Casa Borrega, the funky, eclectic Mexican restaurant that Hugo Montero and family opened on historic Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard nearly a decade ago, has closed. The restaurant’s last day was Friday, May 6, Montero wrote in a farewell Facebook post that night after service.
“It has been a privilege to meet you, [a] honor to serve you and my distinct pleasure to be part of the magical New Orleans Trident: Art, Music and Food. Gratitude is the memory of the heart,” Montero wrote, prompting hundreds of comments of support from customers, many who were local regulars or repeat out-of-town visitors.
Born and raised in Mexico City, Montero lived in New Orleans for more than twenty years before opening Casa Borrega with then-wife and business partner Linda Stone in 2013. The pair spent nearly five years turning the 1891 Greek Revival on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard into Casa Borrega, using only recycled materials — pews from a flooded church in Mid City; columns from a demolished Treme double; stained glass and tin ceiling tiles from San Antonio; and wrought iron chandeliers from Mexico — resulting in one of the city’s coolest patios. The food, as described by Montero, was a rendering of what would be found at fondas and mercados in Mexico City, with flavors from the states of Puebla, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Jalisco, and Yucatan. It was especially known for Montero’s mole recipes.
“We created Casa Borrega not as a restaurant, not as a business, but as a project,” Montero told Eater for a profile of the restaurant in 2019. At its founding, it was one of a small number of businesses deemed a benefit corporation in the city, and thus meant to be committed to a “higher standard of purpose” to exist for public benefit in addition to profit, investing in things like art, music, and the environment. Casa Borrega certainly seemed to live up to the designation, hosting Latin American live music nightly, covering walls in work by Mexican-born local artists, hosting neighborhood events and educating residents on Mexican holidays like Cinco de Mayo, and paying for composting and glass recycling. Stone told Eater in 2019 that the restaurant serves “a community of people who love Latin culture and continually celebrate special events with us.”
With Casa Borrega, Montero has spent the last decade working to raise the profile of Mexican culture in New Orleans’s gumbo pot, and it seems to have had an impact. While it was only one of two local businesses (that Montero knows of) to close during 2017’s “Day Without Immigrants,” a number of taquerias from owners who are not Mexican have opened in New Orleans in the last few years, something Montero takes as a compliment. And after boycotting Top Taco Fest its first year, Montero went on to work with the founder of the festival to help program educational seminars and classes, and serve as a cultural advisor for the event. In 2019, Montero told Eater: “Not only here, and not only in the United States but internationally, we see that Mexican food is starting to have this recognition we’ve always meant to have.”
Montero confirmed the closure to Eater on Monday, saying he’s received “unbelievable support” from customers in response to his announcement, and that he would share further news soon.