Tacos Punta Cabras sets the local standard for Mexican seafood with just three menu items: tacos, tostadas and cócteles
By Javier Cabral (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Santa Monica may not be the first place you think of when craving Mexican seafood, but that’s about to change thanks to the heroic culinary efforts of Tacos Punta Cabras.
This hole-in-the-wall lunch spot near Saint John’s Health Center was launched in 2013 by Venice residents Josh Gill and Daniel Snukal. They recognized the Westside’s dire need for fast, casual, high-quality Mexican food and decided to take the matter into their own hands by opening a tiny taqueria at one of Santa Monica’s busiest intersections (Full disclosure: one of the hardest intersections to find parking near, too!).
Don’t let the simple three-item menu fool you. The tacos, tostadas and cócteles being served here are some of the most underrated and underappreciated Mexican seafood being served in all of Greater Los Angeles at the moment.
The success of Tacos Punta Cabras starts with the simple staples, as it should with any cuisine.
The restaurant’s handmade white-corn tortillas are taken up a notch by being seasoned with a little citrus zest, olive oil and spices. This elevated, outside-the-box treatment of tortillas was unheard of in Los Angeles until Gill and Snukal had their way with the humble tortilla. The result is an enticingly aromatic, chewy, handmade beauty that’d be good enough to eat on its own.
They taste even better, of course, when wrapped around the tempura-battered wild-caught catch of the day and topped with habanero mango salsa. But before I write a small creative nonfiction paperback completely on the tortillas alone, I’ll move on to the rest of the menu.
For starters, Tacos Punta Cabras’ cóctel mixto stands out from the hundred or so other Mexican-style seafood cocktails the L.A. area has to offer due to the addition of one simple ingredient: fish sauce. Once you take your first slurp, you’ll realize that it’s kind of a no-brainer and wonder why nobody ever spiked a cóctel with the extremely savory Southeast Asian fish condiment before. It comes in a little plastic cup and is packed with plenty of chopped, plump jumbo shrimp, creamy scallops and buttery avocado. Make sure to scoop up the seafood with the accompanying saltine, as this is the traditional Mexican way of eating it.
If you’re doing the gluten-free thing, that’s cool too. Just make sure to ask for them to substitute the saltines with a corn-fried tostada or two.
Vegans will feel equally at home here as omnivores do, with tempura’d tofu versions of their namesake fish taco and soft tofu available in their cócteles as well. And the shaved cauliflower “ceviche” packs a serious flavor punch and should be considered by anyone who eats here, regardless of eating philosophy. Because, veggies.
At this point, you’ve probably guessed that chef Josh used to work in fine dining. Well, he has — at Ludobites and Urasawa, to be specific. He’s also the founder of the Supper Liberation Front, a cult-favorite underground dinner series. For those who get a kick from secret suppers, it’s a good idea to do a quick Google search and get on their email list so you can see what these chefs are capable of outside the bounds of the tortilla.
At the end of the day, what sets Tacos Punta Cabras apart comes down to the little things that so many other Mexican restaurants just don’t take as seriously. Besides the food, the laid-back hip-hop and West Coast punk rock being played through the speakers (music genres that go hand-in-hand with the cooking style) will have you feeling relaxed enough to return to work happy and full. Gill and Snukal also get bonus points for going the extra mile and using soft-as-Fiji alkaline water for their cooking and in making their thick, full-flavored aguas frescas like horchata, agua de tamarindo and agua de jamaica.
As you circle the block anxiously looking for parking, try to remember that all the fuss will be well worth it, I assure you.
And don’t sleep on taking home a dozen handmade tortillas while you’re at it. They’re probably the best handmade white corn tortillas in Greater Los Angeles.
Tacos Punta Cabras is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
Tacos Punta Cabras 2311 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica (310) 917-2244 tacospuntacabras.com
Javier Cabral tweets as @theglutster.