Califonia Bountiful

Casa de Christina

May/June 2013 California Bountiful magazine

Authentic recipes from Casa Vega, a landmark Mexican restaurant in Sherman Oaks.

More online: Recipes and sweet corn tamales video

Christina Vega Fowler wears a lot of hats at Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks.

"I discovered in a restaurant, you have to know about a lot of different things," she said.

Chef Christina Vega Fowler prepares spinach enchiladas at her Los Angeles-area restaurant.

Fowler runs the front of the house and the back of the house, but don't let her business degree fool you. Her favorite place to be is the kitchen.

"I always cooked with my grandmother," she said. So when she took over the family business more than 10 years ago, she was well-versed in the family recipes.

Some dishes, like the albóndigas soup, have been on the menu since Fowler's father, Rafael "Ray" Vega, established the eatery in 1956.

"That is a signature one," she said of the traditional meatball soup. "We always say my Aunt Frances made it the best."

As a Californian, Fowler appreciates that plenty of her ingredients, such as Hass avocados, are grown practically at her doorstep. (See related story)

"We garnish with avocado, we make salsas with avocado, we use it in salad dressing," she said.

She even creams avocado into the sauce for Casa Vega's spinach enchiladas, a popular item from her "Meatless Mexican" menu.

"I wanted to add a larger selection for vegetarians and vegans, to contradict the rap that all Mexican food is bad for you," she explained.

Under Fowler's reign, trans fat oil has been eliminated, and natural meats and cheeses brought in. She has even revamped the bar menu to include more cocktails made with fresh-squeezed juices and fresh produce, such as a cucumber margarita made with locally grown cucumbers.

But don't expect to find her behind the bar very often.

"I love being in the back, I love doing prep, I love wrapping tamales," she said. "For me, it's almost therapeutic."

Sarah Mosqueda


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