A big pink house on Hyperion Avenue has served as a beloved Mexican restaurant for more than 50 years. It's called Casita del Campo and it was founded in 1962 by a dancer who played a Shark in the movie version of West Side Story, Rudy del Campo. Casita is the kind of restaurant that makes everyone feel welcome, while it is not necessarily a gay-owned restaurant, Casita has a fiercely loyal LGBT following. Locals come here for their enchiladas, margaritas, and a healthy serving of high camp.
Casita del Campo serves Cal-Mex cuisine, a variation of Mexican food that is distinctly Californian, different than that of Texas, and not exactly what you'll find in Mexico. Casita was founded around the same time as El Torito—before El Torito's meteoric rise and subsequent crash—these types of California-style Mexican restaurants made Mexican food approachable to an entire generation of anglo-Americans. The advent of Cal-Mex cuisine introduced Americans to margaritas and essentially every Mexican dish you've ever heard of outside of a few Tex-Mex staples. Unlike most of Casita's alumni, the friendly Silver Lake restaurant never went out of favor and it survived many incarnations of the neighborhood. Before the boho-chic ambience of present day Hyperion Avenue, Casita's neighbors were mostly gay bathhouses and leather bars (makes me wish I had a time machine and a leather harness).
Curiouser and Curiouser
If you've ever been to Palm Springs, Casita del Campo might remind you of a restaurant you'd more likely find there. The space is quite whimsical and it seems to go on forever as you walk through its cavernous dining rooms. An image of Frida Kahlo greets guests at the entrance, her image is a recurring theme throughout the space, she reappears in the form of a mosaic table in one of the patios. In the main dining room, a large rubber tree grows from the ground and its leaves fringe from the ceiling.
Cavern Club Theater
Casita del Campo conceals an underground cabaret in its basement called the Cavern Club Theater. Amazing things happen down there. Last year, an encore run of Men of Steel was the breakout show of the season—six masculine gay dudes with full beards dawned dresses, low heels, shake-n-go wigs, and Southern accents for a remake of Steel Magnolias. The Cavern Club is on the camp drag circuit with established queens who have made a career from writing and producing their own material. Drag queen, Jackie Beat does an annual Christmas show where she performs popular songs, except the lyrics have been rewritten to comment on current events. Similarly, Dina Martina (who is arguably a drag queen) does new material each year, she comes with her own vernacular of misemphasized words which makes the audience go nuts, and when the time comes for Dina's costume change, a screen drops down to show strange vintage videos with her face transposed onto someone else's body. Subscribe to the Cavern Club Theater's mailing list →
Food & Drink Recommendations
Casita del Campo's cult following can be easily traced to their old school Cal-Mex menu offerings and their incredibly warm service. It is the kind of spot that inspires guests to drive from Culver City to Silver Lake regularly for 30 years, as one TripAdvisor reviewer admitted. I highly recommend starting with a cadillac margarita on the rocks with salt; if you're out for blood, order a double margarita straight-up, the glass will come to your table filled to the rim sans ice, ice is served in a separate glass and you replace sips with ice cubes until all of your ice has eventually made it inside your still-full margarita glass. Most dishes come with soup or salad, the albondigas here are really good, if you prefer leafy greens order the salad with blue cheese dressing, they make it in-house. If you're hungry and you enjoy cheese, order the combinacion dos, it comes with a cheese enchilada, a chile relleno, rice and beans. Otherwise, the enchiladas rancheras with carne asada is delicious. Those who like spicy food will want to request habanero salsa.