When Jerry Baker opened his new modern Mexican restaurant Tinga in the space previously occupied by Renee’s Courtyard Café at 522 Wilshire Boulevard last month, he found most of his customers didn’t come in until after 11 pm.
A month later, locals are catching on that the location is no longer a dive bar like it has been the past 30 years.
Instead, a new atmosphere awaits where the design and décor celebrates the culture and heritage of Mexican cuisine.
Since officially opening April 11, Tinga offers modern Mexican food nightly with fresh, flavorful food with tequila, mezcal, cocktails, margaritas, wine, and beer.
The restaurant launched its Happy Hour on Monday, which will run seven days a week from 3 pm to 6 pm, which includes $7 margaritas, $7 red/white wine, $5 selected draft beer, and discounted food.
“Renee’s was mostly a bar set up, much darker, and it definitely kept a dive bar status with incredible character having all these rooms,” Baker said. “When we ran Renee’s for a month in March before the launch of Tinga, we had no business until 10:30 pm or 11 pm and then we would do a lot of business from 11 pm to 2 am when people wanted to come in for a drink.”
Baker said this customer flow had shifted with people arriving earlier in the evening after learning that Tinga was more food orientated.
Tinga Santa Monica offers similar food as its Los Angeles counterpart at 142 S. La Brea.
Baker’s menu is imaginative with the likes of the Tacos Al Pastor de Jerry with guajillo-rubbed and pineapple-marinated pork with a Caribbean kick and grilled pineapple lime salsa and scotch bonnet peppers. Another popular dish is the Agua Chiles with prawns, cucumber, tomatoes, mint, lime, and chiles.
Other signature dishes reflect his interpretation of the restaurant name with Tinga Tacos with chipotle steeped shredded chicken, shredded lettuce, crema, and pickled red onions; Tinga Tostada with long braised hand-shredded chicken chipotle, roasted tomato and garlic as well as homemade tortillas, salsas, tapatio with vine ripe tomatoes, and fresh chiles; and Bacon Guacamole with fresh avocado with Nueske’s Apple Smoked Bacon and Chicharrones.
The menu also offers vegan and vegetarian options such as Chickpea and Broccoli Falafel Taco with salsa suegra and tequila salsa; Elote Especial with grilled sweet corn, creamy lime, chili, and poblano puree; and Chile Relleno Burrito with arroz con crema, refried beans, and chipotle salsa.
Baker said his food has up front, powerful flavors.
“That is the way I like to cook,” he said. “The inspiration really came from my childhood of loving Mexican food and really liking hot things. When my buddy went to Santa Barbara, I went up and had food at La Super-Rica Taqueria and that sort of changed my idea of what Mexican food can be.”
Not all of Baker’s dishes are traditional Mexican dishes – just take the Pastram-adilla.
“The Pastram-adilla came from a drunken night of raiding the refrigerator and I had tortillas, cheese, and pastrami,” he said. “I put that together and thought ‘wow, that’s good.’ I added some chayote to give it a nice flavor and sort of south of the border twist.”
Tinga features three distinct bars that offer a selection of mescals and tequilas as well as house cocktails, aguas frescas, frozen margaritas, craft beers, and spiked Horchata.
Mixologist Joel Black with Black Lab Ventures, is the man behind the drinks, having previously managed the bar programs at Comme Ca, Cana Rum Bar, and The Doheny.
Baker said brunch, lunch, and delivery would be available this summer.
For reservations or more information, call 310.451.9341 or visit www.tingabuena.com.