Petty Cash Taqueria (Los Angeles, CA)

Petty Cash Taqueria
712 S Santa Fe Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Dining date: 10/21/15

Petty Cash

Petty Cash’s Arts District location officially opened a couple of months ago. I’ve been there once during its soft opening when Javier Plascensia and Tim Hollingsworth were guest chefs. I’ve also been there for post-dinner drinks, but this was my first time having a full meal.

In a city full of cheap taco options, one of the primary criticisms is that Petty Cash is too expensive. It’s definitely above average pricing at $4-6 apiece, though the quality of the ingredients is a differentiating factor. Sustainable fish for the fish tacos, Cook Pigs Ranch pork for the carnitas and prime grade ribeye for carne asada are a few examples. Happy hour (weekdays 5-7) is a great time to score some of these tacos at more approachable prices. On top of a couple of drink specials, tacos are 2-for-1. On this visit, we just made the cutoff coming in at 6:45.


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Javier Plascencia & Tim Hollingsworth @ Petty Cash Taqueria (Los Angeles, CA)

Javier Plascencia & Tim Hollingsworth with Petty Cash Taqueria
Petty Cash Taqueria

712 S Santa Fe Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 8/12/15

Petty CashI’ve never been to mid-city’s Petty Cash, a modernized taqueria from chef Walter Manzke and restaurateur Bill Chait. The restaurant has been pretty popular since opening two years ago spawning this second location in the red hot Arts District of downtown.

The restaurant recently soft opened with a number of ‘Test Kitchen’ dinners. Night one included a mashup of Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria and Wes Avila of Guerrilla Tacos. Night two, the one recapped here, featured Javier Plascencia (Tijuana’s Mision 19 and San Diego’s Bracero Cocina) and Tim Hollingsworth (The French Laundry, Barrel & Ashes, Otium) pairing up with the Petty Cash team to cook up some tacos.


I’ve seen and heard about Plascencia’s cooking for some time and have never tried it so this was a great opportunity to get a taste of his Baja-Mediterranean cuisine. I’ve been a fan of Hollingsworth since his days at The French Laundry so I’m always in for a peek at what he’s cooking. This served to be a sort of preview of his forthcoming concept Otium at the new Broad Museum downtown.

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Vegas Uncork’d Preview @ Border Grill (Los Angeles, CA)

Vegas Uncork’d @ Border Grill
445 S Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Dining date: 1/27/15


This past week, Bon Appetit and Las Vegas hosted a Vegas Uncork’d preview at downtown’s Border Grill. It was a fitting location, given Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s restaurant has two locations in Las Vegas and has been a consistent participant in the annual food event. This evening’s event served to garner attention to the April fest, as well as celebrate Border Grill’s 30th anniversary.

Now in its 9th year, Vegas Uncork’d has moved up a little earlier this year to the last weekend of April. As usual, it will amass dozens of big-name chefs cooking their way through various different seminars, tastings, classes and sit-down meals. The 20+ event, 4-day Uncork’d has been a tradition in my family for many years now and I’m looking forward to what 2015 has to offer (see 2014 here and here).

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Nopalito (San Francisco, CA)

306 Broderick St
San Francisco, CA 94117
Dining date: 11/30/14


Nopalito is the sister restaurant to ever-popular Nopa, located just a few blocks away (though there is a second location of Nopalito in the Inner Sunset). Whereas Nopa serves New American cuisine (that pork chop!), Nopalito serves up modernized Mexican fare. Tacos, quesadillas, ceviche and other Mexican flavors – they’re all here with a slight twist.

I really enjoy Nopa so naturally a visit to Nopalito was due. We came here on my last evening in SF during the Thanksgiving holiday on an evening when it was pouring rain. The rain clearly helped convince people to stay home as we had only a minimal wait for a table on this Sunday evening.


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Guerrilla Tacos (Los Angeles, CA)

Guerrilla Tacos
826 E 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining dates: 7/12/13, 5/2/14, 5/3/14

taco stand

Guerrilla Tacos began almost two years ago and has consistently generated positive attention for its unique approach to tacos. There are so many taquerias in Los Angeles it’s difficult to stand out, but Guerrilla Tacos has done it with its upscale, modern approach to the casual taco. Chef Wes Avila went to culinary school and is classically trained; leveraging many of those principles, he’s really upped the game for the casual taco. Avila uses tortillas as a vehicle to showcase top-notch seasonal ingredients and meats in a wide variety of ways.

