Casa Vega, the storied San Fernando Valley Mexican restaurant, is celebrating its 65-year anniversary all month long. In commemoration, owner Christy Vega (daughter of founder Ray Vega) opened up to Modern Luxury all about their favorite celebrity tales from over the decades. Read on for laughable, heartfelt stories about Dr. Dre, Marlon Brando and Carey Grant.
In 2002, Dr. Dre was a frequent face at Casa Vega. His whole team was. They were working down the street, recording at Record One Studios in Sherman Oaks. They always supported us with orders to-go, dining-in and were just great customers. They tipped very well and the CV staff loved them.
The same time, Mr. Vega had recently moved back to Los Angeles. He had retired and sold off his mega-business, Vega Enterprises, in Las Vegas. (That’s a whole other story…) Ray lived to work so you’d find him on the CV floor most nights. He’d roam tables greeting guests and telling stories.
This particular night, the restaurant was incredibly busy. Packed. Ray had made his usual rounds and was leaving for the evening. He walked out the front door and saw the most beautiful car he’d ever laid eyes on in the carport. He couldn’t believe how extraordinarily extravagant it was. Ray, who loved cars, was impressed!!!!
Mr. Vega turned to the valet and said, “ Whose car is this?!?!?! It’s incredible!” The valet responded , “it’s Dr. Dre’s car!” Ray was in complete shock. He said in disbelief, “ A doctor has this car?!?!?! You got to be kidding me!!! I HAVE to meet this doctor!”
Ray heads back in the restaurant and finds the hostess. He tells her, “Take me to Dr. Dre’s table.” The whole time Ray keeps thinking to himself, “I know a lot of doctors. They don’t drive cars like this!” Mr. Vega needed to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Mr. Vega walks over to meet Dr. Dre. Ray said the table was full of the “nicest people and the most beautiful women!!” Ray and Dr. Dre had a chuckle that, no, Dre was not a medical doctor. He was rather a doctor of music. Dr. Dre invited my dad to stay for a drink and the night went down in history.
The following afternoon, Ray comes into the office a little later than normal. He heads into his daughter’s, Christina, office to recount the tale of his evening. Christina, knowing exactly who Dr. Dre is, was in disbelief to put it lightly. Ray emptied on her desk a box of cds that Dre had given him as a gift that night: Dr. Dre, Snoop, Eninem, Mary J. Blidge… on and on.
Mr. Vega said he listened to them for a minute, but they were not his usual Julio Iglesias jam.
Ray said to Christy, “Oh yeah.. I picked up a few drinks last night.” The tab was over thousands of dollars with lots of kamikaze shots on the check. As Christy pulled it out, it fell to the ground, it was so long. Ray shrugged and said, “We had fun and I HAD to find out what doctor drives that kind of car. Now I know. A doctor of music!”
Marlon Brando was a long-time regular at Casa Vega for decades and decades. He started frequenting in the late 1950s. Casa Vega had just opened its doors. Mr. Brando was instrumental in making Casa Vega the celebrity hangout of his era. He brought in countless actors and entertainers to the restaurant.
On Sept. 30, 1977, Mr. Vega excitedly blew through the front doors of Casa Vega just before midnight. He went to deliver the news to his mother, Maria “Mary” Vega, and her sister, Frances, that he had welcomed a baby girl into the world: Maria Christina “Christy” Vega. Both ladies were working the dinner shift at CV while he was at the hospital with his wife, Charleen. This was big, exciting news for Mr. Vega. Ray was in his forties and this was his first biological child. He also adopted his two stepchildren, Kelly & Robbie.
While Ray was hugging his family and friends that were at Casa Vega, Aunt Frances approached him. She whispered in his ear that someone at the bar wanted to congratulate him. She insisted that Mr. Vega go say hello.
Ray walks over to the bar and sees the legendary Marlon Brando waving him over. Mr. Vega was in awe. Mr. Brando had recently won his 2nd Academy Award for The Godfather just a few years prior.
In front of Mr. Brando was a new, unopened bottle of 1800 tequila and two glasses. Mr. Brando said, “I hear you’ve just had a baby girl. Sit down. Let’s drink and celebrate.” Marlon and Ray proceeded to drink the ENTIRE bottle of 1800 tequila that infamous night. Many saluds and toasts were made to the new baby girl and growing Vega Family.
The following day, beautiful dresses arrived at Casa Vega. The card on the box read: “For Christina - With Love, Marlon Brando”. Ray always told Christy that she was “extra special” because Marlon Brando celebrated her arrival into the world.
Mr. Brando continued to be a weekly customer at Casa Vega for his entire life. Several times, Ray brought Christina over to Marlon’s table where the two men would recount the tale of her birthday.
The Vega’s made sure every time Mr. Brando came in that a cheese quesadilla made with corn tortillas was waiting— his favorite. He always sat at table 2.
Mr. Vega told this story over and over again.
In 1965, Carey Grant was a frequent and loyal regular at Casa Vega. At the time, he had a “House Account” as many celebrities did at CV. He simply signed his name on the bill and his business manager paid his tab at the end of the month.
One day, Mr. Grant came into Casa Vega to ask my Dad if he could take CV Margaritas to-go for the Dodger Game he was heading to. Mr. Vega explained per his liquor license, he could not permit the sale of alcohol to-go. Carey Grant was married to Dyan Cannon at the time. He told Mr. Vega, “Please, please!!! I BEG you!! It’s the only way my wife will be happy at the game. She loves your margaritas. You have to help me!” Mr. Grant told my Dad he would pay whatever fine CV incurred for the violation, if a problem arose.
So, Mr. Vega packaged up a container of margaritas and told Carey Grant to meet him outside the back kitchen door. Mr. Vega handed him the package and thought to himself. “ I am NEVER doing that again!!”
Around closing that same evening, Mr. Vega had a phone call at the restaurant. It’s Carey Grant. Mr. Vega picks up the phone when Carey tells him he is coming into Casa Vega with a large group from the after-game party. Mr. Vega explained that unfortunately it was nearing 2 a.m/ and they were closing. Mr. Grant begged him to stay open. Ray explained that per his liquor license, he can’t serve past 2 a.m. Again, Carey persisted and said, “I’ll pay whatever fines you incur if something happens.” So Mr. Vega reluctantly agreed.
The party came and eventually left. Mr. Vega sat at the bar completely stressed out and sweating bullets the entire time. Relief only hit Ray when Mr. Grant’s last party guest left and he locked the front door. Mr. Vega thought to himself again, “I will NEVER do that again! Not for anyone.”
A few days passed and Mr. Vega gets a call at his office from Carey Grant’s business manager. The office lady tells Ray, “Mr. Grant’s business manager is upset about his monthly bill.” This infuriates Ray, who at this point has risked his liquor license multiple times for Carey. Ray proceeds to pick up the phone and say, “How dare you call me to complain about the bill!! You tell that son-of-bitch, Carey Grant, to never…” Ray is cut off by the business manager, who replies, “Oh Mr. Vega!! No, no!! Mr. Grant thinks you have not charged him nearly enough. We are sending in triple the amount this month. He thanks you very much and loves Casa Vega. He’ll be there tonight for dinner.”
Ray put down the phone and laughed. He and Carey continued their friendship for many years.
Casa Vega is at 13301 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
Photography by: Courtesy Casa Vega