by Ian McNulty
A new Mexican restaurant is slated to debut this week with an approach that stands apart from the typical cantina, an address that’s a little off the beaten path and an opening date that’s bound to be memorable.
Casa Borrega (1719 O.C. Haley Blvd., 504-292-3705) is scheduled to open on July 4 along the quietly reviving commercial corridor of Central City. It will operate initially under limited summer hours, from 5 p.m. to midnight Thursdays through Saturdays, and serve a relatively short summer menu that gives a taste of the full program its owners plan to roll out when expanded hours begin in the fall.
Hugo Montero, a local artist and first-time restaurateur, says the menu springs from the street food traditions of Mexico City, the hometown he left some 25 years ago when he moved to the U.S.
“I’m from Mexico, but I’ve lived in the U.S. for more than half my life. I don’t really fit at home now, but I don’t really fit here,” he says. “I play with my identity and that’s the way we will play with Casa Borrega. It’s a Mexican restaurant, but not in the way people usually think about one. I adore Tex-Mex, I respect it, but it’s not Mexican.”
The limited summer menu hews more closely to the taqueria fare that has blossomed at little eateries across the city since Hurricane Katrina, with a roster of corn tortilla tacos, flautas and tortas, which are Mexican sandwiches made on crusty bolillo loaves. A focal point of the menu are antojitos, or small snacks (Spanish for “little cravings”), like gorditas, tostadas and tlacoyos, which here are oblong masa cakes filled with beans and topped with cactus and cheese. Charola de totopos, Casa Borrega’s answer to nachos, are chips piled with cheese, guacamole, beans, eggplant dip, pico de gallo and crema made with poblano peppers. There’s a full bar specializing in Mexican cocktails.
By September the Casa Borrega schedule will expand to cover more days and add breakfast and lunch. The morning menu will include an array of tamales, breakfast tacos, chilaquiles and egg dishes, while lunch will add soups, salads and daily specials to the antojitos, tacos and tortas. At night, Montero says the restaurant will still serve antojitos and offer live music and other performances.
“The idea of the big dinner is more of a European one, but in my part of Mexico it is still more like the Aztec way. You eat breakfast, you eat lunch and at night you have a lighter meal, a little snack and a drink and then you go dancing,” he says. “So the identity of Casa Borrega will change three times in one day, wearing different hats.”
Montero developed Casa Borrega with his wife Linda Stone, who was a founder of the Green Project, a local nonprofit that recycles building materials and supplies. They renovated a 19th century townhouse for Casa Borrega, which also doubles as their home, and essentially created a showcase to recycling along the way. The interior and patio are like a collage of salvaged doors and windows, vintage light fixtures, re-purposed woodwork and other details.
1719 O.C. Haley Blvd., 504-292-3705