If you live or work on the Westside and are tired of the long haul across town — or a few hundred miles south — every time you want a good, I mean really good, fish taco, you're in luck. This past weekend, Josh Gil and Daniel Snukal opened Tacos Punta Cabras in Santa Monica. Now you can spend all that gas money on shrimp tacos and cauliflower tostadas. Gil, who has cooked at Joe's Restaurant, the Jonathan Club and BLT, and Snukal, whose resume includes LudoBites, Urasawa and Obika, are the chefs who've been bringing you the underground pop-up Supper Liberation Front for the last three years or so.
Tacos Punta Cabras is a tiny taqueria on Santa Monica Boulevard in the space formerly occupied by Utopia Cafe. Gil and Snukal have been holding their Supper Liberation Front dinners there, and recently had the chance to take over the space. So they did. Why a taqueria? And more to the point, why a taqueria that specializes in seafood and tofu tacos? (Yes, tofu tacos.) It's both a matter of location and of personal preference, according to the chefs, who figured that the market for more healthful food on the western side of town would coincide nicely with their love for Baja-style fish tacos.
Gil and Snukal have spent not a little time in Baja over the years, and they wanted to cook what they wanted to eat. There are four kinds of tacos on the small menu: fish, shrimp, scallop and tofu. Tostadas also come in four types (shrimp, scallop, mixto and a lovely shaved raw cauliflower), as do the cocteles (shrimp, scallop, mixto and tofu). There are house-made chips and salsas, a lot of them, including cashew, chipotle, spicy tomatillo, lemon habanero and pineapple habanero. The corn tortillas are made in-house, as are the aguas frescas. Everything, in fact, except the tostadas and the sodas, is made in the small kitchen. The menu also caters to gluten-free and vegan patrons. “Everyone loves a taco,” says Gil, whose daughter is a vegetarian and who has family members with celiac disease.
As for why two chefs who've cooked in some of the best — and fanciest — restaurants in town opened a taco joint the size of a walk-in closet, they were circumspect. And tired. And visibly happy. “If we had a big place, we'd never last in it,” said Snukel yesterday over tacos. “We like holes in the wall. It's food that we want to eat.” (A flat-screen TV plays soccer. There are NFL and NHL banners high on the walls.) Gil added: “By keeping things so small, we're able to do a couple things really well. There's no one on this side of town who does Baja-style.”
And as for the name of the place, Gil and Snukal say that they named their taqueria after a favorite Baja surfing spot about an hour from Ensenada. And no, there's no goat on the menu — or meat of any kind. Yet.
Tacos Punta Cabra: 2311 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-917-2244. Open Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
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