An overflowing plate of meat and vegetables over blue corn tortillas with a side of cactus. To Brisa Lopez, that’s a typical home-cooked meal. And similar reflections of home are abundant throughout the menus for Brisa’s pop-up and catering business, simply known as Casa.
For Casa, the sense of home is grounded in two places at once. One is Mexico City, the source of Brisa’s cuisine and where she was raised. The other is the Altadena area, where Brisa now resides and cooks, hosting pop-up events each week.
Even these days while Angelinos are getting used to staying home, Casa pop-ups remain open for business to serve the community and share a taste of something special.
“Everybody can make Mexican food. But not everybody is going to bring you something that is very traditional from over there,” said Brisa.
From the tablecloths to the banners and t-shirts, the Casa food stand is a kaleidoscope of flower images inspired by Mexican folk art. The botanic atmosphere blends with the abundance of fruit and vegetables in Casa’s dishes and agua frescas. Since she began this business 4 years ago, Brisa has been fine tuning her menu so that customers will ultimately experience food the way she did in the tiendas of Mexico.
“I started using more blue corn, using more native fruits and herbs. And it makes a difference,” she said. “Everything that’s more original from Mexico City that I can get here, that’s what I will be trying to introduce.”
When you order a taco, Brisa scoops up a mound of freshly mixed masa and flattens it out to make a tortilla on the spot. Whether you prefer a yellow or blue corn tortilla, each is fragrant with the scent of freshly cut corn. Both are grainy in texture, while the coarser grind and deep color of the blue corn dough gives it more substance and a purplish flourish. Celebrating this biodiversity, Brisa also makes a tortilla that’s half blue, half yellow corn. “First of all, it looks beautiful. And then you get the taste of both,” she said.
After the tortillas hit the grill, they’re soon covered with guisados, allowing more flavors to meld into the dough. The guisado fillings include meats like chicken and pork that are smartly flavored with citrus. Soyrizo is another option for vegans and vegetarians. Occasionally, she offers pork rinds or chicken with mole, and seafood is usually available for tostadas in the summer.
Casa’s go-to vegetable guisado is a trio of poblano chiles, yellow corn, and crunchy cubes of zucchini. And there’s cactus. Lots of cactus. Brisa puts cactus on nearly everything. “It’s something very Mexican. It’s very healthy for you. It helps with the digestion because it has a lot of fiber.”
Casa tacos may be your first step toward a masa binge. Next, you might try the sope, which is a hearty disc of masa with ingredients piled on top like a pyramid. The mulitas form a sort of taco sandwich made with two tortillas, one on top and one on the bottom.
And then there’s the gordita. For this hefty dish, the tortilla is formed to be extra thick and extra wide, then cooked to a crisp and cut in half. Living up to its name, which translates to “little fatty,” the gordita is then comically overstuffed with fillings until it appears to be wearing a tipped flat hat.
As you peruse helpful photos of the menu items displayed at the bottom of Casa’s booth, you might spot something you haven’t tried before.
“A lot of people say, I’ve never seen these things. Like my sandwich with chilaquiles. It’s called a ‘tecolota,’” she said. In Mexico City, it’s a common sandwich filled with meat and tortilla chips, usually simmered in salsa. But instead of salsa, Brisa makes her chilaquiles in mole. Since tecolotas are often eaten for breakfast in Mexico, Brisa saw it as a natural fit for her brunch menu.
For the mole, Brisa mixes about 20 ingredients into a mole base, including plantains, raisins, burnt tortillas, almonds, and avocado peels. The slightly sweet brown mole adds flavor across the menu on tortilla chips, tortas, and tacos. For catered events, Casa offers 7 types of mole, including a white variety that’s made entirely from nuts. “With our catering, we have more room to experiment and offer different things,” she said.
A little cup of Casa’s housemade salsa verde comes with each order. The sauce’s tomatillos are charred, so a roasty smoky flavor comes through. It’s mild, with a hint of vinegar that tames the spiciness. Boiled cilantro helps its green color pop.
Brisa’s knack for cooking blossomed as a teenager when she realized that making food can be therapeutic and relaxing. Her grandmother’s recipes, teachings, and wit laid much of the groundwork for Brisa to build Casa. “My grandmother used to say that if you can’t hold a hot tortilla with your bare hands then you aren’t woman enough,” she reminisced.
When Brisa started Casa, it was a sharp turn from her successful career in marketing, but she put those skills to work to book festivals and catering events all over Los Angeles. Four years later, she continues to do events with Altadena as the home base for Casa.
“We’re trying to be more local. We do events all over, but since I live in Altadena and my commercial kitchen is in Pasadena, I try to be around here,” she said. Currently, you can find Casa hosting a popup at Cafe de Leche in Altadena Thursdays and Fridays from 9am to 3pm. For convenient no-contact service, Brisa accepts pre-orders and offers takeout and curbside pickup.
For the latest scheduling information or to book catering, click the Foodzooka profile below to find Casa on social media and visit the website.