Is Santa Monica becoming downright stuffed with taco shops? Not exactly. But the move of taco mavens Mondo Taco from their skimpy Mid-City location on La Brea does bring a third, high-visibility operation to the area, behind Tacos Por Favor and Tacos Punta Cabras.
But Mondo isn't looking to replicate the simple, straightforward fare at Por Favor or the cocteles and fish tacos of Punta Cabras. Its offerings are more … eclectic.
There are fried shrimp tacos, of course – it's just that they're battered in coconut first and topped with a thick curry sauce and a dice of red bell peppers. Forget the usual hongos option for vegetarians; mushrooms here are buried under heavily crisped onions and run through with creamy goat cheese before a topping of garlic aioli crisscrosses the top. Shredded chicken tacos come wet with barbecue sauce, a Yo Adrian offering re-creates Philly's famous cheesesteak exports and the none-too-delicate New Yawker earned owner Sam Spector – formerly of the Culver Hotel – a bit of early notoriety for basically being a corn dog on a tortilla. There's room for tacos like these in Santa Monica, if only because Mondo is unique enough to justify its independence from the crowd.
There are certain overlaps with more traditional taco eateries, namely the fresh tortillas made in-house daily. And while you won't find carne asada anywhere, a carnitas-adjacent taco (more pulled pork than anything from a true cazo) looks downright tame by comparison with the rest of the menu, done up heavy on the salsa verde and with nothing more than cilantro as a finishing move.
Plus, this new Mondo space has something that plenty of taco huts don't: a beer and wine license.
It seems as though the ground floor of Santa Monica's AO apartments on Colorado Avenue has begun to collect refugee eateries; this is also the home of Hole in the Wall Burger Joint, a polarizing place that went from West L.A. to West Hollywood, back to West L.A. and ultimately found its niche here. Similarly, Mondo Taco opened on La Brea to early Yelp stars and a shot in the 2013 Taco Madness tournament, but it was hidden away inside a hard-to-reach strip mall.
Now the sunny street-facing Santa Monica digs look to revitalize Mondo, which is already in talks to use its new location as an anchor and expand back eastward – perhaps Mid-Wilshire, so as to serve its original customers, who felt a bit jilted at the sudden move (which was billed initially as an expansion).
For now, a steady stream of curious locals keeps cashiers working hard, while a few simple beer and wine offerings cater to anyone with a bit of time to kill before braving the 10 West home. There's more elbow room inside the spiffy buildout, and Spector himself is still running around, checking in on customers as he did at the La Brea station. Only now there are more of them to talk to.