Sunday, April 1, 2012

Where to Eat: Authentic Mexican Food @ Casa Azul Cantina

The Eats: Authentic Mexican Food 

The Vibes: A sultry blue

Good for: Regional dishes and margaritas

When-to-Go: Margarita Mondays; Taco Tuesdays; Enchilada Wednesdays; Martini Thursdays; daily evening and late night happy hour; and always great for dinner, no matter the day.

The $ Factor: Not bad; there are enough weekly specials to steal bargains like $3.95 margaritas and $6 nachos. EntrĂ©es average about $20 each. 

The 4-1-1: Chef Vicente Del Rio, who opened the FRIDA restaurants in Beverly Hills and downtown LA, is the mastermind behind Casa Azul. Also, as an FYI, finding street parking around this area is about as difficult as finding a real wife on the Basketball Wives series. Save yourself the headache and head straight to the $6 valet.

I’ll Be Back…: To try the Sopa Azteca

When my friend Jamina and I excitedly mentioned to everyone who would listen to us that we were traveling to Mexico City, we were met with horror stories: “I have a friend got robbed there.” “It’s dangerous.” Blank stares. “Are you sure you want to go?” “My sister’s husband’s cousin’s friend was stabbed while riding the metro down there.” “You have to drive in bullet proof cars or else you’ll get killed.” “Cancel the trip. You'll have lost the money, but you'll have saved your life.”

Needless to say, we were beyond terrified. We contemplated backing out on more than one occasion, but for whatever reason,  our curiosity got the best of us, and we boarded the plane for what might be the end of life as we knew it…

Luckily, what awaited us was a marvelous city, rich with a proud heritage and a brilliant culture. We visited breathtaking sites such as the Teotihuacan pyramids and Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s famous “blue house,” pictured to the left.

And since I have a 500-pound fattie trapped inside of me what I distinctly remember is how good the food was, right from the cheap street snacks down to the gourmet meals in fine dining establishments.

So when Casa Azul Cantina in Westwood opened at the beginning of this year, I eagerly ventured into it, curious to see how it would resemble its namesake and the food I had sampled back in the “D.F.”

While I’d say the restaurant itself looks more like an upscale, trendy LA restaurant than the old, famous house I’d previously visited, I’d confidently say that Casa Azul’s food is right on target with what I tasted on my Mexican vacation. I was transported right back to congested streets, the boisterous noises and splendid sights when I sank my teeth into Casa Azul's fresh, colorfully vibrant, tasty selections.

Below are a few dishes that I've enjoyed, and that I think you’d enjoy, too:

The Guacamole en Molcajete is a must. The serve makes it right in front of you, so you can decide how much avocados, cilantro, tomatoes, chiles and lime juice is just the right amount. Refreshing!

The Tiradito de Hamachi starter has a nice tangy kick to it. Thin slices of yellowtail are saturated with an olive oil, lime juice and ponzu sauce mixture, creating an unusual yet delightful flavor. 

The Gambas al Ajillo appetizer is one of my favorites, by far. These little fellas are extremely plump and flavorful! And, most importantly, you get a ton of them. 

I always say if you can make mean Enchiladas, then you deserve my patronage. Casa Azul’s enchiladas have exactly the right balance of cheeses, zesty green sauce and chicken. 

While I’ve never been a fan of mole – it’s always been too overpowering for me – the Mole Poblano with chicken is beyond delicious. The mole sauce is light and not overbearing at all. In fact, it’s quite rich and creamy, poured on top of tender strips of chicken. 

Desserts, like the crunchy Churros with a caramel dipping sauce go great with a cup of strong coffee. Casa Azul also knows how to make a mean Pastel de Tres Leches (pictured in the background). The cake stays moist without ever becoming too soggy. 

In my opinion, a meal’s never complete without a margarita! Since frozen margaritas are not generally that strong, I was pleasantly surprised that my frozen Jamaica margarita was pretty solid. 

And, while my friend Porscha initially commented that her El Matador was sort of weak, by the time she had finished it and sat for a while, she eventually said that it had sneakily crept up on her. 

So the next time you’re looking for “the real deal” Mexican food in a laid-back yet still sophisticated atmosphere, I highly recommend Casa Azul Cantina. It has a wide variety of dishes that truly reflect the diverse flavors and tastes of Mexico.

Ya lo sabes; nos vemos pronto!

For More Information: Casa Azul Cantina; @CasaAzulCantina 

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