Backstory: Petty Cash is in the space formerly occupied by Playa, John Sedlar's Latin restaurant which closed in March. Restaurateur Bill Chait brought in chef Walter Manzke (with whom Chait was already working on the forthcoming Republique in the old Campanile location), and the two of them transformed the spot into a taqueria. Tijuana chef Guillermo Oso Campos was brought in to consult on the menu, and food writer Bill Esparza curated the restaurant's mezcal program and lent advice and expertise in other areas as well.
Tacos: As the name might suggest, there are tacos. And they're pretty great too. From the review: “Tacos cost as much as $6.50. How you feel about that will depend very much on how coddled you want your tacos to be, because these suckers are made with a ton of care. Tortillas are handmade and grilled to order by people who know how — Manzke has hired local Mexican women “who have been taught by their mothers and grandmothers.” The resulting tortillas are small, sweet and lightly musky. Each taco filling has its own, thoughtfully calibrated accompaniments; tacos arrive at the table like diminutive sculptures wrought from pig (or cow or sea creature), masa and bright toppings. The charcoal-grilled octopus, for example, comes bathed in chile de arbol and topped with peanuts, jack cheese and avocado.”
Beyond Tacos: The menu also has some wonderful raw seafood dishes, small vegetable dishes and some seriously playful spins on American taqueria staples, like pig ear nachos and guacamole with sea urchin. A large section of the menu is dedicated to aguachile en molcajete — you choose three raw seafood items, and they come served in a molcajete (stone mortar) bathed in chili and clamato.
Atmosphere: Petty Cash is as trendy as they come, and your reaction to that depends strongly on whether you want (very good) fancy cocktails and a vibrant, swank setting with your tacos.
Takeaway: 3 stars (very good). From the review: “Devising upscale street food is a transformation rife with sticky issues: economic, cultural, emotional, maybe even racial. In the end, the only way to judge a restaurant is to ask how well it's doing what it's trying to do. Petty Cash is aiming for a middle ground, somewhere between tradition and creativity, with all the trappings and fun of an of-the-moment Hollywood restaurant. In that regard, the place has succeeded mightily.”
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