Tacos Punta Cabras is a hole in the wall on a bleak stretch of mid-town Santa Monica Boulevard. Inside there’s a handful of tables and some scrappy beach-theme decor that looks like an afterthought.
But don’t let the modest surroundings fool you – take a bite of the food and you’ll see that Tacos Punta Cabras isn’t your average taco joint. What you’ll eat here is super-fresh ingredients, hand made in a kitchen run by two young, confident chefs who’ve cooked at some of Los Angeles’s vaunted fine dining restaurants. Since it opened in February, word has spread and now the little shop overflows at lunchtime with hungry office workers.
The chefs behind Tacos Punta Cabras – Josh Gil and Daniel Snukal – are renegade chefs who say they disdain the pretenses of formal dining. Gil was chef de cuisine at Joe’s Restaurant in Venice. Snukal, a Santa Monica resident from Canada, has worked at the Japanese restaurant Urasawa in Beverly Hills, where your dinner bill will be around $400 for one. As part of the semi-underground Supper Liberation Front – a self-described band of “former fine dining chefs who love fancy kitchen tools but hate fancy airs,” they’ve staged intimate multi-course dinners at roving secret locations for those who are in the know.
At Tacos Punta Cabras, Gil and Snukal serve Baja-style Mexican food made with the precision that you might expect from chefs who are trained in French and Japanese cooking techniques. Snukal says nearly everything’s made in-house.
Take the cauliflower tostada ($4), for example. The cauliflower is sliced razor thin, then marinated in lime juice and salsa until it becomes nice and chewy. It’s piled on a flat, crispy corn tortilla along with thin slices of buttery avocado, crunchy Japanese pickled cucumbers, finely chopped veggies, and a shot of nut crema. The tostada is served with a pineapple habanero salsa that makes your face drip with sweat as you seriously consider ordering another one.
Another good choice is the fish taco, which has a satisfyingly thick chunk of pristine cod that you can sink your teeth into. It’s deep fried tempura-style, in a whispery thin batter that’s not at all greasy. It’s wrapped up in a thick, warm hand-made tortilla, then sprinkled with a little chopped cabbage. Eat it with your choice of tasty salsa – there are multiple kinds packed in little plastic cups, and they’re all bright and bold, not tame or watery.
The menu is simple, with only three items: tacos, tostadas, and coctele (a chilled marinated seafood mix). Your protein choices are fish, scallops, shrimp, or tofu. You check off what you want on a little order form, and you can check gluten-free or nut-free. Everything is prepared to order, and when it’s ready your order will be served on paper plates and a plastic tray. They make three daily alkaline water agua frescas; this week you’re likely to find a version made with guavas from the local farmers market.
Sometimes there are impromptu off-the-menu specials like an octopus eggplant miso taco or a taco with cardoons, aguacate criollo, salsa molcajete, and 63-degree quail egg. Occasionally there are Supper Liberation Front special dinners. Last Monday they served a $65 9-course dinner prepared by Gil, Snukal, and Bradley Miller, chef at Inn of the Seventh Ray in Malibu.
Tacos Punta Cabras is out to prove that refined dining doesn’t have to be fussy, stuffy, or spendy. So many new restaurants have opened up in Santa Monica lately, but this one is the best thing that’s hit the mid-town in a very long time.
Tacos Punta Cabras
2311 Santa Monica Blvd. (at Cloverfield)
Tacos $3-$3.50, tostadas $4-$5, cocteles $5-$6, agua fresca $1.50.