Tacos Punta Cabras: Ricky’s on the Westside?
A few days ago, Ciao Bob on Chowhound posted about a new hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Santa Monica selling authentic tacos de pescado. Having enjoyed the heck out of the fish and shrimp tacos from Ricky’s since last summer (still haven’t gotten there on a day that they’ve been selling lobster tacos), I was able to confirm for myself that Ricky’s is as authentic as the exemplars from the motherland (I got to sample from Los Originales Tacos de Pescado de Ensenada and Tacos Mi Ranchito El Fenix in Ensenada last fall). The prospects of having access to anything close to authentic Ensenada-style seafood tacos, tostadas, and cocteles, essentially in my back yard, was very exciting for me!
I really wanted to go on Saturday, but a detour to the soon-to-be-opened Bucato’s porchetta truck Saturday morning derailed those plans (another post in the making), but I did go for lunch today. The biggest problem that Tacos Punta Cabras will face is parking (and construction around St. John’s). The street around are nearly all permit parking. I parked a block away by McKinley Elementary in a no-parking-on-school-days zone, which I could only get away with today because it was Presidents’ Day and school was out.
I walked into the establishment around 1 PM to a dim dining room of less than a dozen tables, a flat-screen TV showing–what else–futbol, and strangely some hockey jerseys hanging on the wall. The place was about three-quarters full, but no one was in line (one lady was perusing the menu but was not ready to order). I placed my order and sat down, and just in time as a new wave of patrons queued up to order.
My favorite agua fresca is agua de sandia (watermelon), but unfortunately they did not have that. Actually, despite the fact that the cold case had written on it both tamarindo and jamaica (hibiscus), the former was all they had at the time (aside from the bottles of Mexican soft drinks, which I did not check out–next time), so I got one with my meal.
The tamarindo was nice and tart, with a flavor that was reminiscent of pear juice with a slightly fermented bite.
From the kitchen, the coctel mixto came out after what felt like a while, but was probably no more than 10 minutes.
The coctel was replete with avocado and cilantro and onions, as well as healthy portions of shrimps and scallops. It was not overly tangy and had a little bit more spiciness than the campechana I’m used to at La Playita on Lincoln just a few miles away. Speaking of which, while I didn’t find the coctel to be significantly better than that at La Playita Mariscos Guillen, I’d like to think that it’s just because La Playita has really good seafood cocktails to begin with. I did very much enjoy the scallops in the coctel, something that La Playita doesn’t have.
After several more minutes, again just long enough to be felt, my fish taco came out.
I was amazed at how light the batter was for the fish taco; it was lighter than most tempura batter. The fish itself was a little too tender, and without a substantive batter to fall back on, I felt that the fish actually got kinda lost. Now, I’m not advocating for a heavier batter, just for firmer fish. :-) The cabbage slaw, salsa, and tortilla were all excellent.
At that point I had to run back to work, but I ordered a scallop taco and a cauliflower tostada to go. Again, the amount of time it took to get the food was quite noticeable, and it’s probably the most negative aspect of my experience, aside from parking, because the food was all excellent.
The cauliflower tostada (not pictured) was good, but for some reason I was under the impression the cauliflower would be roasted or otherwise cooked. Since it was raw, I didn’t think it added much in the flavor department, but it did add a little more crunch to the standard tostada fixins.
The scallop taco (not pictured) held up well for the 10-15 minutes between when it came out and when I finally ate it back at work. It was damn near perfect. The batter was still light and crisp, the scallops were plump and sweet. I enjoyed it more than the fish tacos for the simple fact that the scallops were more substantive than the fish.
So is Tacos Punta Cabras the Ricky’s Fish Tacos west of the 405? I’m gonna say “Yes.” I think it gives a nod to its Santa Monica location with a super-light batter that will placate the healthy eaters but that doesn’t compromising the authenticity that food enthusiasts seek.
I think I might still make a special trip to Ricky’s were I specifically craving tacos de pescado the way I had it in Ensenada, but I’m perfectly happy with the scallop and shrimp tacos (I haven’t tried the shrimp yet, but I bet will be just as good as, if not better than, at Ricky’s, based on the scallop taco). Factor in the tostadas and cocteles, the convenience factor of not having to drive long distances, it’s not difficult to recommend coming here instead if you’re on the Westside.
Just give yourself plenty of time to park, and, at least from my experience today, plenty time to get your food, and you will leave here happy!
UPDATE: Went back the next day with the fam, had the shrimp tacos, the shrimp and the scallop tostadas, and a few more of what I had before. Fish tacos were better, with larger, somewhat firmer chunks of fish, but shrimp and scallop tacos outstanding!
Really like that they have vegetarian options; the tofu taco was very good too!
Tostadas were amazing, with the cashew “salsa” slathered on the fried tortilla. The shrimp were nearly raw but I don’t think they were ceviche’d as they weren’t tart. They were very fresh and briny though! And the pickled cucumbers were an excellent addition!
The scallops in the coctel and tacos I had the first visit were a bit bigger, almost gumball size. The scallops on this visit were a bit smaller, but just as tasty!
Tacos Punta Cabras
2311 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90404