We had been eyeing chef Walter Manzke’s moves ever since we snuck a bite of his Pig Ear Nachos at Test Kitchen. So when Playa closed its doors in March, we were ever so curious to see what would fill the void (Dear god, do not let it be some preachy vegan-paleo-raw-gluten-free-macro-nutrient-deconstructed-I’m-more-sophisticated-than-you restaurant). Enter Petty Cash, Manzke’s newest endeavor with Guillermo “Oso” Campos and restaurateur Bill Chait.
The restaurant is a bit of an ode to Los Angeles’ roots, a thoughtfully constructed blend of gourmet food and L.A.’s east side Mexican fare. Tables are communal with smaller two-tops available for a more intimate experience. The 150-seat room is dominated by a wall mural by graffiti artist RETNA and repurposed 40 oz. beer bottles serve as water jugs on every table.
Julian Cox, mixologist extraordinaire, has taken the reign of Petty Cash’s bar, serving up drinks like The Brixton, a mix of lime, Thai chili, gin, a flaming green chartreuse, and a quirky straw. Or the Jamaichael Jordan, inspired by the Luchador’s Lady from the Bon Vivants. There is an array of fun, inspired cocktails along with unique mezcals and tequilas at a relatively good price.
We immediately got started with Manzke’s cheesy churros: foot-long fritters, coated shaved cheese, served with green mole corn dip. As heavy as it may sound, it’s anything but. Fluffy fried dough with oozing cheese that simply melts in your mouth. Churros were followed by chicharrones, still crackling and popping and accompanied with a spicy avocado and carrot-pineapple dip.
Ceviches and seafood play a strong role on Petty Cash’s menu, offering everything from Kanpachi and oysters to Ceviche Negro, cuts of Mahi Mahi cooked in a rich, smooth squid ink base. Gotta say, I’m a traditional ceviche kinda gal (the more acidic, the better), but this definitely sparked by taste buds. Sprinkled peanuts and a hint of mango create a real depth of flavor that make this dish sing.
Next, we tried one of the DIY aguachiles, a chilled seafood broth made from homemade clamato, served in a traditional molcajete and packed with an impressive mix of Kanpachi, Littleneck clams, octopus, Gulf White prawns, Live Santa Barbara Prawns, and Santa Barbara sea urchin. A corner of the ocean for your seafood-loving friends. Be warned, the mortar is far shallower than it appears so carefully consider the expensive price point before diving in.
Finally, our favorite Pig Ear Nachos made a second appearance and proved to be just as excellent this time around. Undeniably delicious, we’re still not sure what we loved best about this dish–the oozing, runny egg yolk, or the chewy, fried pig ears. (There is something so satisfying about cutting into a soft-cooked egg, isn’t there?)
The shrimp tostada, seemingly less popular and a bit hidden in the middle of the menu, proved to be one of our absolute favorites. The ingredients are fresh and colorful, an eye-catching mix of Ceviche shrimp, sungold tomatoes, avocados, radishes, and lime. Do not dismiss the tortilla however. The tostada itself is worth mentioning, a perfect mixture of masa and water, wonderfully crispy and never waning under the weight of its ingredients.
Our tostada was followed by Crispy Brussels Sprouts in a morita-cauliflower crema. The Brussels Sprouts were separated into petals and quickly fried, making them less hearty than we would have liked, but the veggies are so nicely seasoned that we could even do without the cauliflower crema at the bottom of the bowl.
On to the tacos. The Al Pastor is robust in flavor, with a nice heat from the salsa. The Baja fish taco, a favorite, is lightly battered, not too heavy, and well textured with the crunch of cabbage. The Charcoal Grilled Octopus is a standout here, incredibly tender and just a tad smoke-y. The arbol chile, peanuts, and jack cheese truly compliment the fine-tuned flavor of this taco.
And even after stuffing ourselves to a point of near-suffocation, we decided it wouldn’t be fare to skip dessert. After all, we’d gotten this far, it would be a shame to quit now. Dessert consisted of both a leche flan with strawberry granita and buñuelos (beignes) dipped in cinnamon and sugar and served on a bed of dark chocolate syrup. These two desserts are really all this menu needs (that is, if you have enough room in your stomach to make it this far down the menu). I am an avid chocolate fiend, my partner-in-crime not so much, so we were oh so pleasantly surprised to have something that suited our taste buds equally. The flan is incredible, served in a mason jar and topped with cut peaches. And the buñuelos, oh those buñuelos. So light, so fluffy, served warm, so delectable. The chocolate is real chocolate, so rich that we couldn’t even attempt to make a dent in the portion. No worries though, doggy bags are welcome.
While we may have been skeptical of a gourmet taqueria, especially when L.A. does it so well on the street for a fraction of the price, we knew Manzke would make it interesting. Petty Cash is a great addition to the array of restaurants lining Beverly Blvd. You won’t leave hungry, that’s for sure.