Casa Vega on Ventura Boulevard is as old-school as it gets, serving Southern California-style Mexican Food in LA for 61 years. The Vega family opened their first restaurant on Olvera Street in the 1930s. The next generation opened Casa Vega in Studio City in 1956. The restaurant is now run by Christina Vega, the third generation of restaurateurs in the family. Her cousin is Tijuana superchef Javier Plascencia, so they have one heck of a pedigree.
The restaurant is one of those classic, steakhouse-style places where you can sip margaritas in a dark, cozy booth all day with the ghosts of Carey Grant and Marlon Brando, only to be shocked by the sunshine when you finally push the heavy wooden door open. Besides the usual burritos and enchiladas, they serve an excellent chile relleno and rich chile colorado. The tableside made-to-order guacamole that is part of their special winter menu is outstanding and should be added to their permanent roster. Their holiday cocktail, the Pomegranite-Ginger Paloma, made with 1800 Silver Tequila, should also stay in rotation, but beware, it can knock you on your ass.
We spent a recent Saturday morning in the kitchen with the charming “Christy” Vega, who was teaching a private class on tamale-making. Casa Vega grinds their own corn and uses butter in lieu of the usual manteca to keep everything kosher. The sweet and buttery homemade masa doesn’t really need a filling, but a strip of chiles and stick of cheddar cheese make the tamales a familiar treat to anyone who grew up in Los Angeles.
Besides the sweet corn tamales, you can purchase beef, chicken or vegetable tamales by the dozen, either frozen for steaming at home or ready-to-eat on a gift tray. As if you need an excuse, tamales are traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve, and make a quick breakfast the next morning when you are trying to get a turkey in the oven. $36 for a dozen frozen tamales with hot sauce and Mexican crema/ $40 for 10 ready-to-eat tamales in gift tray with Mexican crema. Orders can be placed by calling the restaurant directly at 818.788.4868.
Casa Vega, 13301 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 9142
If you are feeling like an overachiever, impress your family with homemade sweet corn tamales from this recipe generously provided by Casa Vega. Realistically, you will need to make at least four times this many.
Sweet Corn Tamales
15 corn husks
3 ¾ cup of sweet corn, cut from the cob or frozen if not in season
½ cup of sugar
¼ cup of flour
4 teaspoons of corn meal
¾ cup butter
1 tsp baking powder
10 strips of cheddar cheese
10 small strips of freshly cooked, skinned and seeded Anaheim chilies (canned will work too-Ortega)
In a large container, place the corn husks deep in hot water and cover for a couple hours until they are soft and pliable. Tip* you may need to weigh them down with an inverted plate and a heavy can to keep them submerged.
In a food processor, grind the corn and then add the sugar, flour, corn meal, butter and baking powder. Grind together very well making a Massa.
Drain water from husks. One at a time, flatten out the husks with the narrow end towards you and place 3 oz of Massa spread in the middle of the husk.
Add the strip of cheese and small strip of chili in the middle of the Massa.
Take the left side of the husk and fold it directly over the right side. Fold the narrow bottom end of the husk onto the folded tamale.
** For parties and presentation you can tie with strip of corn husk when serving dry tamales.
As you are making the tamales, stand them up on their rolled ends in a prepared steamer basket. Steam over boiling water for approximately 30-40 minutes, until Massa is firm and holds its shape. *Tip: Cover the tamales in the steamer with a layer of the left-over corn husks. You can also fill empty spaces with gently wadded aluminum foil to prevent them from falling over.
Serve dry with Tapatio and Mexican crema.