I was born in this city. For as long as I can remember I was enamored by everything Mexican; the food, the people, the dialect. As a Sefardic Jew in Los Angeles I found a little home away from home in the spices and flavors of Mexican street food. There was always something unpretentious and natural about it; grilled meat and a tortilla, a couple plastic squeeze bottles filled with flavorful salsas packing heat, some coarsely chopped cilantro and onion, and a lime. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. The taco, LA’s most celebrated street food, is as delicious as it is versatile. As someone who’s greatest joy is to feed people, I knew that making tacos in my backyard for my friends and family was not enough. I wanted more. I wanted to fill a culinary void in this city, making LA’s Kosher Taqueria.
I remember when I was hired to open Charcoal the partners told me they wanted it to be a taste of Jerusalem. As much as I wanted to pay homage to the homeland, I could not resist adding some Mexican flair. During the soft opening I fought with one of the partners to add tacos to the menu which they rejected as it did not fit in with their theme. A couple weeks after opening, I took matters into my own hands. I pulled the waiters to the side and told them about a secret special we were doing, Lamb Shawarma Tacos. By the end of the night, we were sold out and customers were coming back night after night asking for them. At this point, the partners understood the value and gave me the freedom to run with it. Needless to say, it became the biggest hit on the menu and I credit those tacos as my greatest claim to fame.
I found it ironic that in every kitchen the cooks are overwhelmingly Mexican and yet Mexican cuisine was always so underrepresented. It’s as if the owners would rather train their staff to make Japanese or Italian food then let them do what they do best. I would always watch closely as my guys would make their own staff meals, noticing that the food they would make for themselves tasted better than some of the dishes on our menu. Thus, the Casita was born.
March 15th, 2020; a day that will live in infamy for every chef, line cook, and restauranteur. California shuts down dining in restaurants because of the COVID-19 pandemic and in one day my staff and I are out of work. Many of my guys did not have access to any benefits and were living paycheck to paycheck. Some of them managed to get odd jobs as day laborers and others were planning to return to Mexico, which means they would not be coming back. I was at a loss, but I was not willing to let go of the dream. During the shutdown I got a call from my former meat supplier asking me what my plan was. I told him that I had a great concept and was ready to launch but that I would have to be insane to invest in a retail store. By the grace of G-d, he made a unique suggestion, “my kitchen staff leaves every day at 3pm and I have an empty kitchen in my retail store that you can rent at night”, he said. I decided if we were going to survive, we had to adapt, so the Casita developed into a cloud kitchen concept, offering take-out and delivery exclusively. On May 11th we opened for business and the rest is history. Within a week I was able to hire back all my staff and the team was back again, this time doing what we do best, Comida Mexicana.
The name encapsulates everything that we do, making people feel like they are a guest in our home. Lenny’s Casita may not be the fanciest place, and our to-go boxes are a far cry from fine china, but the food inside of them represent the raw passion of a chef and his “equipo” (team) who want nothing more than to put smiles on our guests’ faces every time they take a bite. Buen Provecho
-Chef Lenny Nour
Chef/Owner of Lenny’s Casita and Lenny’s Bazaar