99 Essential Restaurants 2014

La Casita Mexicana

photo by Anne Fishbein

Part of the fun of eating at La Casita Mexicana is seeing what chefs Jaime Martín del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu come up with. These clever guys constantly work on new ideas, from experimental moles (blackberry, white chocolate) to innovative desserts (recently a voluptuous rice pudding folded with whipped cream and cajeta). But you really go here to eat classic Mexican food, rooted in the cooking of their mothers and grandmothers in the state of Jalisco. You shouldn’t miss their chiles en nogada: poblano chiles stuffed with meat, nuts, candied cactus and dried fruit, topped with a creamy nut sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. It sets the standard for this dish here and rivals what you get in Puebla, where chiles en nogada originated. And L.A. offers no more beautiful place to eat such food. The bright colors and traditional accents will make you dream of romantic Old Mexico, if such a place ever existed. The restaurant opens into a shop packed with artesanías, candies and jars of the chefs’ own mole poblano. Look also for its café de olla — spiced ground coffee — and salts flavored with either chipotle or morita chiles.

-- Barbara Hansen