Casa Borrega has been turning out authentic Mexican cuisine in Central City since July. What began with small plates and cocktails has now graduated to full lunch, dinner and brunch service. For those looking for a real taste of south of the border flavors, it's an exciting arrival — especially because New Orleans diners have had little access to authentic Mexican fare. There's been plenty of Tex-Mex in the Big Easy, but nary a true mole poblano to be found.
The restaurant resides in a comfortable, funky, brightly colored house decorated in what seems to be years' worth of yard sale finds: On one wall rests a heavy manual typewriter; on another, a large white pinata in the shape of what appears to be a llama or an alpaca. Glancing around the room, one sees a beautiful stained glass window, many folk art paintings, a vintage ceiling fan and Day of the Dead decorations. The decor is anything but dull, so it feels perfectly at home in New Orleans. But does the food live up to the festive atmosphere?
A few recent visits to Casa Borrega found a restaurant yet to hit its stride, but still accomplishing some remarkable things in the kitchen. Dinner started off with guacamole and tostadas, and while the guacamole was a little thin and lacked spice, the handmade corn tostadas were perfectly toasted and crisp.
The house tacos were a hit-and-miss affair, but the misses were slight and the hits were heavy. The carne asada taco promised skirt steak "marinated to perfection," but turned out a little dry. The Borrego, however, filled with slow-cooked leg of lamb, made up for it and the pastor, loaded with pork cooked in achiote, was a favorite of the night.
I've always judged Mexican eateries on their mole sauce, and in this respect Casa Borrega hit the mark, with three chicken enchiladas covered by a rich, dark mole with strong but not overbearing notes of chili and chocolate. Also worth noting is the pozole, a traditional hominy soup considered by many to be the national dish of Mexico. Casa Borrega favors a recipe from Mexico City, taken from one of the cook's mothers, I was told. Our server was quick to note the restaurant's pride in the oversized bowl filled with fragrant broth, hominy, chicken (or sometimes pork or lamb), served with additions such as diced onion, shredded cabbage, lime and radishes. That pride, it turns out, is deserved.
A breakfast venture turned up some fine dishes as well. Huevos rancheros on fried tortillas paired with pico de gallo and potatoes was a satisfying plate, especially with the addition of wickedly spicy house-made habanero salsa. Better still was the Bloody Maria, made with freshly squeezed tomato juice, which added a refreshing, vegetal flavor. Agave lovers will be pleased by the impressive list of tequilas and mescals, and the craft cocktails that smartly employ them.
Casa Borrega has a few hitches. Service was friendly and the servers knowledgeable, but on each visit the kitchen was out of at least one or two menu items. And if you choose to dine in the restaurant's courtyard some evening, make sure to do it away from the tiki torches, which cast a romantic glow as well as a pungent whiff of kerosene.
Despite its few shortcomings, Casa Borrega is worth the trip to Central City if you're looking for authentic Mexican cuisine at a fair price, in a fun, funky-cool room. I know that mole poblano will be calling my name soon enough.