Casa Frida: Finally – an Excellent Mexican Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale

For a slideshow, click here.

Casa Frida: Finally – an Excellent Mexican Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale
CandaceWest.com

Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo — famous for self-portraits she made of herself wearing ornate, brightly colored dresses and for her unmistakable, sometimes furrowed unibrow — had an unwavering loyalty to her country.

When Julieta Bocos retold a story about the depths of Kahlo's allegiance, her voice rose to an excited pitch just below shrill.

"She dressed up every day in the Mexican dresses with flowers in her hair," says Julieta Bocos, who along with her husband, Victor, opened Casa Frida Mexican Grill in early 2012 in the shadow of the looming Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. "She went to dinners with the Rockefellers and still wore her dresses and all of her heavy jewelry."

Casa Frida's signature dishes are made with cochinita pibil, a marinated pork leg.
Casa Frida's signature dishes are made with cochinita pibil, a marinated pork leg.

Details

Casa Frida Mexican Grill, 5441 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Open Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Call 954-530-3668.

Tamale with chicken red mole $3

Los panuchos $7.50

Steak norteña $12

Seafood tacos $8.50

For a slideshow, click here.

For a slideshow, click here.

Being inside Casa Frida is like being inside a dry cleaner that caters only to Kahlo. The walls were covered in a full spectrum of bursting colors in which the painter regularly adorned herself. The longest wall in the 60-seat restaurant is painted a bright, sandy orange and a deep royal purple and is adorned with dozens of Kahlo's self-portraits. A narrow board painted sunflower yellow and a single row of intricate Mexican tile separate the two colors. A copper-plated bar is topped with black granite and surrounded by bright-pink and orange walls dotted with flowers, small pieces of artwork, and a thick-framed mirror.

Sensory overload? Definitely. But the warmth given off by the Bocos and their staff makes it homey.

The Bocoses' passion for their country's culture comes through when the two describe their dishes in intricate detail. Julieta is secretive but passionate as she surrenders a few details about the 24-hour process that yields their mole (pronounced mole-AY) sauce, the smoky, sweet, and slightly tangy sauce that's used throughout the menu. Sesame seeds, walnuts, bread, and tortilla must be toasted and ground. Pasilla, mulato, and 14 other kinds of peppers are roasted and slowly mixed in, along with chocolate. All of the ingredients must be added in proper proportions, in a specific order.

"If she [the cook] overtosses one thing, she messes up the entire sauce," she says. "To find the perfect balance from the chocolate to the pepper is very hard."

The Bocoses, who were both raised in Mexico City and met in Cancún, say they use their mothers' and grandmothers' recipes, making nearly everything from scratch. At Casa Frida, Victor, who is easily more than six feet tall, saunters around the restaurant wearing an airy, short-sleeved, buttoned-up shirt with palm fronds, playing host. Julieta wears her jet-black hair pulled back into a tight bun with bangs. She wears a black shirt and pale-pink lipstick along with an affable smile and a black apron. In each bite, what they really offer is a glimpse into Mexico's rich, often tumultuous history, stretching back thousands of years. And they do it at a price lower than any corporate, happy-hour-boosting "Mexican" restaurant. They do it with simple, bright flavors. Fresh salsas, made in-house daily, start each meal, and slow-roasted meats, cooked with ancestral ingredients, reveal a smoky richness.

Chicken for tamales ($3) is simmered in a red mole sauce, shredded and packed inside a shell of masa, a sweet, starchy corn dough. The simple dish, which at Casa Frida is wrapped with a leaf and steamed, dates back thousands of years. The Aztecs and Mayans used to send soldiers to war or hunters on long trips with these prepackaged meals. The masa for Casa Frida's tamales is firm but light enough to soak up plenty of the smoky, sweet mole sauce, reason to not leave behind small bits.

Julieta says the restaurant's signature dishes are any made with cochinita pibil. Before slow roasting, a pork leg is marinated overnight in orange juice and achiote, a condiment made of ground-up annato seeds that give it a bright-red color.

"The Mayans used to paint their faces with it," Bocos adds.

That succulent meat is piled onto two boat-shaped cups of crispy fried masa called Los Panuchos ($7.50) and topped with pickled red onion that gives each bite a fresh pop. Refried black beans and seasoned white rice studded with corn kernels round out the plate.

Mexican food continues to be brutally bastardized by Taco Bell and other offenders, but the Bocoses hope to counter the damage with their slow-cooked, complex dishes.

"We're really trying to change the idea that Mexican food is Tex-Mex," Julieta says. "No one in Mexico eats burritos! We didn't know what a burrito was until we moved to the U.S."

Indeed, the Bocoses' pedigree is in high-end dining. Victor was most recently sommelier for celebrity chef Todd English's nearby da Campo Osteria restaurant. On two visits, we found Victor darting about Casa Frida, convincing diners to order midday margaritas and boasting about the specials. The two moved from Mexico to Chicago in 1992 to work on the corporate side of Rosebud Restaurants, a company that owns nearly a dozen restaurants across the city. In 2000, the pair bought a condominium in Fort Lauderdale to escape the cold each January. In 2009, they moved down for good.

"Moving from Cancún to Chicago was a nightmare," Julieta says. "I wanted to kill my husband that first winter."

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5 comments
frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

from YELP for example......................."We sat down - asked for margaritas which the waiter said they had, BUT he failed to mention a huge point - it is made with essentially no tequila because they don't have that kind of license - misstep 1-waiter should have said that but instead I had to drag it out of him-not cool!"......................................."We weren't looking to spend a ton of money in a little Mexican joint, but the first thing I noticed were the $17 fajitas and $16 tamales (3 average size tamales on a plate with a small scoop each of rice and beans). Seriously, who pays $16 bucks for 3 tamales...these things are like 2-3 bucks each MAX (I usually get mine for less than 2 actually). Ok, so I paid the $16 expecting to be blown away by what must be the very best tamales in the world. They were disappointingly average, and that's being nice."

see the difference when you aren't panning for ADVERTISING SALES ?

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

BTW i'm heading to JALISCO for lunch today.................but my daughter is a big frida kahlo fan and when i saw the movie i became one also although i think that had more to do with the actress playing kahlo than the art

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

that's why YELP is much more informative for the patron BUT for the newspaper giving reviews puts the restaurant in a position to have to BUY ADVERTISING space which generates revenues for the newspaper = anything on FEDERAL or LAS OLAS is typically a tourist trap anyway so who really cares - right ?

Robin
Robin

The food isn't good. This article is written by someone who got all of their information from the restaurant and who doesn't know anything himself, and who never has had real Mexican food. Going to this place is like going to your Aunt Carol's. Home made isn't always good.

JoeB
JoeB

yeah, I read restaurant reviews to find out all about the owners and the history of their cooking techniques. Amateur stuff.

 
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