In the clever 2009 comedy I Love You, Man, insecure Peter Klaven (played by Paul Rudd), realizing he has no male friends, and thus no one to be the best man at his upcoming wedding, goes on a series of ‘man dates’ to find a friend worthy of the role. After little success at first, he meets up with easy-going dude Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), at James Beach restaurant near Venice where they crack each other up over beers and what Sydney claims are the best fish tacos in the world. For a little meta background on this claim, it’s worth noting that the screenwriter/director of I Love You, Man, John Hamburg, was a frequent visitor of James Beach and loved the fish tacos there, which you can learn more about here.
Now, we don’t want to start any fish taco feuds, but it’s 2014, and we believe the best fish tacos are at the tiny new taqueria Tacos Punta Cabras on Santa Monica, near Saint John’s Hospital. Started by the super-credentialed young chef team of Josh Gil and Daniel Snukal, in the same former Utopia Cafe space as their beloved pop-up Supper Liberation Front, Tacos Punta Cabras has a tightly focused menus of tacos, tostadas, and cocteles, with house made salsas such as tomatillo and chile de arbol, as well as pineapple and habanero, so freshly blended it’s still frothy. Although the choices of fillings are limited to fish (cod), shrimp, scallops, cauliflower, or (gasp) tofu, in myriad combinations, and all are superb (particularly the bright, refreshing tomato-y cocteles, with chunks of ripe avocado amidst the crisp shrimp and rich scallops), you’re here for the Baja-style fish tacos.
Before we dive in to the taco, however, a bit of background is in order. According to research conducted by The Wall Street Journal in Ensenada, the birthplace of the Baja fish taco, the combination of tender white-fleshed Pacific fish (mako or cod) encased in beer batter and fried in pork fat until hot and crisp, then wrapped in a small, warm, freshly made tortilla with a squirt of mayo and a scoop of sweet, crunchy slaw, originated with the influx of Japanese immigrant labor to the area in the 1920s. The thinking goes that the batter is like Japanese tempura only done in a Mexican style, and that it was originally fried in a disca, which is a deep pan similar to a wok.
While we make no claims that the Baja-style fish tacos at Tacos Punta Cabras are strictly traditional, we can say with assurance that they are minimalist, fresh and delicious. The wonderful contrast of temperatures and textures starts with a steamy, just made, soft corn tortilla, on which rests thick fingers of hot, crispy, cod, showered with a fresh slaw of green and red cabbage, radishes sliced razor-thin, and a generous squirt of house made creme-fraiche that moistens everything when you fold it for its journey to your mouth. It crunches and gently oozes, the heat of the fish playing against the cool slaw and warm tortilla. It tastes of the sea and the salty air and makes you happy to be alive.
But just as it took Peter Klaven’s character several mediocre man dates before he found the one guy who could be his best buddy forever, a Baja-style taco maven must fight through many a musty and mushy affair before crunching into something worthy of a bromance. The Baja-style fish taco is such a taco. A taco worthy of commitment, or at least a drive across town. In the immortal words of Peter Klaven, the Baja-style fish taco from Tacos Punta Cabras is a taco with which some “sweet, sweet, hangin,’ is always a pleasure.
Tacos Punta Cabras
A tiny taqueria in Santa Monica reels in crowds with fantastic Baja-style fish tacos.
Fish tacos, cocteles mixto (shrimp and scallop), horchata, salsas.
Cramped quarters with wood and tile accents, and a few nautical knick nacks.
Friendly, but more or less do it yourself (you fill out what you want sushi-bar style at the counter), then pick up your order when they scream your name.
Loud and lively. Hope you like 90’s hip-hop.
2311 Santa Monica Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90404. 310.917.2244.
Mon-Sat 11am-8pm. Credit Cards Accepted. Street parking.
I LOVE YOU, MAN – (2009) Directed by John Hamburg. Written by John Hamburg and Larry Levin. Starring Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones.