How can you resist a restaurant with a sign at the entrance that boldly proclaims, “You are now leaving Venice, California and entering Casablanca, Morocco”? I’d lived in Los Angeles for decades, driven Lincoln Boulevard countless times, yet never stopped into Casablanca restaurant, but when recently I found myself in the area at lunchtime, I decided to check it out.
The sign didn’t lie. Once inside, I was transported to another place and time. Huge murals with likenesses of the stars of Casablanca–Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid and the rest–immediately set the tone.
There is even a piano like the one played by Dooley Wilson, aka “Sam” in the film, where from seven to ten p.m. a piano player provides Bossa Nova, Folklorica and in general, according to my server, “romantic” music.
Greeted promptly and seated in a comfortable booth, I looked up to see a mock Tiffany lampshade featuring camels, pyramids and palm trees, contributing to the mood, and the menu did the same. On the back, “Dateline Casablanca” relates the history of the film (originally entitled Everybody Comes to Rick’s) beginning with playwright Murray Burnett’s visit to the South of France in the summer of 1939. Other info includes the fact that original choices for the roles of Ilsa and Rick were Hedy Lamarr and George Raft.
I opened the menu and here came the surprise: expecting to find lamb tagine with artichokes and couscous, I discovered beef enchiladas with rice and beans. Almost immediately, a basket of fresh tortillas appeared with salsa. and although I usually pass on starches, I made an exception. Good idea. Maria, who lovingly pats and prods her creations into submission, has a cooking station right in the middle of the restaurant, and she clearly knows her business. A sign above the area reads, “Tortillas served since November 22, 1986: 2,000,000.”
The dashing gentleman with her in the photo is Ruben, who waited on me part of the time. He’s been working at Casablanca since he was in the ninth grade, and as bartender, explained they have a tequila cart that can be brought to the table, offering, as it says on their website, “one of the largest and most exquisite selections of tequilas in California.”
My food was topped with authentic Mexican white cheese–queso fresco or asadero?–and was not only excellent, but set me back a mere $6.99. A glass of very nice house red wine was even less. Dinners are priced accordingly, with a specialty being calamari steak.
Whether you say sawa wa hana or que aproveche (or even bon appetit), you are sure to enjoy your meal, the ambiance, and staff at Casablanca.