Santa Monica, California
In the de facto American taco capitol, nary a head would turn or eye bat at the opening of another high-end taqueria, but with the house specialty being Mexican alcoholic beverages such as tejuno, pulque, tepache, and a plethora of craft mescals, Tacoteca has transformed the former Charleston space into the definitive destination for craft Mexican consumables. In a no-holds-barred attempt to rework south of the border gastronomic culture into a unique yet accessible Mexican party in Santa Monica, restaurateur Adam Fleischman has assembled the crack team of Chef Ricardo Diaz, Mixologist Gilbert Marquez and beer expert Bradley Japhe.
Entomophagists will delight in the creative use of insects in Tacoteca’s beverage offerings (oddly enough they don’t make an appearance in the cuisine) – the fine mezcals and cocktails are accompanied by crushed, stacked and skewered chapulines (Oaxacan grasshoppers) and a tiny dune of maguey worms pulverized in salt; orange slices provide a sweet citrus alternative to the typical lime wedge. Each shot of mezcal is served in a clay copita, which allows the spirit to come to life and breathe. Some cocktails are downright strange – the La Bruxa (“witch” in Spanish) employs a jalapeño-infused mezcal with blended banana, lime and cilantro, but is then muddied with activated charcoal simply to give the drink a murky black tinge.
Aside from the tacos, most of the other plates are shareable – a row of corn coblets are treated with cotua cheese, lime mayo, cayenne powder and tamarindo in a playful attempt to mimic elote; a tamal stuffed with chunks of moist duck meat is given the two-tone treatment with a split topping of rich chocolate mole and guayaba salsa. Other dishes are tributes or plays on non-Mexican dishes (such as the Shrimp Luis, a Mexicanized version of shrimp Louie). Seafood features prominently on the menu, and for vegetarians there’s even a veggie tostada that employs hearts of palm as a suitable substitute for scallops in a ceviche-like blend.
The tacos are exemplary – meaty chucks of tender lamb and carne asada are in ample supply, topped with mildly spicy yet flavorful sauces such as Mexican chimichurri and mint garlic salsa; the stand-out open-faced taco features thick, grilled octopus tentacles and a satay-like serrano-peanut sauce, a combination that came to Chef Diaz as in a dream. Quality and taste are priorities, although some may find the tacos a bit steep at around 6 bucks a pop, but where the fare and bar offerings combine playful artistry with tradition, Tacoteca is changing the face of Taco Land one menu item at a time.
NOTE: The cost for the food was provided by Tacoteca. The content provided in this article was not influenced whatsoever by the organizer of the event.