In April of 2012, Mercado launched in Downtown Santa Monica, bringing the regionally spread-out Mexican cuisine of Yxta Cocina chef Jose Acevedo to the blocks behind the Third Street Promenade, on the same street where Border Grill moved 22 years before it. In the year that followed, the area between Ocean Avenue and 26th Street has seen an uptick in new, and for the most part improved, Mexican restaurants.
Blue Plate Taco opened aside a South Beach-style hotel on Ocean in September to serve $20 lobster tacos, small plates of ceviche, and pollo a la parrida prepared with Mary's organic chicken. Next came the sublime Tacos Punta Cabra in February, perfecting seafood cocteles and battered Baja tacos under two chefs as comfortable with shredding white tablecloths to as they are with hand-making tortillas.
Most recently, Casa Martin spread its doors wide to Ocean Avenue, just steps from The Pier, serving botanas, molcajetes, mojarra frita, and um, burgers, on a massive menu from a Jalisco family in the now incandescent remains of the Detelich Galleries.
Today, Eater reports that Tinga is the next piece of this puzzle, opening today to bring more high-quality, proprietary Mexican food to the former home of Renee's Courtyard Cafe. In a cool multi-room space of colorful flooring, hand-painted details, old wood, and modern leather chairs and booths, with an attached patio and full bar, Tinga brings Santa Monica an expanded menu with the same dirty horchata and dry-rubbed pork loin tacos that owner-chef Jerry Baker, wife Chris, and partner Michael LaFetra popularized on LaBrea.
New dishes here include chicken and waffles with buttermilk fried chicken, horchata buckwheat waffles, maple syrup, and something called "borracho" sauce, along with tacos al Pastor de Jerryt that finds guajillo-rubbed and pineapple juice-marinated pork with grilled pineapple lime salsa and Caribbean scotch bonnet peppers, plus agua chiles with prawns, chipotle-steeped shredded chicken, and wouldn't you know it, "bacon guacamole" with Nueske's apple-smoked bacon and chicharrones mingling with fresh avocados.
Joel Black is behind the cocktails here, which include a rum-spiked horchata with espresso and Corralejo-aided margaritas, with the bar staying open to 1:30 A.M. and lunch and brunch to come. And just in case Renee's fans feel bad coming here in wake of its closing, no te preocupes. It appears the owners of both places are cool with each other.
Tinga, 522 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica.