like the classic version, but in Casita’s twist, the appetizer is steeped in hibiscus and passion fruit and dotted with radish.
Chips arrive in a striking tower formation with four housemade salsas: classic fire-roasted tomato, roja verde, jicama-avocado pico, and habanero ranchero. One of the most impressive entrees is a carnivore’s delight: a tomahawk steak, large enough to be shared. The meat is charred on the outside and cooked to perfection on the inside, sliced and served with a mix of sauces and condiments that allow everyone to create their customized flavor bomb.
When Chef Adam quipped, “Tacos make everything OK,” I could relate. If you share that sensibility, you will be really OK at Casita. The menu includes 10 different versions of tacos including classic lightly fried fish, Wagyu beef and al pastor. There are also vegan choices such as jackfruit carnitas and an Impossible beef taco with nacho cheese made from cashews.
These guys aren’t food snobs, sharing that they aren’t above offering frozen margaritas. But there are some more adventuresome margarita renditions including a passion fruit version with housemade chamoy flavored with Tajin. A strawberry-basil margarita is served with housemade cilantro salt on the glass rim. Other points of interest: an organic avocado margarita in a guajillo chili salt-rimmed glass, and a torched rosemary lemonade with vodka.
As Christian noted, it’s not hard to find Mexican fare in the Valley. There are old-school Mexican restaurants with established followings, and plenty of street-style tacos. What’s exciting about Casita is the double whammy: inspiring Mexican food in a happening atmosphere. You feel like you aren’t just enjoying Mexican favorites; you’re actually experiencing a night out.
Jeffrey Saad is a realtor with Compass and a chef. He and his wife Nadia (also his business partner) live in Sherman Oaks.