The story of Casa Carmen, which opened in June in the Flatiron District, actually begins 50 years ago in Mexico City. Newly widowed Carmen Ramirez Degollado, left to raise five children, assumes the reins of her late husband’s restaurant, El Bajío. By drawing on traditional recipes and flavors sourced from her native Veracruz, as well as the neighboring states of Puebla and Oaxaca, she parlays the lone restaurant into 19 and earns for herself the honorarium “matriarch of Mexican flavor.”
Fittingly, the menu at Casa Carmen is rife with occasional nods to the restaurant’s Mexico City progenitor. Guacamole comes with the option of adding pork cracklings (chicharrón), and one of two “catch of the day” listings carries the descriptor “veracruzana.”
A third catch of the day listing is appended to the ceviche verde, which is heavy on the lime, light on the jalapeño, chunky with avocado and tomatillo.
Garnachas, a popular Mexican street food that begins with spooning salsa onto fried corn tortillas, is finished here with a satisfying hash of tender diced brisket and browned potatoes.
Order up the pescado a la veracruzana on a night when the catch is branzino, and you are presented with a handsomely seared slab of the fish draped over a chunky sauce of capers, olives, and fresh tomato. The dish receives the slightest intimation of heat from mild güero chilis.
Thirty-seven ingredients go into the dark, thick, and complex mole xico that blankets a leg and thigh of chicken.
A sauce of caramel and dark chocolate are provided for dipping your churros when it’s time for dessert. The tres leches cake is dappled with fresh slices of strawberry.
Stucco walls in earth tones and touches of wood trim give the room a touch of warmth.
A second (actually the first chronologically) Casa Carmen was opened on Franklin Street in Tribeca in May of 2022 by Carmen Degollado’s grandsons Santiago and Sebastian Ramirez Degollado as an homage to the matriarch.
Price range: First courses—$15 to $25; main dishes—$26 to $35; desserts—$12 to $17.
Casa Carmen, 5 W. 21st Street, 917-540-5600, is open seven days for dinner.