So it came as a great relief to many of the residents when Josefina Lopez announced she has acquired the former La Serenata de Garabaldi on First Street, (a closing that surprised and disappointed scores of locals and visitors), and was planning to open her own establishment, Casa Fina Restaurant and Cantina. Not unlike what she has done with Casa 0101, an oasis of Latino Theatre, Josefina has endeavored to create a space that is a welcoming portal to the local community and she has the same ambitious agenda for Casa Fina as she has demonstrated with her other dreams. The former restaurant was known for its high end menu, quite pricey and excellent haute cuisine. But with great purpose, the new owners, including Emmanuel Deleage and Richard Alonzo, wanted open a place that is affordable, accessible, and artistic.
You can tell the restaurant has fallen into the hands of new creative spirits; the façade has been painted over in a bold and unapologetic purple, and the interiors, painted in a bright Mexican pallet, are covered with art from Juan Solis, Pola Lopez, Lalo Lopez Alcaraz, Gronk and a cadre of many other Chicano/Latino artists. The ambition carries over to a voluminous menu, which features tasty antojitos like savory mushroom tacos to the specialties of the house, molcajetes, sizzling stone temples with a delicious selection of meat, chicken or fish, large strips of nopales (cactus) and big chunks of Mexican cheese, soaking in a shallow bowl of a spicy sauce. One order feeds two, so even as the priciest item on the menu, the molcajetes are still a deal. Taco Tuesdays is made for families on a budget, with a selection of generous tacos both soft and hard shell, all so very good and bargain priced. For the middle ground, try the shrimp enchiladas, but whatever you select, make sure to leave room for fresh brewed coffee and a slice of wonderful, tasty flan. Other desserts include fried platanos, tres leches cake and deep fried ice cream. Or you can ask to see the dessert tray if you don’t mind being envied and stared at; so tempting. One note, the fresh table salsa and chips are great, but if you want the ‘hot salsa’, ask the server. The service is efficient, and courteous, and will help you navigate through the daily specials.
The Cantina section of the restaurant specializes in a selection of inventive wine margaritas, has their own wine list upon request, and features buckets of bottled beer (both domestic and imported), just like you find in all the cool cantinas south of the border. On the opposite side of the large wooden bar, tucked away in a discreet corner, is the ‘Frida Sufrida Sofa’, a colorful cozy loveseat or “fainting couch”, perfectly designed for women who have just suffered too damn much, or maybe, had too much wine at one of the periodic wine tastings. Casa Fina will also be hosting “Pinta Y Toma”, (paint and drink), a combo wine tasting and painting lesson, courtesy of featured artist Juan Solis, Tuesday October 30th, 6:30-9:30pm, but you must RSVP as the evening will be sure to sell out.
In the future Casa Fina will be hosting Open Mike nights, the Boyle Heights Comedy Corner, Bohemian LGBTQ Nights, salsa dance nights, and rotating art exhibits. Can a new restaurant become a cultural nexus, community gathering place, art gallery, and still provide a quality dining experience? I have learned over the years, that if Josefina Lopez --- an award winning author, French chef, actor, producer, lecturer, mother, dreamer and force of nature in the cultural lifestyle of Boyle Heights, wants to do something --- it will happen. Bien provecho!
Casa Fina Happy Hour menu is from 3pm to 7pm Sunday through Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays 10pm to 2am. Valet parking is in the back through the alley, $4, (plus give the guy a dollar). Major credit cards accepted. Price range is from $ - $$. Casa Fina is located at 1842 East First Street, Los Angeles 90033. For reservations, call (323) 604-9592 or visit www.casafinarestaurant.com.