Casa Carmen is open on Franklin

I will officially add them as a New Kid when I get in to sit down for a real meal, but in the meantime, here’s more than a sneak peek at Casa Carmen, the new Mexican restaurant at 114 Franklin, in the old Tutto il Giorno space. They were nice enough to invite me to their opening party last night, and make some time to chat earlier this week, so I got to meet a good number of the clan.

This is a family affair: the restaurant is owned and operated by two brothers, Santiago Ramírez Degollado and Sebastian Ramírez Degollado, whose grandmother, Carmen “Titita” Ramírez Degollado, was dubbed the “matriarch of Mexican flavors” by the New York Times more than once. Her 50-year-old restaurant, El Bajío, has now expanded to have 19 locations in Mexico City. Her son helps run that empire, and her son-in-law is the executive chef.

Sebastian (glasses) trained at the École Hôtelière de Lausanne and will be the general manager of Casa Carmen; he and his wife have settled in Battery Park City. (He also worked at for El Bajío for three years.) Santiago came to the city two years ago to work in finance; he’s keeping his day job but will be in charge of the beverage program and administration.

The story their father, Raul, told me was this: The original restaurant was opened in 1972 by his father, also Raul Ramírez Degollado. When the senior Raul died just a few years later, Carmen — or Titita, since she is the third generation of Carmens in her family — became the chef and owner and started adding her own recipes from Veracruz and Oaxaca.

“My mother took over the restaurant and raised five children at the same time,” said Raul. People started travelling from all over to come to the restaurant so he tried to persuade her to expand. “I went to my mother and said you have this jewel you have to polish.” But she didn’t want to expand.

Fast forward to the late ’90s, when the Times first singled her out among Mexican chefs. Raul was working at Salomon Smith Barney and his phone started ringing off the hook from friends who wanted to invest. But still she refused. “She felt that every person that entered she must greet and take care of. She wanted them to feel at home.”

Then in 2007, Mark Bittman named her one of two matriarchs of Mexican flavors, and Raul tried again. This time they found a team of investors that convinced her to open a second restaurant with Raul at the helm. (He is not a chef, but when he was in undergrad at American University, the food was so bad in the cafeteria that he bought the “10-Minute Cook” and started cooking for himself.) Seven years later they had 19 restaurants. Titita wouldn’t be able to great each customer but felt that with the right training of the staff, she could keep the quality of the food and the service high.

The family has often thought to open an outpost in New York City, but it wasn’t until Santiago moved here that the idea started to gel. He scouted 70 spaces across the city, settling on this one on Franklin because of its high ceilings and classic New York look from the curb.

The boys’ (they are 29 and 32) uncle came from Mexico to oversee the chefs here as they get up to speed. And their grandmother chose the menu — it is just a sampling of the offerings at El Bajio, since that menu is huge. In Mexico, they serve all day long from breakfast to dinner in large spaces, serving 250,000 people a month. Here they wanted something smaller.

At least for now.



  1. We had dinner there, it was fantastic. The food was amazing, service friendly, big margaritas. What more could you ask for?

  2. A spectacular addition to the neighborhood. The food was first rate and the service friendly and relaxed.

  3. Had dinner there last evening. The food was fantastic, service very friendly and welcoming. A great time was had by all.

  4. My sister and I ate their Friday night and it was excellent. Their mole was the best we’ve ever had. The interior is nice too, and they didn’t have loud music which is a pet peeve of mine. Will definitely go back.

  5. Finally authentic Mexican food in Tribeca! Everyone should have the Pastel de Elote and a Carajillo as desert.