Throughout the year, Restaurant Editor Bill Addison will travel the country to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
Los Angeles and Southern California are of course rampant with Mexican restaurants of every variety—stands and trucks doling out transcendent tacos; corner mom-and-pops serving Oaxacan tlayudas, smoky grilled fish dishes from Sinaloa, lamb barbacoa and kid goat roasted on a spit. I crave the true flavors of Mexico probably more than any other cuisine, since stellar renditions are so hard to find in most of the country.
In researching Mexican restaurants, arrows kept pointing to La Casita Mexicana in Bell, a working-class town of 40,000 about seven miles south of downtown L.A. Chef-owners Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu have roots in the tequila-producing state of Jalisco. Both were working in the airline industry when they met in the 1990s. They opened La Casita Mexicana in 1998 as a tribute to their grandmothers and traditional Mexican cooking. Apparently it took even the Mexican-American locals some time to embrace the regional specialties on the menu at La Casita; the restaurant took to dabbing tortilla chips with cocoa-colored mole to lure patrons toward the kitchen's kaleidoscopic flavors. It became a signature welcoming bite.