The menu changes constantly; I’ve seen few taquerias with such a varied menu. One day may have octopus, Proscuitto di Parma, and fresh squash tacos; the next may have lamb shank and oxtail. Diver scallops, sashimi-grade fish and live sea urchin are commonplace on the menu. Sure the tacos are more expensive than most in LA, but the quality of ingredients are clearly a differentiating factor. A meal can still be had for under $15, maybe $20 for bigger appetites.

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Mexicali Taco & Co. (Los Angeles, CA)

Mexicali Taco & Co.
702 N. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 2/7/12

mexicali sign

I first heard about Mexicali in the early part of last year, when LA Taco was hosting a popular vote for best taco in Los Angeles. They ended up winning that competition, and I made my first visit to the taco stand (located in a parking lot at 1st & Beaudry downtown) shortly thereafter. I immediately became a convert and cursed myself for not hearing about them earlier, given I lived just a couple of blocks away.

My weekly trips (sometimes more, sometimes less) became part of a routine until, all of the sudden, the operator of the parking lot decided to end their partnership. It was a most inopportune time given their burgeoning popularity, but just a few months later it has led to this: the brick & mortar location of Mexicali Taco is set to open, a couple blocks from their original setup. What’s in store? Regular hours (lunch service!), less smoke, and the same grub many in the city have been craving during their hiatus.

The grand opening is set for Feb. 15th, but I stopped by during a soft opening for friends & family. The new restaurant is clearly a stark contrast from the old parking lot with bright lighting and ample seating. An open kitchen allows generous views of the action to anyone walking by.

mexicali front

mexicali kitchen

The menu is pretty similar to before with a few additions. Prices are nominally higher, no doubt to help cover the cost of rent and overhead.

mexicali menu

Like the old parking lot setup, a variety of salsas and other toppings are on-hand to allow customization of the tacos.



A few drink offerings were available too, including a pretty nice horchata (and a barley version).


In our group, cachetadas were a popular choice. The tortillas were grilled until very crisp, having the texture of a large nacho. They were then topped with a choice of meat, cheese and a chipotle aioli.

Chorizo and chicken cachetadas


Chorizo cachetada

chorizo cachetada

Carne asada cachetada

carne cachetada

fried egg cachetada

A new option is to top any item with a fried egg, ranchero style. What a nice touch. The texture of the tortilla was the difference-maker, being extremely crispy, while the meat, cheese and spicy aioli made for some tasty bites.

A couple of new items were the Cantonese-Baja style peppers and nachos. I shied away from the potentially spicy pepper but did go for nachos, topped with a choice of meat, cheese and a salsa with peppers. Probably the easiest dish for sharing and pretty well done.

Cantonese-Baja style peppers


Chorizo nachos


Perhaps the simplest of items and also one of the ones that put Mexicali on the map – the carne asada taco features a choice of corn or flour tortilla (the flour tortilla is brought in from Mexico) topped with chopped up steak. That’s it. The salsa/topping bar offers a host of options to customize the taco to individual liking.

Carne asada taco

carne asada taco

My favorite item happens to be the vampiro, a chicken vampiro to be specific. It looks like a quesadilla on the outside; when opened up it reveals melted cheese, garlic sauce, and a wonderfully smoke-imbued chicken. So delicious.

Chicken vampiro

chicken vampiro

For dessert, there was a special appearance by The Churro Borough – I hadn’t seen these guys since Baja Night 3.0.

churro borough

Five flavors of ice cream/custard were available, sandwiched between two warm, flat churros.

churro ice cream sandwich2

churro ice cream sandwich

These babies were as good as they looked. Delicious. The textural contrast was something else, with the rich creaminess countered by the light, flaky dough. Great balance of flavors too, with the cinnamon-sugar of the churro being a good accompaniment; not overly sweet at all. Why haven’t I seen this elsewhere? So good.

Congratulations to the whole Mexicali team. The food was exactly what I remembered; comforting, full of flavor and ultimately very satisfying. The Churro Borough is not a permanent fixture here, but I hear it will pop up on occasion. If so, it can’t be missed.

Mexicali Taco is a great addition to the downtown area, and I’m hoping to make it part of my lunchtime rotation too. I expect the place to quickly be a popular destination downtown, particularly for the late-night fix (open until midnight Fri-Sat). Selfishly, I just hope it’s not too popular – I hate waiting for my chicken vampiro.

The Mexicali partners: Esdras, Javier and Paul.

mexicali team

Note: All food and drink were hosted.