Starting at 6:00 P.M. tonight, Petty Cash Taqueria will start serving in the former home of John Sedlar's Playa. The concept, which comes from restaurateur Bill Chait (Bestia, Sotto, Etc.) finds Walter Manzke outfitting the menus with dressed-up ceviches, salads, quesadillas, and tacos using gourmet ingredients, with room for recipes like the chef's nachos on a bed of soft egg topped with crispy twists of pig ear. Cocktails, made by Julian Cox, feature typically hilarious names like "Banana Hammock" and "The Obligatory Vodka Drink," coming in at a refreshing nine and ten dollars and tapping a rum, tequila, and mezcal supply curated by local blogger Bill Esparza. Elsewhere, there is beer on tap and in bottles, and liquor-less drinks using such coveted ingredients as Handsome coffee, fermented pineapple, and horchata with long grain brown rice. Let's check out the menu.
We stopped by Petty Cash for dinner on Sunday night while the restaurant was in friends-and-family trials. The room was still in the last stages of construction, packed with more tables than Playa, the full eastern wall of cinder blocks painted in Mexican tri-colors by the artist RETNA in his signature hieroglyphs. An impressive mural in size and scope, though the recurring red and green give off a rather Christmas-y vibe we found distracting.
Already, it appears as though Maznke's cheesy churros, a swooping, foot-long fritter with a shaggy coat of cheese served with green mole corn dip, could emerge as the signature starter here, landing on every other table and making heads turn. Ceviches are a noticeable strength here, and the mostly single-digit menu's most expensive item. A $12 ceviche negro gets its title from a base of squid ink, giving a rich, smooth mouthfeel to the acidic dish, here studded with peanuts, mango, and cuts of New Zealand grouper.
Our favorite flavor of the evening was a potent fish broth made from kanpachi bones and guts, served in a mason jar preceding Petty Cash's design-it-yourself aguachiles. Superior ingredients include live Santa Barbara spot prawn, Kumamotos, and kanpachi. Unfortunately, the menu is a tad confusing here, leading to a somewhat shallow molcajete of aguachile priced at a eye-popping $33, the delicate flavors of the spot prawn mostly obscured in a broth of homemade clamato with wild Sonoran chiltepin. Your waiter will likely lead you here and the dish is center-stage in a box, so be warned and carefully consider the prices before jumping in.
Of course, price is always going to be the biggest quandary facing a gourmet taqueria in L.A. How much can you get away with charging for something citizens are happy buying at $1 or $2 off the streets? Here, it's four dollars.
Manzke's tacos are really good. Maybe not Mariscos Jalisco good, but well-conceived and full of flavors familiar and novel. A charcoal-roasted portobello seeps with the deep flavor of the grill, while the kitchen nails the crispy spread of griddled Jack cheese that is a hallmark of places like Super Rica. Baja's Tacos Kokopelli lends the restaurant its Kraken taco of grilled octopus with chile de arbol, a must-try. We also enjoyed rolled potato taquitos dorados spinkled in cotija, but found the Baja fish taco slightly overcooked, raising our suspicions that the fish might have been parboiled before it was been battered and fried.
Obviously, this is merely Manzke's side-project while he works to open his own restaurant in the former home of Camapnile. And these are just our first impressions from a pre-opening night.
Already, we're hoping to see this very gifted chef get loose of the taqueria concept to riff on regional Mexican with his deft touch. Though Petty Cash is undeniably delicious, we don't necessarily feel the need for a gourmet taqueria as much as we need restaurants like Playa, which divulge and celebrate the secrets, magic, and beauty of Mexican regional cuisine without treating it like some sort of in-joke.
But while you may be content enough with the pastor at Leo's or the carnitas at Los Guichos (Petty Cash uses Cook's Ranch pork), not every Westside chowhound is down for a drive to Guisado's. Petty Cash gives West Hollywood something it actually needs, dependable, superior, and if you're careful, afforadble Mexican food for people not afraid to pay a premium. We see the restaurant being a steady hangout for neighborhood residents, a curio to sample once or twice for food adventurers, and a place for the Red O crowd to hit when they want a taste of the "street."
Check out the full menu below and make reservations at 323-933-5300.
Petty Cash Taqueria, 7360 Beverly Blvd. West Hollywood; 323-933-5300.
Pig Ear Nachos 12
cream poblana, soft egg
pineapple-carrot hot sauce
Cheesy Churros 5
green mole-corn dip
California Home Grown
Baby Green Salad 8
cucumber, radish, pepitas, sungold tomatoes, avocado-lime dressing
Crispy Brussels Sprouts 7
Baby Beets 8
black quinoa, kale, tamarind, pistachio, cotija cheese
Iced "North of the Border" Oysters 6 for $18
Kanpachi Ceviche 17
Ceviche Negro 12
New Zealand grouper, squid ink, mango, peanuts
Beef Hanger Steak Ceviche 9
nopales, pickled red onions, avocado
Aguachile en Molcajete
homemade clamato, wild Sonoran chiltepin
Please select a combination of 3 or more items from the list below:
Kanpachi $12, Kumamoto Oysters $9/3 pieces, Littleneck Clams $6, Octopus $8, Gulf white prawns $9, Live Santa Barbara prawn $12
Deep fried quesadilla 8
white prawns, cabbage, roasted tomato sauce
Pocho Style 7
Flour tortilla, zucchini flower, jack cheese, cream
Gringa Style 7
pork, jack cheese, avocado crema
1 Taco $4, 3 Tacos $11, 6 Tacos $21
Cook's Ranch Pork Carnitas
salsa verde, guacamole
Prime Beef Striploin Carne Asada
refried beans, guacamole
grilled octopus, charred chile de arbol, peanuts
Baja Fish Taco +$1
beer-battered grouper, pico de gallo, cabbage
Charcoal-Roasted Portobello Mushroom
asaparagus, jack cheese, pipian
crispy tolled potato tacos, avocado, tomatillo, Cotija cheese
Beef Short Rib
white corn, black beans, avocado
Al Pastor Taco $5