You can never go wrong with dining at an authentic Mexican restaurant. Casa Carmen opened the doors to its Tribeca flagship in 2022 on Franklin Street, followed by a location in the Flatiron. We had the pleasure of visiting the Tribeca location for a comforting Dia de Los Muertos brunch, where we sipped on warm drinks and scarfed down appetizers, first courses, and mouthwatering desserts. Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated on November 1 and 2, though other days, such as October 31 or November 6 come into play.
Casa Carmen pays homage to renowned Mexican Chef Carmen “Titita” Ramirez Degollado, who brought fame to El Bajío restaurants in Mexico City. Her grandsons, Sebastian and Santiago Ramirez Degollado, opened the doors to Casa Carmen to honor their grandmother’s passion for traditional and authentic Mexican cuisine. Chef “Titita” was known as a “Matriarch of Mexican Flavor” by Mark Bittman in a 2007 New York Times story.
At age 83, she is well-known for El Bajío restaurants, which serve recipes from Veracruz, Puebla, Oaxaca, and Yucatan. Currently, there are 19 El Bajío locations including the original, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. Casa Carmen’s opening in New York City is the first restaurant the family has opened outside of Mexico.
Casa Carmen in Tribeca is located in the former Tutto Il Giornio space, which is nestled in an iconic Soho cast iron facade on Franklin Street. When walking through the two sleek black front doors, you’ll encounter a space paying homage to a traditional Mexican hacienda—terracotta-colored walls, handmade Oaxacan “barro negro” black clay pottery, and woven textiles designed by Mexican Interior Designer Luis Enrique Noriega create an enchanting space.
At Casa Carmen, the majority of recipes come directly from Titita. Head Chef Ivan Gonzalez trained at El Bajío for months in preparation for Casa Carmen’s opening, focused on the special ingredients, recipes, and techniques refined by the restaurant. As extra insurance, Casa Carmen employs “mayoras”—elder stateswomen of the kitchen—to oversee the creation of the sauces and other fundamental building blocks of the menu, such as tortillas. This is a tradition practiced by many Mexican restaurants.
For the brunch, we sat down at a table in the back, which featured a large window and skylight where one could appreciate the autumnal leaves magically bluster around. We started off our brunch with a Guacamole and Empanadas de Plátano con Frijol. The Guacamole at Casa Carmen was mouthwatering and zesty and was topped with jalapeño slices, cilantro, and toasted cacalas. Cacalas are 10-20 centimeter-long purple pods containing seeds that resemble lentils. Rather than arriving with typical tortilla chips for dipping, both typical and purple corn tostadas were served to top with the guacamole.
The Empanadas de Plátano con Frijol were out of this world, as these were not your usual popular Hispanic handheld snack. They aren’t made with flour or corn dough, instead sweet plantains were used to create a moist dough. The empanadas were stuffed with savory black refried beans, which provided a perfect balance of sweet and salty tastes. A smoky-tasting chipotle salsa arrived with the empanadas for dipping, which had a taste similar to an elevated chipotle barbecue sauce.
We didn’t stop there. Next we ordered the Huevos Rancheros, Huevos Benedictinos, and Tacos de Ribeye, with a side of Longaniza. The Huevos Rancheros are tortillas topped with sunny-side-up eggs and smothered in a red salsa ranchera with refried beans on the side.
The Huevos Benedictinos is the Mexican take on Eggs Benedict. Although poached eggs were still part of this dish, thick tortillas replaced the English muffins, a creamy green poblano sauce replaced the hollandaise sauce, and ground longaniza replaced the Canadian bacon. This dish had a touch of spice and also had a smoky taste due to the longaniza, since it is made from minced pork and seasoned with garlic, black pepper, and smoked paprika.
Ribeye Tacos had slices of rich, buttery Ribeye steak topped with guacamole, cilantro, and diced white onions. On the side we savored Esquites Preparados, which was a shareable dish consisting of corn, mayo, Cotija cheese, and chile ancho sprinkled on top.
Sweetness arrived as Mexican conchas (known as pan dulce) and Pan de Muerto. The concha is a sweet roll resembling a doughnut, which is topped with a sugary streusel and flavored with vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry. The conchas at Casa Carmen were quite unique, as they were flavored with vanilla, hibiscus, and matcha. The Pan de Muerto is a pan dulce (sweet bread) traditionally baked throughout Mexico and the Mexican diaspora during the weeks leading up to the Día de los Muertos. As a bonus, we dipped our warm conchas and Pan de Muerto into mugs of Chocolate Abuelita, a comforting, delicious, and frothy hot chocolate with a touch of cinnamon.
Now that our hearts and tummies were full of delicious authentic Mexican Food, we took a break before ordering Churros for dessert. They arrived with melted dark chocolate and creamy cajeta for dipping. Cajeta is similar to dulce de leche, which is my favorite dip for the churros.
To conclude, Casa Carmen’s locations are great for dining out for either brunch or dinner with your parents, extended family members, or girlfriends. The ambiance is very warm and all items on the menu are comforting, all the way from the appetizers and desserts, to beverages of all sorts. The Dia de Los Muertos brunch will be available till the end of November. Other than this, other items are available for ordering no matter what course you are visiting for as well as entertaining events always happening at either location.
Follow Casa Carmen on Instagram @casacarmennyc
Casa Carmen Tribeca, 114 Franklin Street (betw West Broadway/Church Street)
Casa Carmen Flatiron, 5 W 21st Street (betw 5th/6th Avenues)
LA PALAPA, another NYC Mexican restaurant in the East Village also does a week-long celebration of Day of the Dead. See Hobnob’s past post at this link.