You are here

Consistency is key at Lily’s Cafe

Pictured are the Mahi Mahi fish tacos at Lily’s Café. Photos by Chris Bashaw, 22nd Century Media
Pictured is the breakfast burrito at Lily’s Café.
Chris Bashaw, Assistant Editor
12:46 pm PDT March 25, 2014

After more than 25 years in business, Lily’s Café has changed very little – if at all.

Tucked in a nook at the Point Dume Village across the walkway from Bank of Books, the cozy café was originally a doughnut shop until the early 1980s, when an 18-year-old Lily Castro acquired the venue and began its transition to a restaurant. 

“Little by little, I made this place a restaurant by adding burritos, hamburgers and tacos to our menu,” Castro said. “My vision was to make this restaurant a family business, and it worked.”

Castro said some customers have been regulars at her café for almost as long as it has been open. Some are surfers, Pepperdine University students, Malibu High School students; others come from as far as Santa Monica and Camarillo, but most come from Malibu and as close as Point Dume.

In many cases, Castro has watched some of Malibu’s families grow up from behind her counter – and that’s another aspect of her café she said hasn’t changed, even if the children always grow taller.

“I know everything has to change, but I don’t think things have to change too much,” she said. “I don’t like changes in the menu, and if I were to change anything, it would be to improve the quality. If the salsa verde changes slightly in color, people notice and I have to tell them that it depends on the varying ripeness of our chilies.”

One dish that hasn’t changed at Lily’s Café is the Mahi Mahi fish tacos: Served on two homemade corn tortillas, this dish is made with fresh lettuce, cilantro, tomatoes and marinated Mahi Mahi.

It may be simple in appearance and ingredients, but looks can be deceiving: While a dish similar to Lily’s fish tacos can be had at nearly every Mexican food eatery, few come close to the freshness that’s apparent in this dish.

Part of what makes this dish so fresh is that Castro receives the restaurant’s produce daily and doesn’t hold anything for longer than the café’s doors are open.

“A man named Pasqual delivers my produce daily; my food is fresh and we make it daily,” she said. “When it comes to meat, I marinate one day and serve it the next. My fish tacos are healthy and fresh, and people just love them.”

Castro also doesn’t like to put regional labels on her cuisine: Because she and her kitchen staff members – many of whom have worked at the café for nearly 20 years – collaborate to incorporate the flavors of El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico into the eatery’s dishes, Castro prefers to dub her cuisine “Lily’s Style.”

In all, “Lily’s Style” dishes are simple, but delicious. With most dishes costing less than $10, Lily’s Café is definitely a hidden gem in Malibu worth seeking out.

Other dishes not to miss …

Chiles rellenos: Filled with jack and swiss cheese, Lily’s chilies are covered in a salsa and served with rice as well as two homemade corn tortillas.

Breakfast burrito: One of Lily’s most popular dishes is the breakfast burrito, which is either a medium or large-sized tortilla stuffed with homemade pinto beans, egg, cheese and bacon.