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Downtown's CASA Gets a New Chef, New Menu

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We last checked in at Downtown's upscale taqueria CASA not long after it first opened, and had the chance to taste the menu items as guided by departing chef Kris Morningstar, who was soon off to open Mercantile, and later, District.

Things have hummed along for the "homey" but more high-end Mexican restaurant, but changes have been afoot, and they've now got Chef Alex Moreno in the kitchen, and some new menu items to show off. Moreno, an LA-native, is a real rock-n-roll chef; after cutting his teeth at local fine-dining bastions like Melisse, Jiraffe, Spago and Bastide, his next gig was as the road chef for Van Halen. He paused in San Francisco to help open Tres Agaves, a modern Mexican restaurant. Now he's back in Los Angeles, and shaking things up at CASA.

We recently were invited to sample some showpieces from Moreno's menu, including robust Pork Belly Sopes (to rival Red O's), fried shrimp tacos with alluring Asian hints, a lush plate of Carnitas made more rich and sumptuous thanks to a potato and pork belly hash and cheery lime crema, and a surprise on-the-fly dessert of a chocolate pot-au-creme with bananas and peanuts.

From the bar, their house Margarita can't be beat--it's smooth and light with bright citrus flavor. If you can take the heat, their spicy Margarita is some potent fire water, with a sliver of jalapeño floating atop daring you to sip. For the non-tequila drinkers, their Watermelon Fresca is a refreshing option.

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If you're just looking to have a sip and a bite after work, CASA also has a couple of twists on the plain ol' Happy Hour in addition to weeknight Happy Hour Specials. You can also reserve their "casitas," (those curious white pods outside, and sections of the restaurant inside) for large parties.