Mi Casa de Costa Mesa Guests and Staff Clink Glasses at 50th Anniversary Cinco de Mayo

Legions of hungry customers and staff at Costa Mesa’s Mi Casa Mexican restaurant had two reasons to clink margarita glasses on Thursday, as Cinco de Mayo coincided with a 50th anniversary celebration for the family-run establishment.

Opened in May 1972 by drive-thru taco pioneer Barrie Moore in a mall storefront on 17th Street previously occupied by a Sizzler steakhouse, the business still serves servings of fan favorites, including Mi’s signature crispy tacos. Casa.

The magical combination of fried tortilla, shredded beef and a generous application of cheese was enough to entice siblings Cathy and Ron Britvich to make the trip while visiting Placerville.

Waitress Mariela Valladares offers food Thursday during a Cinco de Mayo celebration at Mi Casa Mexican restaurant in Costa Mesa.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

The duo grew up on the Balboa Peninsula – where a second location operated from 1976 to 1984 – and were regulars, so they just had to make a pit stop while they were in town.

“This place is awesome,” said Cathy Britvich. “First of all, they have the best iced teas on Long Island. I challenge you to find a better one. And I love their rice and beans.

“I came here for one thing, I call them greasy tacos,” Ron Britvich said of the restaurant’s crispy concoction. “They have ground beef, and they’re gigantic.”

Decorations hang in the lobby of the Mi Casa restaurant in Costa Mesa.

Festive decorations adorn the lobby of Mi Casa restaurant in Costa Mesa.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

Back at the Burro Room bar in Mi Casa, Newport Beach residents Val and Mark, who asked that their surnames not be released, were celebrating their own birthdays.

“We started coming here 29 years ago today on a first date,” Val said. “We fell in love with margaritas and nachos – we’ve been coming ever since.”

“The only reason I had a second date was because I had laryngitis,” Mark joked.

“I thought he was a good listener,” laughed his wife.

A mini replica of the restaurant's birdhouse sits in a display case at the Mi Casa restaurant in Costa Mesa.

A replica mini birdhouse sits in a display case at the Mi Casa restaurant, one of many heirlooms amassed over the establishment’s 50-year history.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

Married for 27 years, the couple have celebrated birthdays and anniversaries in the company of servers and bartenders who have been at Mi Casa for decades.

Not much has changed since Mi Casa’s debut. The same wagon-wheel chandeliers, cabins, and cattle-brand tabletops leftover from the Sizzler era still greet guests.

Numerous recipes contributed by former chef Jose Perez, who recreated dishes from his mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens from the restaurant’s opening until his retirement in 2004, continue to adorn the menu.

Barrie Moore, seen in an undated photo, opened the first Mi Casa restaurant in Costa Mesa in 1972.

Barrie Moore, seen in an undated photo, opened the first Mi Casa restaurant in Costa Mesa in 1972.

(Courtesy of Ryan Moore)

Moore opened Tio’s Tacos, reportedly the first “drive-in taco” in the Los Angeles area, in 1956 and achieved the same milestone in Orange County when he opened a second location in Santa Ana that year. next.

But it was the Mi Casa restaurants that attracted a lasting clientele. In 1986, future President George Herbert Walker Bush stopped by for a dinner of tacos, chili relleno, and enchiladas. Other luminaries who dined there were John Wayne, Barry Goldwater, Desi Arnaz, Barbra Streisand, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk and many more.

Upon Moore’s death in 2003, sons Rick and Dennis took over operations and managed the business until 2010 when Rick’s son Ryan Moore took over.

Rick and Lee Moore, left to right with their sons Ryan, Andy and parent Jamie Jacobs at Mi Casa in the early 1980s.

Rick and Lee Moore, left to right with their sons Ryan, Andy and parent Jamie Jacobs at Mi Casa in the early 1980s.

(Courtesy of Ryan Moore)

Today, the third-generation restaurateur runs the business with partner and managing director Ryan Allen. Living in Arizona, he makes frequent trips to the place he describes as a second home.

“I took my first steps in the Costa Mesa restaurant,” Ryan Moore, 47, said in a phone interview Thursday. “We would go there for dinner because we wouldn’t have to pay.

“There is obviously a family atmosphere, and since I recruited my business partner six years ago, we have tried to keep this atmosphere.

General Manager Ryan Allen and Manager Starlett Clark pause during a break Thursday at Mi Casa Restaurant in Costa Mesa.

General Manager Ryan Allen and Manager Starlett Clark pause during a break Thursday at Mi Casa Restaurant in Costa Mesa.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

The duo added dishes including fish and shrimp tacos and enchiladas, as well as salads and lighter sides. But the old standards and friendly atmosphere remain the same.

Manager Starlett Clark, who started as a bartender 28 years ago, said the place was like family to her. The same must be true for customers, she believes.

“I think it’s good food, good service and word of mouth,” she said of Mi Casa’s success. “It’s generational – people tell me all the time that they used to come here with their kids and now they come with their grandkids.”

Ryan Moore said he was happy to continue the family tradition.

Chuy Pedrosa prepares a large table in the dining room of the Mi Casa restaurant in Costa Mesa.

Chuy Pedrosa prepares a large table in the dining room of the Mi Casa restaurant in Costa Mesa.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

“My grandfather was a very loud man, in your face, but in a good way. He knew all the names of the customers, and I think that really helped establish the restaurant,” he said. “That and the consistency of the place — if you ever happened to wander away from Southern California, you could always come back, and everything tastes the same.”

That’s a good thing for Ron Brtivich, who walked out Thursday with an extra crispy taco in a take-out box.

“We’ll see you in 50 years for your 100th,” he said as he left.

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