The gift store and expanded dining room at La Casita Mexicana in Bell. (Russ Parsons/Los Angeles…)
For years, La Casita Mexicana in Bell has been one of Southern California’s best-loved Mexican restaurants. It’s so popular that customers are willing to stand in line on the weekends for a table.
No more. It’s not the food that’s changed, or the charm of owners Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu. It’s just that very quietly, in the last month, they’ve more than doubled the number of seats.
Imagine -- those amazing chiles en nogada, or pork in pistachio mole, without having to wait.
La Casita, which once seated only 42 (and that’s optimistic), now holds more than 100.
Martin del Campo and Arvizu bought out the barbershop that had stood between the restaurant and their gift shop, La Tiendita Mexicana. Working through the night for more than a week, they converted it into a separate dining room.
“We didn’t close for even one day,” says Martin del Campo. “It was really funny, we’d close at 10 at night, take everything out to parking lot and cover it up. They’d work all night, and then the next morning we’d move everything back in and it looked like nothing ever happened.
“We were hoping to open the new room on Valentine’s Day, and we actually got everything approved on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. All of our friends and family came in and helped us move in the extra tables and get everything ready so we could open in time.”
The room is the same warm orange as the original, with the ceiling draped in fabric that gives it a light, airy feel. The gift shop, which once almost seemed an afterthought, physically separated from the restaurant, is now on display, with folk art, candies and bottled mole made by the restaurant.
On Saturday night, the place was packed, seemingly mostly with locals. Bell has been much in the news over the last few years -- and not for good reasons. The town’s civic corruption scandals have attracted national attention. But the expanded La Casita is giving them something to be proud of.
Martin del Campo takes a philosophical view of the whole situation. "We’ve been here for 14 years and for a long time, when we’d tell people we were in Bell, they’d say 'Bell? What is Bell?'
“Now, after the last three years, everyone knows where Bell is. And now, hopefully, maybe in a good way.”
La Casita Mexicana, 4030 E. Gage Ave., Bell, (323) 773–1898
'Top Chef' recap: Comeback kid Kristen Kish wins
Wendy's gets cozy with new lounge-style fireplaces
'The Taste' recap: L.A.'s Khristianne Uy kicks off-cut butt