A FAVORITE FOR MEXICAN CUISINE
While it may sound like a dirty Spanish word, Tinga actually gave the Miracle Mile and Hancock Park area something it had sorely been lacking for quite some time when in it opened in 2010—tasty Mexican food. It instantly became a neighborhood favorite as a refined south of the border hole-in-the-wall. Since then, it has expanded (nearly doubling in space) and saw a second location in Santa Monica open.
The original taqueria on La Brea Avenue, opened by Jerry Baker (founder of The Food Matters catering service), producer Michael LaFetra (who actually directed Robert Williams Mr. Bitchin’) and attorney Joel McKuin, instantly delighted with its homemade chips and spicy salsa and hearty guacamole. Tinga’s specialty cuisine includes fancy and mouthwatering tacos and absolutely delicious quesadillas. A bit pricey for Mexican fare, ranging from $10 -$13 for ala carte orders, they do hit the mark with every menu item I’ve tried, and your palate will be craving seconds and thirds.
The La Brea Avenue location was beloved for its original BYOB policy but those days are gone as it now serves craft beers, including Shiner Bock, Shiner Bock Black Lager, and Arrogant Bastard Ale, in addition to popular Mexican beers like Pacifico and Modelo. Meanwhile the Santa Monica location, Tinga Buena, has a full bar.
I always recommend starting with the Elote Especial, grilled sweet corn with creamy lime, chili, and poblano puree. At $5 a pop it’s pricy for a small plate but it’s so damn addictive. Also, at that price it’s too good to share so make sure everyone buys his or her own. The Spicy Guacamole & Chips are another winner, especially if you’re sharing with friends. Do note that most taco orders come with a side of chips and salsa so you can really save some scratch here and skip the guac if you have to save somewhere.
During our recent visit, we started by sharing the Chorizo and Potato Pupusa with house-made refried beans, arroz con crema, pickled onion and chipotle salsa. This is a pretty filling order and can serve as a tasty small meal or a great item to share as you begin a Mexican feast.
The Tinga Specialty, two tostadas with spicy stewed chicken, crema, shredded lettuce, and picked red onion, is definitely worth having at least once. At nearly $8 it tends to price itself out of being an every visit order, but if you’re sharing with someone it is a great one to have.
The taco orders (two tacos with chips and salsa) are the way to go. The Flat Iron Steak Tacos made with grilled flat iron steak, guacamole, dog snout salsa, shredded lettuce, roasted peppers and queso fresco is a must-have for meat-eaters.
A fantastic order for non meat-eaters are the quesadillas, believe me, the Mushroom Quesadilla, prepared with wild and tame mushroom pate, Monterey jack cheese, guacamole, tomato salsa, and crema, along with the Black Bean and Goat Cheese Quesadilla, are incredible. I put the Mushroom Quesadilla in the must-have category. And it’s a very large item perfect for sharing or enough for one person as a whole meal. Likewise, the Pastram-adilla, made with Boars Head pastrami, grilled chayote, gruyere, and Monterey jack cheese, is really tasty and especially unique, but if you’re really in the mood for authentic Mexican you may want to stick with the classics, but this is great for the adventurous eater. Eat and enjoy the pending food coma that will overtake you.
Other popular menu items include the oh so tasty Lamb Adobado Tacos, prepared with Cerignola olive and piquillo peppers with fried serranos and queso fresco, and the really hearty Pork Loin Torta, marinated and rubbed with garlic and cumin and pasilla, pepper jack, queso fresco, black and refried beans and salsa ahogado. Damn, that’s a good meal right there.
If you have room for dessert, the Churros are always a favorite, and personally, I’ve always been a fan of the Dirty Horchata, a feisty combination of Horchata with a double shot of espresso. Sleep is overrated, right? Tinga has always been a go-to place for great Mexican tacos and quesadillas since opening on La Brea and now it looks like its primed to be the same all over town.
Tinga is located at 142 S. La Brea Ave; and Tinga Buena at 522 Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica.
By: Jose Martinez
Photography courtesy of: Tinga