By Jill Weinlein, 8/16/2012
In the late 50s, Marlon Brando and Cary Grant used to leave the studio after a day of filming and step into Casa Vega for authentic Mexican food and delicious margaritas. Located on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, now you will find Ryan Seacrest and the Kardashian family slipping inside to nibble on chunky guacamole with warm chips and a skinny margarita with Partida tequila with fresh lime and agave nectar.
Rafael “Ray” Vega opened Casa Vega in 1956. His mother worked as the original hostess and his father was the bartender. His parents had operated Café Caliente on Olvera Street.
Ray’s daughter, Christina Vega Fowler, now runs the restaurant. In 2010, the Bravo television show, “Flipping Out” did a makeover on this landmark. Many of the regular customers begged Christina not to take down the original artwork. They liked the kitschy decorations from Olvera St. Other guests insisted she keep the interior dark and cozy inside. Regulars such as Heather Locklear, Mark Walberg and Avril Lavine like to sit in a dark corner booth with their family and friends. Christina did allow the Bravo show to update the exterior of the entrance and hostess/waiting area. The one story white exterior with arches and red tile roof remain.
She continues to offer the tried and true dishes that the loyal fans adore, and has included some healthier options. There is no lard or MSG used in any dish. She orders cage-free chickens, natural Angus beef and Maine lobster. Most of the ingredients are locally sourced with all the suppliers from California and the West Coast.
Christina has incorporated more salads and vegetarian options on the menu. Unless you have severe dietary restrictions, you will find something tasty to enjoy at Casa Vega.
We started with a skinny margarita. It’s made with Agave, a natural substitute for sugary simple syrup. It offers about 20 percent fewer calories with a shot of club soda. The other popular cocktail at Casa Vega is the sparkling organic blood orange margarita.
If you have never experienced Casa Vega, start with the hand chopped guacamole. It’s one of the best in Southern California with fresh Haas avocados, pico de gallo, cilantro, fresh lime juice, a pinch of course salt and tiny bits of jalapeno. Another favorite is the tortilla soup. It’s the same recipe from the 1950s. The clear broth has shredded chicken, avocado, cotija cheese and thin tortilla strips.
The healthier chopped taco salad offers grilled chicken breast with black beans, avocado, tomatoes, red onions, jack and cheddar cheese on top of Romaine and iceberg lettuce. Ask for the house dressing with vinegar, oil and orange juice. It is less caloric than the creamier dressings and is zesty in flavor.
For entrées, you can’t go wrong with the lobster enchiladas. The chef fills corn tortillas with garlic and lemon marinated lobster, salsa verde, guacamole and sour cream. They also serve crab and shrimp enchiladas with Spanish rice and beans.
Be sure to order one of their specialties: pollo en mole. Half of a grilled chicken arrives simmering in a luscious, dark mole sauce with sesame seeds and red onions. It’s heavenly if you wrap the chicken in a warm flour or corn tortilla.
They offer the traditional egg custard caramel flan and churros with a vanilla filling sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. For those watching calories, a dish of mango sorbet is a light finish.
There is a small parking lot behind the restaurant. They also have valet service. Opens at 11:30 a.m. Mon. – Sun. $-$$ 13301 Ventura Blvd. (818)788-4868.